Book Update: Maelstrom
It’s been three months since my last post.
‘Maelstrom’ is a great word. This is the first occasion I’ve had to use it appropriately.
A maelstrom is a whirlpool of extraordinary size, or a turbulent situation. Likely, it’s derived from early dutch words meaning ‘to grind’, and ‘stream’.
The last three months have felt like an extraordinary whirlpool at times.
A global pandemic has appeared, taken root, and taken over. We’re all indoors, living off a diet of TV, films, and takeaway. It’s like being in my 20s again.
Happily, I became a dad in January. A tiny, small human has appeared, taken root, and taken over. Life is about sleeping, feeding, and ignoring housework. It’s like being in my 20s again (badum-tish).
Into this whirlpool I have poured my ideas for a book on product management. I’ve jotted-down ideas that have occured in snatched moments. I actually made it out of the house to test ideas with human beings in the flesh in January and February. Thoughts reworked, connected, and discarded. It feels as though something has started to emerge from the churn.
I shared my intent to write a book in my last post, here’s an update.
Working title: Product Thinking
I think that ‘product thinking’ means something to a wider audience than ‘product management’. Organisations without a product management profession have asked me discuss ‘product thinking’, in general terms. Writing a book about product thinking for a relatively broad audience is more appealing to me than writing a book on the specialism of product management for an audience of product managers (which would feel like preaching to the converted).
Motivation 1: Ten-year review and retrospective
I saw a bunch of ‘ten-year review and retros’ at the end of 2019 and found them fascinating. My own attempt kept spiralling into a huge ‘thing’ that was not blog post-friendly so I ditched the idea for a while. The probable reason is that the 2010s is the decade in which my product management career took off, so there’s a lot to unpack. Also, product management and product leadership remain new-ish in their current incarnation so there’s been a lot of making it up as I’ve gone along. This created a lot to review and retrospect. A book feels like a better space to do this.
Motivation 2: Growth
There’s a thin line between analysis paralysis and running a feature factory. Too much research and your product stalls. Too many features and your product becomes bloated at the expense of actually gaining new users.
I think the same might be true of career development. I spent the first half of the decade researching, testing, and developing my core product management skills. And the second half of the decade filling gaps left by existing training and guidance.
Implementing the stuff I’ve figured out, at scale, is a 2-3 year project. Minimum. There’s no point in me figuring out new stuff. It’s time to release the value of the stuff I’ve created already. That’ll be a focus of the day-job when I return from parental leave. It’s also a motivation for this book.
Writing and publishing
Several friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have written books on topics ranging from product management, to cliches in football, to Russian propaganda postcards. And topics in between. I paid attention to their experiences of writing at the time, particularly because their experiences and approaches were so different. I’m going to follow-up with some of them to learn more about their approach to writing, and to learn more about publishing.
Personal stories seem to be a good way of bringing product-thinking to life. I’ve had repeated feedback from my talks that stories explaining how and why I came to a conclusion are interesting and useful. Honesty that we’re all making it up as we go along reduces barriers and empowers. I’ve learned that how I figured something out is sometimes more useful than what I figured out. So in addition to principles of product-thinking, I’m planning on adding honest, personal stories of how I made up those principles based on stuff happening in the real world. Often based on taking a couple of existing things, smashing them together, then adding/taking to the detail. Much like I do with BBC food recipes.
These personal stories circle-back to the working title of ‘product-thinking’ and a desire to review and retro the last decade. I started off with an instinct that we should ask people about their lives before we build something for them. And then found some stuff to help me do that. The specialist box of ‘product manager’ didn’t really ‘click’ for at least a couple of years. I’m interested to explain product thinking with limited jargon, using plain-ish English. Simplicity is hard and is the true test of understanding something. I’ll go on to talk about product management and product leadership using specialist terms, but want an accessible bedrock underneath.
Let me know if anything in this update struck a chord - it’d be helpful to hear your thinking on any of the above. I’m pondering where to create a separate site & mailing list for the book and associated updates but for now will keep it simple and keep it all here. Stay safe out there*.