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Book Review: Take Charge Product Management

It’s been a while since I reviewed a book on this blog.

BTW, if anyone wants to review books for this blog, contact me.

OK, enough with the housekeeping, on with the review.

Title: Take Charge Product Management – Time-tested Tips, Tactics, and Tools for the New or Improved Product Manager

Author: Greg Geracie

Published by: Actuation Press, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-615-37927-2

Website: http://www.actuationconsultingllc.com

Take Charge Product Management by Greg Geracie, subtitled “Time-tested tips, tactics and tools for the NEW or improved product manager“, is clearly aimed at people with little or no Product Management background.

The book consists of 9 chapters and a Epilogue. Yes, an Epilogue. I’ll get to that later.

The chapters are:

  1. Your Mission, should you choose to accept it
  2. The role of the Product Manager
  3. Key activities to help you succeed
  4. Establish firm footing
  5. Formulate a winning approach to the market
  6. Moving from vision to execution
  7. Product development
  8. Never take your eye off the market
  9. Documenting results

Structure and Style
What’s interesting about this book is that each chapter starts with a short anecdote about people in the fictitious company: Alpha Technology Ventures. There’s CEO Sinclair Jones, VP HR Linda Welsh, Chairman Kevin Knowles, VP Sales Robert Lamp, head of Engineering Alex Wong, and a few other minor characters. But the main character is Sean Knight, a former Sales Consultant who transitions into being the company’s first Product Manager in Chapter 1.

After a short anecdote about the exploits of “newly minted” PM Sean Knight, each chapter continues with additional information to help the reader understand the issues facing Sean and tools and technique to move forward.

For example, Chapter 4 begins with a conversation between Sinclair and Sean. Sinclair gives Sean some advice on how to build a solid foundation in his new role and how to work effectively given the conflicting tensions he’ll have to deal with amongst the different groups in the company. Sinclair leaves Sean with the following advice: Good generals make sure to secure their base of  operations before expanding outward.

The chapter continues with advice on where to find information within a company that can be used both to get a good understanding of the market, customers, products, buyers etc. The list of suggestions includes analyst reports, customers lists, existing presentations, win/loss data, competitive information, defect reports etc.

Each chapter ends with “Tips for Taking Charge”. These summarize and reiterate some of the key points of each chapter.

The Epilogue summarizes the progress Sean has made in his first year as a PM. Sean’s achievements may be slightly optimistic, but they do represent a target to aim for, for anyone in Sean’s place.

First the negatives
While I have absolutely nothing against self-published books, a lot of them suffer from poor typography and graphics. This book is no different. The entire book is set in what looks like 12 or 14 pt. Times New Roman. It looks like a Word document was simply reformatted to fit the smaller page size of a book.

The lack of variety in the font makes it harder to differentiate various sections of text and scan efficiently over the pages. At minimum, the Sean Knight anecdotes should have been typeset differently than the main body in each chapter. Maybe this is a minor point to some, but readability is something that every book publisher should address. Formal publishing houses definitely do.

Some of the diagrams in the book are very hard to read, usually due to the fact that a large diagram has been reduced significantly to fit on a single page.

For example in Chapter 6, there is a diagram entitled Alpha Technology Venture’s Completed Product Lifecycle Management Framework.

This diagram condenses an entire Product Lifecycle (from Strategy to Retirement) across the top, and is broken out (along the side) by  Activities, Owners, Collaborators, Description and Deliverables. There are 12 different columns in the diagram.

To be honest, this is a good diagram and an entire book could be written detailing the individual elements, but each element is so tiny that the diagram simply becomes an eye chart.

Also in Chapter 6, another diagram – the Alpha Technology Ventures Product Decision Matrix Framework – suffers from the same problem.

It’s a table consisting of about 15 columns and 6-7 rows. To fit the table onto the page (remember it’s 15 columns wide!), it is laid out in landscape orientation, using what looks like a 5pt font. The text is incredibly tiny and barely legible.

And now the positives
This book is clearly aimed at the neophyte Product Manager. The exploits of Sean, Sinclair and others at the beginning of each chapter provide context for the reader as they work through the meatier content in the middle of each chapter.

There are a lot of tips and explanations of basic concepts throughout the book. A sidebar in chapter 3 explains Return on Investment (ROI). Another sidebar in chapter 5 explains FTE (Full-time equivalents).

The author touches on many of the common issues and challenges that new product managers — particularly at small companies — face, such as transitioning into the role from another department, the political realities they must face, the daunting scope of the role, the challenge to initially define it, working to be proactive vs. reactive etc.

Each chapter works it’s way through basic concepts fairly well and lays out some concrete actions that a PM can consider.

It’s clear that Greg has lived through much (if not all) of Sean’s experiences himself during his career and is now imparting the  wisdom gained to the next generation of new Product Managers.

In summary
Typography and diagrams aside, I’d say that Take Charge Product Management is a good resource for the new or soon to be new startup Product Manager.

I include the word “startup” because Product Management in larger companies — i.e. with an established Product Management team — would have defined roles and responsibilities, and some level of process (I would hope).

The book is easy to read with a nice casual style to the writing.  And while there is little that is new or truly innovative in the book, there is enough substance that the reader won’t feel they’ve wasted their time.  It’s not going to make you an expert or turn you into a rock-star PM, but if you want to learn the basic concepts before digging into more detailed reading or taking some classes, this is a good place to begin.

Saeed

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