Book Review: INSPIRED - How to create tech products customers love.



By all accounts, software development has been wildly successful. Simply consider where technology is at today.


The single question this book seeks to answer, the holy grail everyone in tech is searching for, is this:

How do you create successful tech products?

We’ve all been involved with and have seen the countless articles about how companies and products succeed. We’ve seen the IPOs. The VC investments. The launch parties. The TechCrunch articles. We read books like INSPIRED, click bait LinkedIn headlines claiming the “5 steps to build a successful startup”.

  • The best products come from “scratching your own itch”. Focus on something in your life that’s broken, fix it, and sell it.
  • It’s all about open source. Open source your project and the community will help build it.

1: Great Culture

I’m cheating on this review. I’m starting from the end of the book. The last part of the book, Culture, in my opinion is by *the* most important. I’m not sure why this was left until the end. Perhaps it was for a grand finale, who knows. Save the best for last philosophy. But in it, Cagan agrees that culture is the most important trait for successful tech products.

  • What’s your North Star?
  • What does your company value?
  • Does every employee know the company mission and values? Do they live them?
  • Have a product mindset.
  • Passionate about the solving the problem.
  • Have an attitude that they are “going to war”.
  • Have an inspiring product vision they are working towards.
  • Are data driven. Instrument their work. Analyze the data.
  • Rapidly prototype.
  • Measure success by results.
  • Hold roadmap meetings.
  • Consider reporting and analytics a nice to have.
  • Have lifeless “agile” ceremonies and measure success in “points” and completing the roadmap.
  • Design by committee.

2: Great People

I love the quote INSPIRED includes from John Doerr.

  • Must be empowered.
  • Must be accountable. They need to feel ownership.
  • Are responsible for their *outcomes*, not *outputs*.
  • Are autonomous.
  • Minimize dependencies.
  • Stay together. Relationships build and expertise deepens.
  • Are co-located (together) when possible.

3: Great Product Managers

After culture and people, product leaders are critical to success. In order to be successful, projects need strong leadership. In INSPIRED, the product leader is called the “Product Manager”. You may have a preconceived notion of a Product Manager from past projects and companies. It’s important to understand how INSPIRED defines “Product Manager”. It may be radically different than what you are used to.

4: Great Outcomes

  • When projects are on a roadmap, they become commitments.
  • It typically takes several iterations of a feature before it delivers business value. (Time to money)
  • In order to tackle these risks, prototype ideas quick.
  • You need to solve the underlying business problem, not implement features.

5: Great Process

Oh, here we go. Everyone’s favorite topic. Process. Agile. Scrum. Waterfall. Religion. Scrum masters. Agile coaches.

  • PMs help customers understand what is possible. They think deeply about the problems their software solves and what customers will ultimately want.
  • Validate ideas on real customers (prototypes).
  • Validate business feasibility. Just because our customers love it, engineers can create it, does it work for our business? Can we sell it, maintain it, does it work for legal, etc.
  • Find six reference (prospective) customers.
  • Do customer interviews.
  • Pretend you are the customer using your product.
  • Sponsor hack days.
  • Prototype everything!
  • Reference customers act as a barometer to determine how successful a product will be. If reference customers don’t love your products, nobody will.
  • Your product must be proven to make your reference customers successful before taking it to the broad market.
  • Reference customers must invest time and partner with you. They must be serious.
  • Do not customize your product for any one customer. You are creating a general product.

Hi there, I’m Damon. I’m a software engineer from Minneapolis, MN. I’m into writing code, an occasional blog post, running marathons, and caffeine.