Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan is a well-written book detailing the process of creating a product, whether that be internet based or physical. Cagan starts from the beginning with the key roles of team members, takes you through the development process and finishes with marketing and selling your product.
DOWNLOAD THE INSPIRED PDF FOR FREE!
- BOOK SUMMARY
- THE PROCESS
Who is this summary for?
Any entrepreneur or someone interested in creating their own startup should check this summary out. Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan is a well-written book detailing the process of creating a product. Cagan starts from the beginning with the key roles of team members, takes you through the development process and finishes with marketing and selling your product.
Marty Cagan is well practiced in the world of creating products for customers. With degrees in Computer Science and Applied Economics, Cagan has designed and built products for incredibly successful companies such as Hewlett-Packard Netscape Communications and eBay. Cagan founded the Silicon Valley Product Group with intention of helping others to create their own products and does so through writing, speaking, advising and coaching.
In this summary
This summary will discuss the three most important components of creating a successful product. First, we’ll summarise the people you’ll need to get involved from product managers to engineers. Second, we’ll discuss the process of creating a problem which involves defining the problem, market research and prototype testing. Finally, we’ll talk about the product itself including changing markets and the difference between usability and aesthetics.
In the first section of his book, Cagan outlines the important people you’ll need when designing and building a product and some of the roles and responsibilities they will take on.
A product manager is fundamental to the process, their job is revolved around considering and assessing opportunities for products, making key decisions in the product design process and defining exactly what needs to be built. The product managers job really starts once the opportunity or problem has been defined and you have committed to trying to solve it. Cagan explains that a good product manager will be able to figure out what product is best to solve the problem you have defined. A couple of key characteristics you need to consider when looking for a product manager are passion, customer empathy, integrity, confidence, focus, good communication, and time management skills.
”Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”Click To Tweet
User experience designers
User experience designers have a really important role when it comes to creating a product to fit the target market. They will be involved with understanding who your target market is and understanding how they will be using and interacting with your product. Cagan explains that it is their job to ensure that the product is designed with the target market in mind and with optimal usability. User experience designers will be heavily involved in both the visual and interactive design as well as prototyping and testing.
Project managers are critical and have quite a different role from the product manager so don’t get the two confused. The project manager will be overseeing the whole operation, they will need to understand everyone’s individual roles and what everyone is working on at any time. It is their job to ensure that things are getting done in a timely manner and by the right people. A project manager should be excellent with time management, understand the concept of urgency, have good judgment and be driven.
Engineers are the people who will be building the product. They will be taking the product managers design and creating a physical product. It’s important that the engineers liaise with the product manager as they are the ones with the knowledge of what is physically possible and viable. Often product managers will have extremely creative ideas that simply can’t be produced or are never going to be economically sensible. Cagan recommends ensuring that product managers and engineers work side by side to avoid issues arising. Don’t get the engineers involved right at the end of the product development process, ensure that they are there from the very beginning.
Cagan explains that if the product you are creating is an internet service or based online, you’ll need central servers. A site operations team can be beneficial in ensuring that this service is always up to date and running at its best.
It’s all good and well to build a wonderful product, but without an effective marketing team, nobody will ever know about it. Marketing is so important when it comes to launching a new product and reaching the right customers. Cagan explains that marketers will be involved in campaigns online, social media and influencer marketing collaborations where appropriate. It’s extremely important that the marketers understand the product, the problem it’s solving and the target audience.
In the second section of this summary, we will discuss the process Cagan takes you through on the road to building a product.
The very first step in the whole process is defining the problem. As discussed previously, it is the product managers job to understand the problem and consider the different options when it comes to creating a product to solve the problem. They need to make decisions about which potential products are going to be the best and which have no promise.
When trying to consider whether a product has the potential to be successful there are a few things you need to consider. First, Cagan explains that it’s important to aim to prevent any wasted company time or money on opportunities that have no promise. Don’t give everything a chance. And secondly, Cagan explains that when you come across a great opportunity, it’s important you rally the team together on the idea so everyone understands what is expected of them in order to make this a potential success. Consider whether it is going to be possible.
Cagan outlines 10 questions you should be asking when considering options:
- Define the exact problem that this product will solve. (Value proposition)
- Understand exactly who’s problem this is. Define the target market.
- Is the opportunity big enough? What is the potential market size?
- What metrics can you use to measure success?
- Are there any current alternatives already on the market?
- What makes your product and solution better than the others? What is your difference?
- Is now the best time, is there a gap in the market?
- What is your strategy when it comes to taking this product to market?
- What is absolutely critical for this to be successful?
- Now that all of these questions have been answered, should you pursue this product?
Defining the product
Cagan explains that there are two steps in the process of any software project. The first step is essentially product discovery and involves identifying what to build (picking the right product). The second step can be called execution and is actually building your chosen product, and doing this well.
Cagan explains that product discover is an exciting stage where you have the chance to be creative. This step includes exploring fresh ideas, learning about your customers and potential users, discovering new technologies. This stage also involved coming up with concepts, testing them and getting a clear understanding of the direction you want to take your product.
The second step is where your engineering team comes in. Cagan explains that this building process is important as errors cannot be made. There needs to be a seamless execution in order to build a product, test it out and deliver it to the market in a timely manner.
”It’s essential that you develop both your discovery skills (to ensure you’re coming up with winning products) as well as your execution skills (to ensure that these great ideas actually make it to your customers).
Cagan explains that making timely and definitive decisions about your product is absolutely critical. Too often the decision-making process is drawn out which is frustrating for everyone involved and can eat up a lot of precious time. Cagan recommends establishing a mechanism to use within your company to ensure that all of the decision makers can be well-informed and make decisions easily.
Cagan believes that a product council is the best way to go. A product council is responsible for establishing the direction the product is going in and to allocate any resources and investments for the product. It’s important that your product council is made of people from every area so that everyone involved feels represented, but it’s equally important to never have more than 10 people in the group.
Cagan identifies the four key milestones for the product council:
- Assess the suggested strategies for the product and ultimately decide which product opportunities need to be further developed and investigated.
- Make decisions and recommendations on product options that are no-gos.
- Assess all prototypes, users testing results, and financials. Consider all three categories before deciding which products will not be moving on to the engineering stage.
- The final step involves assessing the finalise product and deciding on launch plans. If the decision is made that the final product is not fit for market, make the decision to not launch and return to the drawing board.
Product development partners
Cagan believes that having a group of reference customers is absolutely critical in the process of creating a new product. He advises that you use a charter user program, customer advisory board or customer council. It’s important to get outside opinions before you proceed with taking your product to the next stage.
The ultimate goal of having these partners is to end up with a minimum of six customers that are happy and satisfied with the product and the solution. They also need to be able to be referenced later on. Cagan recommends you start with 8-10 potential customers acknowledging that a few will not be satisfied. The best thing to do is to recruit these people at the beginning of the planning process so that they are well-informed and understand the product well.
”The key is that they believe this is a real problem to solve and they need it solved as quickly as possible.”
Market research”Winning products come from the deep understanding of the user’s needs combined with an equally deep understanding of what’s just now possible.'aClick To Tweet
Market research is another critical step in the product development process and can be done in multiple ways. The most common include customer surveys, site analytics, data mining, personas, usability testing and competitive analysis.
However, Cagan wants you to remember that although market research is useful and the tools can be very beneficial, market research is not enough to define your product alone. You’re going to have to do more than have a few surveys completed to truly develop a successful product.
”Winning products come from the deep understanding of the user’s needs combined with an equally deep understanding of what’s just now possible. By all means, use market research tools to help refine your product and make it as good as it can possibly be. Just don’t expect the techniques to produce the idea for the next Facebook, Flickr, or YouTube.”
Understanding your market
It’s so important to understand who your target users are when designing your product. You want to ensure that the product you design meets their requirements. Cagan explains that using a persona (user profile) is a really good tool when it comes to capturing the target market. The persona can express everything that you learn from interviews with potential customers and will help you prioritise what is important to the target market. Cagan explains that it’s really important for the product team to be able to separate themselves and their own wants and needs from that of their customers.
”Personas are a very useful tool for describing to your entire product team who the product is for, how they will use it, and why they will care. Finally and most importantly, the personas have the benefit of rallying the team around a common vision.”
Cagan emphasises the importance of having a product spec that explains the full user experience including the user interaction and visual design, it cannot be limited to just the product requirements. He explains that the requirements should be clearly intertwined with the user experience design.
It’s important that the product spec clearly portrays how the software behaves. Cagan explains that sometimes words and images are not enough and can limit the detail. Describing software behaviour can be difficult so it’s critical that you find a way to do so that everyone can understand.
Also, remember that change is likely to happen and this will be reflected in the spec. Although, this will slow down once engineering has started. Issues will inevitable arise and decisions will need to be made and changed and it’s important that the spec always reflects the latest and most up-to-date product.
”There are a number of artefacts in the creation of a spec, such as lists of prioritised requirements, wireframes, and mock-ups, but there needs to be a single master representation of the spec to minimise confusion and ambiguity.
Validating the product
Cagan explains that one of the last steps is one of the most important. You need to be able to validate the product you have designed. This means that you need to be able to prove, with evidence that the product spec has the ability to be built into a viable, successful product. This stage needs to be completed before you move onto the engineering stage to ensure you don’t waste any time or resources.
Cagan explains that there are three different types of validation and they are all of great importance. Only once you have passed all three stages can you give the product spec to the engineering team to begin building the product.
- Feasibility testing: consider the technology time and funds you have access to, is this enough to build the product?
- Usability testing: are users going to be able to use the product with ease?
- Value testing: assess whether the product is going to be considered valuable by customers, is it something they are willing to pay for?
Testing the prototypes
You’d be extremely lucky to get everything right on the first prototype, that’s why prototype testing is so important. It provides an opportunity for any flaws or issues to be highlighted and addressed. Consider it an opportunity to improve upon your product with the intention of increasing its usability and value. There are 5 steps in the prototype testing process:
- Select test subject, people who are willing to test the product with well-informed honest feedback.
- Establish what will be involved in the testing process.
- Set up the test product and the test environment in a way that will reflect reality.
- Test the prototype.
- Based on feedback, update the prototype with any amendments.
In the final section of his book, Cagan shares three important lessons that he learned from Apple.
- The hardware serves the software. It’s clear that Apple has a clear understanding of the different roles of hardware and software. Hardware is designed to serve the software. Software is NOT designed to serve the hardware.
”The software needs to know what the user wants the phone to do, so hardware technologies like multi-touch displays, and accelerometer and proximity sensors are invented to enable this.“
- The software serves the user experience usability. Apple’s priorities are interaction, visual and industrial design. They are not going to rush to market with something that isn’t completely perfected for the user experience. For example, it took Apple two-and-a-half years to produce the iPhone, but their priority all along was perfecting the user experience as they know that’s the most valuable aspect of any product.
- User experience serves the emotion. Apple has a clear understanding in the role that emotions have when it comes to consumers wanting, loving and buying any problem. They have the ability to create a product that people actually crave. Tapping into these emotions is key.
Cagan wants us to remember that what is possible is constantly changing. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that in order to make a real impact and be truly successful, you need to develop a brand new market. This is something the media is constantly encouraging by questioning what is going to be the ‘next big thing’.
However, Cagan points out that the reality is, the ‘next big thing’ is usually not something brand new or never seen before. The next ‘big thing’ is usually a new approach to something that already exists. A new approach to solving an old problem with a faster, better and likely cheaper solution. This is called redefining a category or market.
”There are two key methods that smart companies use to create winning products in mature markets. First, they understand their target market and where the current products fall short. Second, great product leaders know that what is now possible is always changing.”
We touched on the role of emotions in products when we discussed Apple and the lessons we can learn from them. It’s pretty clear that emotions are often the driver behind consumer purchases. It’s important that anyone involved in marketing understands this and it’s important to consider this when developing your product. You want your product to tap into these emotions.
”Once you have clearly identified and prioritized the dominant buying emotions your customers bring to your product, focus on that emotion and ask yourself where else they might be able to get that need met? Therefore, you'll find your real competition.”
A couple of key human emotions that you can consider tapping into are the following: loneliness, insecurity, fear, frustration, anger, and lust.
Usability vs. aesthetics
Too many people believe that the visual design or the aesthetics of any product or website is secondary to the usability and the functionality. Cagan explains that these people believe that the value lies in the usability, and things like aesthetics are unnecessary. They think that aesthetics draw the attention away from the functions.
However, Cagan disagrees, he believes that usability and aesthetics are both just as important as each other. Cagan sees a clear link between the role of aesthetics and visual design and tapping into that emotion that is necessary to sell products.
”You need both interaction and visual design skill sets to deliver a good user experience, and that these people need to work closely with the product manager to define the product, which includes both the functionality and the user experience.”
- A good product manager will be able to figure out what product is best to solve the problem.
- User experience designers design producs with the target market in mind and with optimal usability.
- A project manager should be excellent with time management, understand urgency, have good judgement and be driven.
- Engineers will be taking the product managers design and creating a physical product. It’s important that they are involved in the who designing process to ensure that the product managers ideas are possible.
- Marketing is so important when it comes to launching a new product and reaching the right customers.
- The very first step in the whole process is defining the problem.
- It is then the product managers job to understand the problem and consider the different options when it comes to creating a product to solve the problem.
- When defining a product there are two key steps. The first step is essentially product discovery and involves identifying what to build. The second step can be called execution and is actually building your chosen product.
- Making timely and definitive decisions about your product is absolutely critical. Consider establishing a product council.
- Market research is important and can include customer surveys, site analytics, data mining, personas, usability testing and competitive analysis.
- It’s so important to understand who your target users are when designing your product. You want to ensure that the product you design meets their requirements.
- A product spec needs to explain the full user experience including the user interaction and visual design. It cannot be limited to just the product requirements.
- You need to be able to validate the product you have designed. This means that you need to be able to prove, with evidence that the product spec has the ability to be built into a viable, successful product.
- Prototype testing is so important. It provides an opportunity for any flaws or issues to be highlighted and addressed.
Ideal for any technology-focused entrepreneur, The Third Wave by Steve Case is an insightful look into the future of startups and entrepreneurs in our ever-evolving technological world. Examining experiences from his own life, large global companies and recent stir-ups such as Uber, Case shares plenty of advice for those looking to achieve more and succeed in what he is calling ‘the third wave'.
Have a read of The Dip by Seth Godin if you’re a budding entrepreneur and full of fantastic ideas for new business ventures. The challenge that so many people face is deciphering when you need to push through the hard times, and when you need to quit and move on. This book is the perfect read for anyone that’s ever had a business idea and wants to learn a little bit about navigating the new-venture ‘dips’.
Sprint is written by Jake Knapp with help from John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz. These three have all been a big part of Google Ventures. Together, they have put together a guide for “solving big problems and testing new ideas in just five days”. You’ll find useful start-up examples including those from Slack and Blue Bottle Coffee.
Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.
- If you’re considering building a new product, first ensure that you have identified the problem you are trying to solve.
- Make sure you have the right team of people behind you before you begin the process.
- When considering different product options, ask yourself the 10 questions that Cagan recommends.
- Do your research about your target market, work hard to truly understand them. Do market research and build a persona.
- Ensure that you validate your product before you decide to build it.
- Test any prototypes and action any improvements.
- Ensure that you pay attention to both usability and aesthetics.
- Have a good marketing team to ensure that the right people hear about your products.
- Download the complete book on Amazon.
This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.