Product Mastery by Geoff Watts
This book is dangerous. It’s got magic. You read it in the train, commuting to work, and the stations just pass by. You sit nodding, mumbling “so true” and “hadn’t thought of that” to yourself. Every day I read this book I have to hectically rush out of the train with open bag and book in hand. It’s dangerously captivating.
The length of 280+ pages is deceptive – the book is very readable and the pages just fly by. The text is clear and to the point, the ideas are well described and anchored in examples that are both realistic, captivating and illuminating. The DRIVEN acronym and the way each letter is opened up in a separate chapter gives a nice structure to the book. This also means that the chapters are short enough not to feel overwhelming, but still contain a lot of content.
You can find a large number of books in the Product Owner space. Most books tend to focus heavily on the hard skills, and touch lightly if at all on the soft skills. Many of the best known books cover how to write good user stories, and there are some that discuss new and interesting methods for slicing backlogs. None of them cover the soft side of Product Ownership as well as this one – the balance between soft and hard skills is nearly perfect. In between tables detailing how to prioritize features using a spreadsheet, you will find thinking models and examples on how to listen and negotiate more effectively. But rather than disturbing the flow by bouncing back and forth, the new topics neatly build on top of each other, enhancing the previous topics.
What really makes the difference between Geoff Watts books and other books and articles is the depth he gives in understanding how you can become a great Product Owner. You can read a lot about a Product Owner to be decisive, communicative or empowered. But few authors cover the gap between reality and the desired state adequately. You have to find a way to overcome this gap on your own, or fill in with other books on e.g. leadership or verbal skills. Geoff explains why it is so hard to become a great Product Owner, which traps you would find on your way and, most importantly, how you can and should reflect on your own behavior in order to learn how to bring out the best in others.
Like an expert Product Owner, Geoff has decided what to leave out of the book, and covers the rest tersely but in adequate detail. This is in fact a great example of a Minimum Viable Book. That said, the book would benefit from providing pointers to related or similar methods. For example, Geoff has chosen to open up Story Mapping, a popular tool that works very well in many circumstances. But sometimes you find yourself in situations when e.g. Impact Mapping or Feature Injection work better, and I would like to see the occasional “Try these alternatives” box mentioning other methods and when to apply them.
At the end of the book is an appendix describing Scrum which frankly feels a bit out of place. While every PO must know the selected framework and can help a lot by doing the right things right, it’s more the job of the ScrumMaster to guide the team and stakeholders in the use of Scrum. The immediate beginner PO:s who could specifically benefit from this appendix would probably aim for one of the more basic Scrum books instead. And there are plenty of good Scrum guides available already, many of them free and some of them better than this appendix.
Minor nitwiggles aside, what we have in our grubby hands is one of the very best PO books out there. It’s a pleasure to read, the structure is excellent, the topics are wide, covered in adequate detail, and immensely useful. It’s a book that we can strongly recommend to each and every PO, regardless of age or experience.