October 25, 2020

Agilists

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The 10 books that transformed my mindset as a Product Owner


I decided to take every single opportunity to learn more. So I learn from everyone around me, beyond the traditional sources, like books and courses. When it comes to books, I read and listen to around 25 books a year. This passion started later in life. I didn’t care about books until I was 22, but after it, I fell in love with discovering more.

A selection of books changed my life completely. After I read them, my perspective of product development, team building, creativity, and purpose got clearer. I learned how to express my ideas clearer, beyond being able to understand better the others. My top 10 books (not in order because I can’t define) are:

  • Start With Why; How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Simon Sinek
  • The Infinite Game. Simon Sinek;
  • Drive. The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Daniel Pink;
  • Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All. David Kelley and Tom Kelley;
  • User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development. Mike Cohn;
  • Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want. Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Gregory Bernarda, Alan Smith;
  • Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice The Work in Half The Time. Jeff Sutherland;
  • The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. Patrick Lencioni;
  • The Lean Startup. Eric Ries;
  • The 7 habits of highly effective people. Steven Covey.

Each of these books shaped my mind in some essential aspects. Such learnings have helped me fulfill better the role of a Product Owner as well as becoming a better person.

From this book, I learned how to communicate better. Before reading it, I used to start telling what I wanted, then how, and most never, I would say why. This approach only confuses people because they can’t understand what we are talking about.

Once I understood the advantages of starting with why. It became easier to engage in more productive conversations.

The Golden Circle

The infinite game is a revealing book. It clarifies the difference between mission and goals in the business world. The business game is infinite since there are no defined rules, or players. So we cannot play to win because there is never a victory.

From this book, I learned the power of a just cause, an infinite mission that guides an organization through transformation, innovation, and market disruption.

“Being the best simply cannot be a Just Cause, because even if we are the best (based on the metrics and time frames of our own choosing), the position is only temporary. The game doesn’t end once we get there; it keeps going. And because the game keeps going, we often find ourselves playing defense to maintain our cherished ranking. Though saying “we are the best” may be great fodder for a rah-rah speech to rally a team, it makes for a weak foundation upon which to build an entire company. Infinite-minded leaders understand that “best” is not a permanent state. Instead, they strive to be “better.” “Better” suggests”
― Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game

This book is a must-read, in my opinion. Many people are unhappy at work; I couldn’t understand why until I read this book. Focus on reward and punishment is one of the main problems. This approach is outdated; thus, employees are neither motivated nor committed to the company. Most jobs offer no purpose; therefore, people work only for the salary, nothing more than that.

Drive taught me the power of purpose, inner motivation. Once we have a purpose, we can thrive, we can work at a high-performance level. But until then, we have a job, which is no more than a means to our livelihood.

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”― Daniel H. Pink

Creative confidence

I used to think creativity was a gift. I thought, either a person is born creative or not, I didn’t believe it was possible to learn how to be creative. However, this thought lasted until I read this fantastic book.

Instead of saying I am not creative, I started asking myself how can I creatively solve any problem? The biggest lesson I learned from this book is that creativity is a choice; we decide if we want to be or not.

“That combination of thought and action defines creative confidence: the ability to come up with new ideas and the courage to try them out.”― Tom Kelley, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

I worked many years with software development with traditional methodologies, where requirements are extensive. I remember writing documents of thirty or more pages. I was always skeptical about User stories; I couldn’t believe developers could build software from something so abstract.

Mike Cohn wrote this must-read about User Stories. The main lesson for me is, an excellent User Story is an invitation for a conversation; it is not about shaping the requirement upfront; it is about discovering and refining with the team.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.” — Field Marshal Helmuth Graf von Moltke”

The world is full of meaningless products, in other words, that solve no real problem. That was a mystery for me. Therefore, I was worried about how to avoid such a trap in my endeavors. Canvas Value Proposition was the answer to me.

This book presents a straightforward approach to put the customers first. The focus is on the customer scenario to understand the underneath problems. Then, we evaluate how we can provide a solution to solve real problems; this way, building meaningful products.

“Your customers are the judge, jury, and executioner of your value proposition. They will be merciless if you don’t find fit!”― Alexander Osterwalder, Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want

The first time I heard about Scrum sounds like utopic to me. Teams building high-quality software in such a lightweight framework seemed like magic to me. Coming from a traditional approach was hard for me to understand the principles and values behind Scrum; yet, I wanted to learn and experience before I taking any conclusions.

Jeff Sutherland clarified all my doubts about Scrum through this masterpiece. The content is rich, powerful, and clarifying. Without reading this book, I wouldn’t be able to get so interested in Scrum.

“Embrace the unknown! That’s where learning lies! If you’re too afraid to learn, you will never get any better. This is the key to being successful at Scrum: embrace change.”
― Jeff Sutherland

I’m passionate about team building, but I never understood what characteristics define a high-performance team. I wanted to know how to build a team where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. I believe soft skills are indeed more important than technical expertise. Therefore, transforming a group of people into a team is essential for successful companies.

The five dysfunctions of a team

After reading the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, I understood the steps required to build a high-performance team. The truth is, the steps are simple; yet, many teams never achieve their best potential because they focus on irrelevant aspects. A great team is the best advantage companies can have.

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Once I was in the agile world, I used to hear a lot of expressions, like “we can build an MVP,”we should pivot,”which hypothesis do we have?”. I didn’t understand any of that, so it was clear I needed to get knowledge on it. The Lean Startup came to my attention as the answer I needed. From it, I have learned quite a lot. It explains clearly what an MVP is and how to build it.

I realized we were not building MVPs correctly since we were not maximizing our learnings. We generated much waste due to many incorrect assumptions. The secret is how fast we can learn, the faster it happens, the bigger the chance we have to succeed.

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”

― Eric Ries

The Lean Startup

This book is a best seller worldwide, so I got curious what was the message behind it. I challenge myself to become a better version of myself daily, so I thought this book could be helpful for me. The message shaped my mind in a way I understood better myself, I learned how to communicate better, I learned how to engage with the others deeper, and I learned how to prioritize.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

After this book, I learned how to focus by putting first things first. I also learned how to prioritize what matters by understanding the importance of having the end in mind. When it comes to communication, I learned how first to understand the others, then be understood. The vital aspects of collaboration became more evident to me so that we can get the benefits of it.

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”
― Stephen R. Covey

Wrap-up

I believe we should always be learning something new. The books I mentioned in this article shaped my mind so that I got the following knowledge:

  • Start the communication always with your motivation.
  • Businesses are infinite. Therefore, we should play to evolve and be in constant pursuit of our mission.
  • Purpose is what pushes us forward; without that, we cannot engage and deliver our best.
  • Everyone can be creative. It’s our choice.
  • User Stories are incredibly powerful once used correctly.
  • To build a great product, we need to empathize with our customers.
  • Scrum is more than a framework; it’s a mindset.
  • The most crucial part of any organization is the team. Building a strong team is vital to be successful.
  • Whenever we have an idea, we need to ask ourselves, which hypothesis do we have, and how can we validate them?
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