"Escaping the Build Trap" - 2 min book review

Product management, for me, was always more art, craft than a profession. There is no silver bullet in mastering it: no MBA, no Master’s degree will make you a prominent PM. People go to product management from various fields and you never know the result. Besides that, I strongly believe that being a “product manager” is the work of everyone on the team despite your vertical. Therefore, I’m always interested to read more about product management.

Build trap

Build trap is when an organization measures success via output, not outcome. It is common to focus more on shipping than the value. We tie bonuses to shipped software not adopted products.

Create value to customer via creating value to a company

Product managers types

Product managers get into the build trap because they are incentivized for wrong things. Often they mimic their managers, who are in the same trap. There are a few types of PMs who are not doing what they should do:

  • Mini CEO - boss everybody around, ego-driven person;
  • Waiter - serves everyone needs;
  • Former project manager - focus on project delivery;

Product manager - why? Projects management- when?

What Product manager should do

A great pm is not a technology expert, not a market expert.

PM marry business goals and customer needs

Don’t waste time writing tons of untested user stories. Start with a user and the value you can provide them. Remember that a product is a vehicle that delivers value. Learn from the competition, dive into new areas, take a step back and explore a few solutions before committing. In the end, it is not the PM’s job to come up with the best idea, but teams.

Good strategy

Delivering on a roadmap does not always mean doing the right thing. Instead of providing a roadmap give people know what you want to achieve. Creat a good strategy:

  • Vision;
  • Intent;
  • Product initiatives;
  • Options;

A good strategy is not a plan: it is a framework for decisions created at each level. Good strategy focuses on high-level goals and vision. It stays there for years because a short-term strategy is a plan. The strategy consists of the “operational framework” - day-to-day activity and “strategic framework” - how the company realizes vision via product development and market.

Spotify: “DIBB” - Data; Insight; Believe; Bets;

Mission - explains why a company exists. Vision gives meaning to all products you offer; Where a company is based on the purpose; What and why a company does. The PM’s job is to align product portfolio and options with the company vision. The difficult part is connecting vision to operation - therefore we need strategic intent. After we set goals ask ourselves: what is the goal; where are we now; biggest obstacle; how to try to solve a problem; what I expect to happen; what happens and what we learn;

Close the gap

The author shares the type of gaps that can lead to bad decisions:

  • Knowledge gap - differences between what managers want to know and what the company knows.
  • Alignment gap - team activity VS management expectations
  • Effect gap - expectations of actions VS real result;


How to choose the right success metric for your product? There are various frameworks for setting up success metrics like: Pirate (“AARRR”) or hard metrics.

  • Pirates metrics: acquisition - sign up, activation - start using, retention, referral, revenue;
  • Hard metrics: happiness, engagement; adoption; retention; task success;

It is your job to figure out what is most important for you.

User research

It is not the customer’s job to solve a problem, it is the PM job to ask the right questions. There are various types of user research you can do to learn customer needs, there are a few examples:

  • MVP - minimal efforts to learn;
  • Concierge experiment - mimic project with manual work;
  • Wizard of Ozz - create UI and mock back end;

Reduce scope to capture maximum value.

V2 is the biggest lie in software development

6 Questions

Finally, how to identify a good org for the PM? During the interview authors suggest asking these 6 questions:

  • Who comes up with the last product idea you build?
  • What was the last product you decided to kill?
  • When was the last time you talked with a customer?
  • What is your goal?
  • What are you working on right now?
  • What is your manager like?

Personal opinion

Product management is a complicated field. “Build trap” does not give all the answers, but some guardrails how not to fail miserably. PM field is still to be explored and learned. It is much more valuable about things PM should not do rather about what they should do. Therefore, I would recommend any PM or anybody else working on any product to read it.

Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value

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