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The book “Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products” by Marty Cagan and Chris Jones is a must-read for all product and business leaders. The authors have gathered insights from over 500 organizations and emphasize the importance of resilience, adaptability to change, and staying true to core values amidst volatility. The book is divided into 81 chapters, with most chapters easily accessible. The authors differentiate strong product teams from feature teams, which serve the business by creating products customers love but work for.
Coaches and mentors play a crucial role in developing people, while mentors provide wisdom. Managers should be interested in the team members as individuals and correct the difference in perception between them and the team member. Empowered teams are given problems to solve and create valuable, usable solutions that are viable and feasible to the business. They are measured by outcome, while “featured” teams are measured by output.
Collaboration between team members is essential for extraordinary products, and coaching is an essential part of being a great product leader. Overall, “Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products” is a must-read for anyone looking to grow into a product leader’s role. Marty Cagan’s second book, EMPOWERED (Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products), is a valuable resource for product managers and leaders alike. Written by Cagan and co-author Chris Jones, the book focuses on product leadership, coaching product managers, engineers, designers, setting product vision and strategy, and helping organizations and teams use tactics to delight customers and create value for the business. The book is not just for product and company leaders, but also serves as a manual for people being managed by these leaders. It sets expectations for reports, shows the responsibilities of individual contributors, and outlines what managers aim to coach them towards. The book feels complementary to INSPIRED and can act as a little product leader in your pocket.
Empowered is not just for product leaders, as it focuses on how the best companies create empowered product teams. The book has 10 sections, grouped into four themes: recruiting, hiring and coaching, product vision, strategy, objectives, team structure, and business collaboration. The book offers valuable insights for both companies and individuals looking to improve their own leadership and product teams.
Empowered product teams are the foundation for business success, serving customers in ways that work for the business. This shift from the old IT mindset to a more empowered mindset requires a radical power shift in organizations. This empowers the team to decide the best way to solve the problems assigned to them. However, traditional organizations still have the old IT mindset, with technology teams focusing on stakeholder needs rather than customers. Leadership should be command and control-style, acting in service to business stakeholders, without coaching or understanding of great product people’s thinking and actions. Empowered teams should be empowered to solve problems in ways customers love, rather than pushing out features (output). This requires a radical power shift in organizations, transforming technology from a servant to a valuable asset for the business. In contrast to traditional Feature Teams, empowered product teams focus on solving problems rather than features, and are held accountable to results. Empowered Product teams create solutions that are valuable, viable, usable, and feasible, ensuring the company can effectively market, sell, and support the solution. Empowered engineers are crucial in a company, as they can leverage technology to find the best solution. However, product managers may resist their inclusion, often causing engineers to focus on coding. Collaboration is at the heart of strong product teams, and it often requires active coaching from managers to help new product people develop this capability.
Strong product teams have key characteristics, including early risk-taking, collaborative problem-solving, accountability for results, decision-making, and product leadership. To empower decision-making, decisions are pushed down to the product team level, with three rules: “If you see a snake, kill it,” “Don’t play with dead snakes,” and “All opportunities start out looking like problems.” Product leadership is essential for recognizing the greatness in everyone and creating an environment where greatness can emerge.
To have empowered product teams, management responsibilities include staffing, coaching, team objectives, and sharing strategic context. Empowerment requires trust from leaders, which can be achieved through six types of strategic context: Company Mission, Company Scorecard, Company Objectives, Product Vision and Principles, and Team Topology. Coaching is essential for turning ordinary people into extraordinary product teams. Leaders must focus on coaching the team, being self-aware of insecurities, cultivating diverse points of view, seeking teaching moments, and earning the trust of their team. Keys to effective one-on-one coaching include the purpose, relationship, frequency, sharing context, thinking and acting like a product person, and writing a narrative. Coaching can be even more essential than mentoring for careers and teams, as it helps identify blind spots and holds individuals accountable for working through their sore spots. Product organizations must structure their teams to best divide work, focusing on empowerment, ownership, autonomy, and alignment. There are two types of product teams: platform teams, which provide leverage for common services, and experience teams, responsible for how the product is experienced by users.
This book aims to highlight the differences between the best companies and most companies in creating technology-powered products. These differences are fundamental and striking, and go beyond product culture. For example, Amazon, Google, Apple, and Netflix are examples of strong product companies that consistently innovate but have different cultures. The key differences lie in their views on the role of technology, the purpose of technology-working people, and how they expect them to work together to solve problems.
The book aims to untangle the parts of these companies’ cultures that reflect their founders’ personalities from those essential to consistent innovation. One common thread among these companies is the legendary coach Bill Campbell, who provided executive coaching to Apple, Amazon, and Google founders. The book emphasizes the importance of identifying what makes an environment conducive to consistent innovation. While these companies have faced criticism for their policies and practices, they have demonstrated their skills in consistently innovation. Three critical differences between the strongest product companies are their views on the role of technology, the role of product leaders, and the purpose of product teams, including product managers, designers, and engineers. In contrast, strong product companies view technology as a necessary expense, rather than a subservient role to the business. This results in technology teams serving the business rather than the customers. In contrast, strong product companies view technology as a business asset, enabling and powering the products and services they provide. This results in higher motivation, morale, and innovation and value for customers and the business.
In most product companies, true product leadership is missing in action, with feature teams mainly serving as facilitators rather than product strategists. The business often has reasons for what they request or put on roadmaps, but they rarely have a product strategy or the skills or data required to create one. The “product strategy” is about trying to please as much of the business as possible. When technology product companies moved to Agile methods, many managers and leaders questioned the necessity of empowered teams. Instead, better leaders and managers are needed.
In his latest book, Empowered, Marty Cagan discusses the lack of true product leadership in most product companies. He argues that the current approach is lacking in product strategy, technology as an expensive adjunct, coaching, and hiring. This results in unmotivated, disengaged employees who fail to deliver the innovation needed to stay competitive. Cagan pays tribute to the late Bill Campbell, a business coach who advised companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google. He emphasizes that managers should get their teams onboarded and up to speed for long-term business transformation.
Cagan’s advice includes being specific when identifying the most important business problems a product team should solve, helping everyone achieve the competence necessary to solve those problems, and focusing on what will truly move the needle for the business. Empowering product teams starts with giving them meaningful work while ensuring they have the right skills to win against the problem space assigned to them. Cagan emphasizes that while it’s easy to say a person isn’t a good fit, it’s important to ask yourself what you have done to help them get to where they need to be. Empowered by Cagan focuses on leading an empowered team by identifying skill gaps, reshuffling employees, hiring for new roles, or both. The book explores staffing, competence and character, onboarding, and performance reviews. It also discusses arming empowered teams with a strong product vision, a strategy that employees can rally around, and evangelizing the value product teams bring to the organization. It is suitable for a cross-section of business professionals, including startup founders or new CEOs, as it provides a framework for hiring product leaders and offers a window into career growth. The book is a substantial and affordable resource, covering a wide range of topics and providing valuable insights for product leaders.
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