• Pages 290, Avg. time to read: 1-2 weeks

The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen


My desire to consume non-fiction has always been driven by the need to learn more about the world we’re in. However, I always wondered if authors were being truly candid in their descriptions of the environment. Each time I picked up a book, I judged it, not by the cover, but by its ability to convince me of its honesty. And my judgment of The Lean Product Playbook was no different. Here was a read that claimed to teach me how to effectively innovate using rapid customer feedback. The jacket gave little indication of what was housed inside, so I was forced to read a chapter before I made a larger investment. What followed was nothing short of incredible.

In all honesty, The Lean Product Playbook is not a book – it’s a process. One would expect the author to add some excitement to the mundane nature of describing a process, but Olsen does nothing of that sort. He carefully segregates chapters into steps, each enormously relevant to the fundamental goal of building minimum viable products or MVPs before ultimately going to market. His premise is – don’t invest time in perfecting a product, rather create tiny versions or prototypes that can be quickly tested with a relevant pool of customers. This will generate important feedback at every stage that will improve the design so that when the final product is launched, you’re confident that it will succeed. Incidentally, this is also where the book gets its title from – a lean product is when you cut the fat and only retain the essentials.

What makes it bookshelf-worthy?

This book is essential for any business that’s looking to venture into a new market or those who are interested in building innovative products. What’s interesting is that it also serves as an eye-opener for any designer that’s worked in product management before.

As a creative professional, I had little to no knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes when a design is shipped. We are often led to believe that giving the customer what he wants is a function of user research, good design and implementing the right feedback. While that is very true, we spend little time understanding the business aspects that go into shipping good products. I was exposed to the inner workings of product management during my work at Deloitte, but it was only when I read this book that I found myself putting a name to the things I’d done. This is precisely what reinforced my confidence in the honesty of this book – it helped me identify exactly what I’d done and why it mattered in the larger scheme of things. Moreover, I knew the author wasn’t describing some utopian model, but was recounting real-life scenarios of moving through a product’s lifecycle.

Misses

The biggest challenge for a person reading this book is the lack of prior knowledge about the industry. I would imagine that non-technical readers who have never been exposed to product design would find the read quite taxing. Additionally, the book is excessively content-heavy, so memorability is drastically affected. I found myself constantly taking notes for future reference, however, I didn’t mind since the purpose of consumption was to learn and ultimately implement. But this is not a book I would recommend to everyone primarily due to its niche genre.

That being said, it still is an excellent read for businesses and aspiring/existing product managers and designers. It beautifully captures the intricacies of developing products that customers can fall in love with through several relevant examples and live case studies. While I haven’t read any other books that categorically define the journey of innovation, I can’t imagine that it gets any better than this. And even though, there is much debate around how detailed a prototype needs to be in today’s technologically advanced landscape, this book gets everything right in terms of introducing a process and seeing it through to the end, making it a must-read for those seeking to innovate.