Writing a Book with the Product Management Hat On

A friend of mine is about to embark on writing a book. He has a really unique story and set of qualifications that make this a no-brainer. It’s going to be a non-fictional health-related PSA that brings medical research and the patient experience together to help people cope with an illness. Besides thinking it is going to be a fabulous addition to the medical world, I have been helping him think through how to best position the message.

We had discussed concept, audience, and message several times, but he was no closer to moving forward with the conviction that he was starting out on the right foot. So what did we do? On a long trip back from vacation we had a ton of time to kill and no access to the internet. So we started brainstorming. We sketched around some ideas on paper. We chatted long term impact. We tried writing a few outlines, but still couldn’t move forward. And then we pulled out a PRD, or a Product Requirements Document.

In the tech world, a product manager will use a PRD to specify the   “what” of a product: the problem they’re   solving, the required features, release criteria for the product, etc so that the product can be understood by anyone interacting with it in the building phase.

Why did we pull out a PRD? Well, I’m a product manager and had the outline of how to put one together sitting around. I’m also a big fan of applying mental frameworks from one discipline to another and seeing how things work out.

My friend could have continued to let writers block eat him alive but instead by  reaching into a totally different industry for a mental framework, he was able to come up with a very concise pitch and direction for his book that allowed him to start writing the first chapter the next day with confidence.

You can do this with just about any problem you’re struggling with – ask yourself how you normally go about solving a problem and start there, or look up ways people in different roles make decisions.

Back to the story…so what does starting to write a book with a PRD look like?

The steps look a bit like this…(and by the way, the PRD template we worked off of was Martin Cagan’s from Kholsa Ventures):

  1. Do Your Homework
    • Do your research
  2. Define the Product Purpose
    • What Need are you Filling? Value Prop
    • What Does Success Look like?
  3. Define the User Profile, Goals, and Tasks
    • Who are your users? What are they like?
    • What are their goals and objectives?
    • What tasks help these people accomplish their goals?
  4. Define Your Product Principles
    • Simple set of principles to guide all product decisions
  5. Prototype the Product Concept
    • You should test in 3 ways:
      • Feasibility testing – is it possible to build?
      • Usability testing – is it easy for anyone to use?
      • Product Concept testing – will people want to buy it?
  6. Identify and Question your Assumptions
    • List all assumptions at this point
  7. Write it Down (an outline)
    • Product Purpose
    • Features
    • Release Criteria
  8. Prioritize
    • Rank all features!

So was this perfect? Is this how you would really sit down and write a book? Probably not. But it got us going.

2013-09-04 22.36.19

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