Top critical review
Wish it had more project to product and less metrics and tools
Reviewed in the United States on June 23, 2020
I was super excited to see Project to Product. This is such an important topic and such a big change within large organizations. In my opinion, there is still a lot to be written on this topic and I hoped Mik Kersten's book would do this! I kept my excitement for a while although felt that the book lacked thorough research at times. It did cover the topic I had been waiting for in chapter 2. It was shallow, but hey, it is only chapter 2, so the rest of the book will dive in all the details, give examples and stories of companies that made that change, right? Not so. The rest of the book was about metrics... and then about tools. I had not properly checked the background of the author, but the focus on tools made me suspicious. Checking it further, the author works in a company that builds a tool to integrate tools together. After discovering that, it became harder and harder to seriously read the book and not see it as a massive sales pitch. I was disappointed and felt it was unfortunate as there is so much to be said about changing from project-management to product-management.
Anyways. The book consists of three parts: (1) the flow framework, (2) value stream metrics, and (3) value stream networks. The book starts with an introduction in which it introduces a thinking model which is referred to in the rest of the book, which is structures of technological revolutions. According to the model, these consist of an "installation period" in which the new technology rapidly develops and the "deployment period" in which is the new technology becomes widespread. In between these is "the turning point" and the author claims we are in at that point.
The first part consist of an introduction and then chapter 2 which talks about the difference between project-based management and product-based management. I enjoyed this chapter, although I felt it confused some concepts and was short on details. For example, looking at projects as having a cost-center approach vs products having a profit-center approach. While they do often come hand in hand, they are not directly related. Also, the author missed the topic of pretending projects to be independent and the long-term effect of that which was curious even though he later talks about problems of technical debt at length. Here, our backgrounds seem to be related. He had spent some time in Nokia and shared his opinion on the reason why they failed (not the company, but the phone business, unfortunately, the author seems unaware they are separate things). Having worked in Nokia myself and seen the development up close, I felt his analysis was superficial. But that is a discussion for over a beer and not in a book review. The last chapter in this part introduces the flow framework, which the author presents as some kind of meta-framework for managing product development.
The second part is about metrics. The first chapter defines several product development metrics which the author refers to as flow metrics. These metrics were not bad just not sure where the author was going with this and there the project to product would come back. After attempting to convince the reader that these metrics are the ones for managing the development, the next chapter attempts to link them to business results. The last chapter described measuring and handling failures in development. The content was dry and theoretical. There were no examples of companies that adopted these metrics and neither examples of how they were used. The few examples throughout the book are either general stories that were read or examples of the author's own company. A lot more detailed examples and stories might have made these come to life.
The last part was about value stream networks (I gave up being irritated about the hijacking of the word value stream and giving it a different meaning). In this part, the author expands the flow framework with two more layers. This happens because the author attempts to make the flow metrics a reality in the current complex tool landscape in most enterprises. The author doesn't challenge whether the current complex organizations need to be that complex (and seems to forget about the project to product simplification for a moment). The author also doesn't wonder whether all these tools in organizations are necessary. He does interestingly conclude that the increase in specialization will continue... even though the lean thinking movement (which he refers to at times) actively encourages multi-skilled workers and less specialization. Therefore, the solution to this is to integrate all the enterprise tools together.... At this point, I have some trouble not getting angry as that has been the promised solution for all my working life and it has never actually worked or provided benefits. Instead, it usually led to management being further away from the development as they can just look at the dashboards, leading to less understanding of the actual work, leading to much worst development. It was really hard to follow the reasoning of the author. Anyways, when you decided that the answer is to connect all tools together, then you need two additional layers, the activity model that generalizes the concepts used in the tools and the integration model that explains how the tools are connected. The rest of the part tries to explain these, although it was hard to finish the book at this point.
I wanted to like this book so much! Unfortunately, I didn't. It made me angry at times when the author states that the data in the tools is the reality (gemba) of software development. There is nothing about development, teams, team work, or anything that I would consider the reality of software development. There was only the assumption that the tools reflect accurately what goes on in development, not an experience I have. Perhaps the disappointment wouldn't have been so big if the book was simply titled "The flow framework: flow metrics and linking tools in development." It would be a more valid title, though I would not have read the book then at all. Unfortunately, to me, the book did not follow what the title promised and I do not recommend anyone to read this book. That said, I did learn some new models and ways of thinking, so I'll leave this with 2 stars.