Cranky Product Manager #Fail.

The Cranky Product Manager sincerely apologizes, but there will be no book. No tome entitled ‘Product Management, the Cranky Way’.

This was an effort that so many of you generously supported via KickStarter, and the Cranky Product Manager is so very sorry to let you down. She is also deeply disappointed in herself.

Writing this book was a long-term dream of the Cranky Product Manager. She really wanted to share what she’s learned about product management, and maybe share some of the humor and pain as well. She was motivated to contribute to the field and the profession she loved.

But, alas, the book has defeated the Cranky Product Manager. There are many reasons, but it’s mostly because she’s a working mom with a demanding job, plus two small children for whom she is primary caretaker. The family is her absolute top priority, and the job is second because it helps keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. All attempts to fit other, lower priority activities — like writing — into the schedule have left the Cranky Product Manager feeling extremely overextended, stressed out, and sleep deprived, which meant she couldn’t be at her best for her family, colleagues, or customers.

The situation is unlikely to change for some years because the kids are still small. To finish this book in the near future, the CPM would have to see a lot less of her family, and that feels like the exact opposite of what her kids need right now.

The other major reason? The Cranky Product Manager sucks at writing books. She can’t keep such a large thing in her head at once, and this caused all kinds of problems, resulting in an unreadable 600-page blob at one point. If you’re interested in the details, you’ll find them in the "FAQ" at the bottom of this post.

In hindsight, the Cranky Product Manager should have realized that writing a book was too ambitious at this point in life. When she hatched this KickStarter campaign in 2012, she had only returned to full-time work just two weeks earlier, after a maternity leave and working part-time for several months. Already, she was already having difficulty keeping up with the blog. Why the Cranky Product Manager thought a book would be less time-consuming than a blog can only be chalked up to extreme naivete!

And so again, the Cranky Product Manager sincerely apologizes. She knows that you all believed in her, and you all supported her. She’s so sorry to let you down, and so disappointed in herself. She expects many of you will be angry, and she finds that very understandable. She takes full responsibility. She will do what it takes to make it right for each and every one of you. She hopes that you will eventually forgive her.

So this is what is going to happen.

  1. You’ll get back 100% of the money you contributed. Because KickStarter does not have a built-in way to refund money, it will be a semi-manual process that will take a few weeks. The Cranky Product Manager strongly prefers to do refunds via PayPal transfers, to avoid even more transaction fees (she’s already in the hole from KickStarter fees), but if that won’t work for you, we’ll find another way.

    • Within a week, she’ll contact you via a Kickstarter survey, to gather the details needed to send you money via PayPal.
    • If PayPal won’t work for you, make sure you tell me in the survey. I’ll then contact you individually so we can figure out another way to get money to you, even if I have to mail cash in a paper envelope.
    • WARNING: the refund process will take a few weeks (money has to be moved around and there are waiting periods, plus there’s a lot of manual bookkeeping involved), but it should be all done before Christmas.
  2. The Cranky Product Manager will occasionally publish content over the next year, but it will not be in a big book. Instead, it will be in long articles and e-books that each focus on a specific topic (such as Market Feedback Programs or Doing Product Strategy). After all, the Cranky Product Manager did write a bunch of stuff already, and she doesn’t want it to completely go to waste.

    But the CPM now realizes that she cannot make any promises about dates, given that this is basically a hobby and will always be lower priority than family and job.

    Note that as a former supporter of this project, you will be entitled to any e-books for free. If you want, she’ll email you a note when they are ready.

  3. Last but not least, the Cranky Product Manager thanks you. Even though she never managed to write this thing, the research and writing process made her a far more knowledgeable and capable product leader. At the beginning, she had a lot of experience and practical knowledge, but writing forced her to dissect all her beliefs about product management under a microscope and learn more — lots more. She researched deeply, learned from others, and did on-the-job experiments. As a result, she has made some big changes to the way she "does" product management, and is much more effective and knowledgeable than before.

Thank you for the opportunity you gave me and for your generous support. I sincerely regret that I was unable to deliver.

FAQ on the Failure of the Cranky Book

Q: What did the Cranky Product Manager find so difficult about writing a book versus writing shorter articles?

A book can hold a lot of stuff, and somehow the Cranky Product Manager thought she’d be able to stuff everything — yes, everything — she knows about product management into just one book. Alas, turns out she could fill around 10 books.

Having too much to say led to much difficulty structuring the book and letting go of the non-essential. Because she only had time to work on the book sporadically, she’d go sometimes go 5-20 days between writing sessions, and would then forget what she had already written. For instance, she’d forget that she had already introduced a topic, and so would introduce it again in a different section.

Result: the book soon became a big rats’ nest of overlapping content and unconnected topics without a central narrative. At one point, the book had ballooned up to 600 pages (mostly bullet points, alas), and read like The World’s Most Boring yet Schizophrenic PRD.

At other points, the writing process made the Cranky Product Manager realize she didn’t know a topic as well as she thought. So, she’d go off and extensively research, say, product editioning, metrics-based Product Management, end-of-life best practices, or whatnot. But then she couldn’t bring herself to actually write about these new ideas without first trying them out for real, on the job. And in trying them out, she’d learn so much more and have new ideas that she wanted to try out and write about….and so on and so on…Result? More delays.

Finally, a proper structure for this book never emerged despite dozens and dozens of attempts.

Q: Why didn’t the Cranky Product Manager apply what she knows about Product Management to the writing of this book?

Excellent question, dear reader. The same thought has popped into the Cranky Product Manager’s head on many occasions. The irony is super thick. As the Cranky Product Manager wrote about the virtues of Agile, she ensnared herself in a very Waterfall approach to writing. And not surprisingly, the results were similar to what she’s seen with many waterfall projects: bloated, poor usability, where the product does not "hang together properly," and then the product ultimately fails.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that she should have used a more Agile approach, doing one chapter — or even smaller — at a time, releasing early drafts instead of fully baked chapters, soliciting frequent feedback, etc. In fact, a few readers explicitly recommended she go Agile after the second schedule slip.

So, why did the Cranky Product Manager resist "going Agile"?

  1. Rightly or wrongly, the Cranky Product Manager viewed the book as "Art" more than "Product." With Art, the artist has a vision of what he/she wants to create, achieve, and give to the world. The satisfaction of realizing the creative vision, which was fully born and germinated inside the artist’s head alone–without compromise driven from the outside–is what drives artists. The desire to achieve her specific artistic vision is what drove the Cranky Product Manager in this endeavor. It was what drove the blog, as well.

  2. She believed an Agile process would suck the humor right out of the book.. The Cranky Product Manager knows damn well that her snarky-assed sense of humor/tragedy is the only thing that distinguishes her blog from countless others on Product Management, and is the only reason this book ever got funding. So the book had to be funny. But all humor relies on SURPRISE. There’s a reason why comedians don’t do Beta tests with their actual audience. The Cranky Product Manager worried that putting out early partial drafts, before she had fully figured out the jokes, would suck the humor right out of the book.

The Cranky Product Manager now realizes the folly of at least #1. But for #2, she is still not sure. With Agile methods, she might have been able to deliver a decent book. But it probably would not have been funny.

27 comments

  1. Paco

    It’s all-good, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s great that you tried and who knows – maybe you’ll take a stab again someday and it will click. Till then, looking forward to your articles and whatnot :)

  2. Amye

    Books are reallyreally hard and there’s absolutely no shame in rolling over and going, ‘this game is not going to be worth the candle and I can’t produce a product I am proud of’.

    Good on you.
    – a

  3. Nev

    Hey, Cranky lady, cheer up! At least you can brag that you ACTUALLY started writing a book. So many people just think or talk about doing it. And you got some many new ideas that actually made you better at your job.
    I don’t really need my money back. Could I instead have your drafts? You can call them “Notes from a (former) Cranky PM” or “Brief Memoirs of DysfunctoSoft”, keeping full authorship, ownership, and the right to go back and turn them into a book once the kids go to college. No need to edit the notes or put them in fancy e-books. I’ll enjoy reading the raw material as it is. If that is an acceptable option for you, please contact me over email. Otherwise, I will wait for the survey and follow the money back procedure as you design it.

  4. Jordan

    Don’t sweat it. I get it. Just a thought, but why not ask for help from your community instead of giving up altogether? There’s probably at least a couple dozen PMs (myself included) who’d gladly help edit your tome down for a simple mention as contributor. Also, (and maybe I’m misinterpreting, but) why were you trying to write the equivalent of a Product Management encyclopedia anyway? I was initially expecting a compilation of your blog posts and maybe a bonus chapter or two on some of your recent thoughts on PM since having left the blogosphere… Sounds like perfection was the enemy of good enough.

  5. Cindy F. Solomon

    You have the rest of your life and career to write that book, but you only have this time when your children are young and you have the energy to enjoy them. Congratulations on excellent prioritization. It’s not a fail, as you point out – its a learning experience. The most difficult thing is letting go and moving on – remember this when you choose battles as your kids get older! When you come up for air in a few years, if it remains on your backlog, there is always outsourcing, a paired programming/content development approach, and delegating. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Michael W

    My recommendation would be to put it on hold for a while. Definitely pursue the current approach, but as your children get bigger, go to school, etc. you might find the time to complete the venture. Also, it gives you the time to consider finding some co-conspirators or editorial junkies along the way to help carry the burden. But, I know exactly where you’re coming from; my daughter just turned one and free time is fairly non-existent between being a parent and a professional. :)

  7. Mahesh

    Yeah, sounds like some of the projects I have been upto and the constant battle of priorities. Keep the blogs coming, incisive insights on failure help to succeed in future endeavors!

  8. Brian

    You’ve done the right thing. I’ve been making adujstments too in order to spend more time with my three little ones. NEVER REGRET spending more time with them.

    I apprecieate the update, and am happy to help if you decide you want it.

  9. Jody

    Have you thought about collaborating? In my pre-PM days, I was a nonfiction book editor and collaborator. Sometimes you just need a second brain in gear (although you already knew that, didn’t you?).

    Feeling your pain, in any case–I also have two small children, and it’s all I can do to blog once every three months. Something has to give. Bravo for letting it go!

  10. Michael Hordern

    Who wants to join a “let her keep the money” campaign?

    Doing this job is hard; explaining it to other people is even harder! We need all the help we can get and when that help comes layered with snarky wit and great “fictional” examples it’s got to be worth something.

    Ditto for raising a family.

    Personally, I’d rather she kept the money, worried less, and wrote the blog.

    What do you think?

  11. Steve Johnson

    I agree with Michael : “Personally, I’d rather she kept the money, worried less, and wrote the blog.”

    But really, on your death bed, aren’t you going to say, “Darn it, I wish I’d spent a little less time with those kids and more time at work?”

    Priorities, sister.

  12. David W Locke

    Get with your technical writers. They have to write topics that become a book. They did that even when dev was waterfall. But, yeah, I had to crash out of a book, a modular book at that, when I took a day job.

    I don’t regret leaving a perfectly fine job to be there for my son.

    Enjoy!

    • Cranky Product Manager

      Hi David, about getting a writer/editor, I actually DID try that, but it didn’t really help.

      First, the revised copy that came back often had the sense of humor surgically removed. I’ve concluded my “voice” is hard to imitate.

      Second, I could not resist the temptation to endlessly try out new structures for the book, even after the editor made a pass through things. Usually when I write anything – be it a blog post, PRD, or white paper – there is an “aha” moment for me where I am sure the thing is structured the RIGHT way to accomplish my goals. Until I get to that point, I flounder about and have to try out a variety of approaches. I tried dozens of approaches for this book and never achieved that “aha” moment. And I’ve concluded that another writer/editor cannot help me get to that point because I am too much of a control freak and it is something that I achieve largely by intuition.

  13. Jamie

    Honesty and no excuses….the correct way to deliver potential difficult news – a lesson well learned in PM life. Don’t kick yourself too hard – I’ve been planning on learning the guitar for 20 years now.

  14. Mike

    Don’t be so hard on yourself — I am thinking this was the best decision you could have made. The only suggestion I would make if you are still committed to eventually publishing a book is find a great publisher who will provide you with a ghost writer who can take a significant load off your plate in this process. Enjoy your time with your family.

  15. Cyndy

    Totally agree with Jamie above – terrific job of delivering difficult news. Knowing when to pull the plug on something that isn’t working is a skill that not everyone poses. Thanks for demonstrating it so well. And, yes, I too am an Agile product manager with two kids trying to maintain work-life balance. Saying no is an important requirement of the job. Looking forward to seeing more snarky blogs!

  16. Lauran

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
    – Theodore Roosevelt

    Not saying I wasn’t looking forward to the book, but I missed your blog :)

  17. Michelle

    You are a brave woman to have even attempted this, given everything on your plate. I have a preschooler and a demanding job and there is no way I would be able to do the two and my volunteer work without the assistance of my spouse and my family. The fact that you got so far is truly amazing.

    I understand all to well the feeling that your work is, “The World’s Most Boring yet Schizophrenic PRD,” regardless of what it actually is. But most of all I just really wanted to quote that, because it made me laugh.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

  18. The Cartoonist

    Once you get the book where you want it (note the optimism in “Once you get…”) give me an e-mail, would love to illustrate it. You may recall the “7 types of Engineers” effort :)

  19. Fabiola Carcamo

    Don’t sweat it. I would have loved to read your product management stories in a book, but I’m happy to hear that your priorities are in line. :-) Thanks for the update. I’ve really enjoyed reading your cranky posts over the years, and I hope you are able to keep those coming!

  20. Yiorgara

    I thought, like some others, I could offer to help/collaborate on the book – but I kind of see where you were heading from an artistic vision perspective.

    Regarding waterfall/agile though: I’m beginning to apply an agile – i.e. do small chunks that are working solutions in their own right and get feedback – approach to other facets of my life and figure you could try this with the book. The trick is: release often and get feedback but that doesn’t always mean release to the wide world. You could simply iterate and get feedback from a very select group, or sometimes even just yourself; you would need to let some time elapse between coming back to a chapter so you can see it with fresh eyes. Just my 2c …

  21. Geoffrey Anderson

    Bummer. But, an idea. How about a screenplay and a low budget production? I would buy that for a dollar…

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