Website Product Management – an excellent new book from David Hobbs

As a community we are very fortunate that some of the most experienced practitioners in website and intranet management not only write excellent books but self-publish them to a standard that many commercial publishers seem unable to meet. Jane McConnell, Michael Sampson, and James Robertson are just three examples. I can tell you that after writing seven books myself I have enormous respect for anyone who can first write and then publish a book. It is a very lonely existence and not until the reviews start to appear does the cash flow.

In the case of Website Product Management it should start to flow to David Hobbs very quickly. David is perhaps best known for his work on website migration but in this book he looks at the overall process of constructing and deconstructing websites, intranets and extranets. His basic philosophy is to keep a website small and simple. This is perhaps a bigger challenge with an intranet where the focus on the customer (hopefully!) is replaced by a quasi-democratic process where every manager seems to get a vote on the content strategy.  I met up with David in Washington late last year over a seriously good dinner in Union Station and we talked at length about the title of the book. Is a website a product? In David’s view a web presence is not a typical product, since it is not usually something for sale itself. But product management is a discipline that clearly and holistically defines what is being offered  to potential and existing customers, and it is anchored in long term business value. In the case of the web, potential customers have a lot of other places they could go, so the competitive advantage is keenly important. I would add that in the case of an intranet they have no where else to go.

Part 1 is about Product Thinking, starting with defining the business need and then thinking broadly about the long term because any change has the possibility of eroding the website, either over the long term (for instance, something that is difficult to maintain) or lowering the quality (for instance, implementing something that erodes brand consistency). In Part 2: Getting the Bones Right, the main themes are maximising impact and engaging to make sure that requirements are being met. In Part 3:  Ongoing Change, David discusses the need to phase changes and to streamline common activities.

This book, like those from James and Michael, is an ‘Of course!’ book. As soon as you read the text you realise that there is a better way to approach a task and you are cross with yourself for not recognising the problem, the opportunity or the solution. Reading the text you will also realise that the advice comes from a considerable amount of experience, and from getting things wrong and realising there is a better way. The writing is very elegant and considered. Like a good website not a word is wasted in getting the message across. The e-book may only be just over 100 pages in length but I challenge you to get to the end without making a long list of things to do tomorrow morning, recouping the $24 cost of the book in perhaps just a few minutes. But don’t just buy one copy, buy one for every member of your team, and while you are at it, for all the major stakeholders you work with.

Martin White