Book ‘Inspired’​ wasn't inspiring.

Book ‘Inspired’​ wasn't inspiring.

"Inspired" Book review

There are so many books about Agile product development, yet so few decent ones. Some are even harmful.

Have you read the book “Inspired”? I tried, but hardly was able to read the third and was so uninspired by the reading!

I think this article should start a good tradition of reviewing books I have read and sharing these reviews with my network.

Executive summary

Book title: Inspired
Author: Marty Cagan
Book topic: Product development
Book score: 2 out of 5 (nearly useless)

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Book cons

The book starts with a hard-sell

The author starts by describing how cool and credible he was, essentially hard-selling himself. For example:

“I have had some great rides, and I am especially thankful that I have had the chance to work for and with some of the best minds in the industry”

I don’t know about you, but for me, it would rather decrease the level of credibility. In a solid book, I would expect some information about the background research, supporting the book findings, industry experts the author has consulted with or the real details about the author's experience.

Missing or anecdotal evidence

There are quite a few strong opinions in the book, yet so little to support them. At best, you would be given a piece of anecdotal evidence, like ‘it must be true because X told me that company Y does that’. In many cases, there’s no evidence or support materials altogether. It seems you just have to trust what the author writes. Maybe that’s why the book starts with the hard sell?

Mercenaries vs. missionaries is a stretch

One of the central ideas of the book is "Mercenaries vs. Missionaries". The book advocates one should hire only "Missionaries". While it sounds cool I am sure this advice is harmful.

First —I don’t believe there is anything wrong with being a ‘mercenary” at work. You just trade your time and skills for money — which is fair and simple.

Your manager can use the ‘I am paying you!’ trump card and no one gets offended. If you had a bad day (or you think my manager or teammate was acting like a jerk) — you could rant over a pint of beer, with no hard feelings being held. It’s a job, no one has to make me happy.

Of course, it never hurts to be caring about the product idea or what kind of business the company is doing in general, but it is OK if one is not overcommitted to it.

"Mercenaries" are very easy to manage, which is great.

Now with ‘missionaries’, what would you do if a ‘missionary’ wholeheartedly disagrees with what you (or the rest of the team) says or believes? Or even worse —if ‘missionary’ disagrees with a higher management on product decisions? ‘I am paying you’ or ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’ (which may be masked by *‘disagree and commit’*catch-phrase) would not (and should not) work.

You will have to either persuade them (hard, if even possible) or let them go — because *‘missionaries’ *would nurture what they have faith in.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy being let go just because I disagree with what my boss or the rest of the team believes and/or says. That happened once and it was not at all pretty.

I have also actually made a bit of research here, published several papers and wrote a master thesis on the subject at the Belarusian State University, guided by one of the best psychology and management experts in Belarus A. A. Trus (more about him can be found here: Long story short — you don’t want to have ‘missionaries’ at the workplace, and neither they want to be there unless you are OK with the significant drop in manageability; which is not an opinion, but a fact confirmed by a solid piece of evidence. I can provide you with the original research if you want.

Start with a ‘great team’ is a BS

Another "helpful" advice the book gives is that one should just "start with a great team".

So many books start with the premise of ‘having a great team’ (with ‘having nice customers’ or a ‘great market fit’) following next. Once you have these — everything should work. If it did not work — it is you who didn’t have a ‘great team’, not the author, who gave you rubbish advice.

It reminds me of ‘Panties business’ from the South Park. Just replace *‘Collect undeprants’ *with ‘Remember of the importance of having a great team’, and it will be a concise and relevant illustration of those books’ ideas.

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(image credit and license:

It is easy to say ‘build a great team’, but it is hard (if even possible) to build one. People are complex creatures, they change, they tire, they have breakdowns, and they get angry. I do not think that you should ‘start’ with a ‘great team’. Instead, one has to work hard to build and maintain a decent one, feeling lucky if they were able to. If it does not work (which is quite often the case), one has to learn how to work with the team they have. Why do we have so few books on these subjects?

Have you read this (or any other ‘Agile prophecy’) book and weren’t inspired by it? Please share your experience!

Updates and clarifications

  1. I am not against ‘disagree and commit’ principle, in fact, I support that entirely. But unless there’s a structured and clear way of decision making what should we commit to?

  2. That’s where the fallacy of ‘missionaries over mercenaries’ kicks in. I am not saying one should not care or enjoy their work, product or company mission. Instead, I am saying it should not be the only and/or main driver. Like one great Software Craftsman said, ‘I am not paid to be happy, I am paid to do the job’. Job is job, and being able to do what you don’t like and ‘disagree and commit’ is an inherent part of being a professional.

  3. One of the first modules of any decent postgraduate program would be ‘Critical reading’. I don’t disagree with every idea in the book. I disagree with many, I find some interesting, but I absolutely hate the way highly questionable opinions are being presented as irrefutable facts. I also fail to understand those who dismiss this argument simply because they like the ideas. I like TDD, which didn’t stop me from writing an article to acknowledge the fact that we don’t have solid scientific evidence confirming TDD actually brings the benefits with think it should bring.

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