I often get asked advice on books for product managers to read, in order to further develop their skills. At some point, I thought it would be good to have such a list easily available; I’ve also extended it to books for product leaders too.
All of them are books for product managers I have read myself, and I’ve added a personal note on each of them. I am an avid book reader, and I’ll keep adding books as I go.
In each section, I opted for sorting the books starting from the most recent.
Product Management Essentials books
Melissa Perri. Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value. (2018)
My go-to answer when asked what’s the first book on product management they should read.
Tim Herbig. Lateral Leadership: a Practical Guide for Agile Product Managers. (2018)
Product Managers permanently live in this conundrum of responsibility without authority. Hence the lateral leadership: we need to take the helm of a ship of peers, not reports). Tim provides practical advice on how to get around this through strategic alignment and empathy, and wisely using conflict escalation.
Marty Cagan. INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, 2nd edition. (2017)
As for books for product managers, this one is simply mandatory. Often taken as a product management bible, it’s best used as a toolkit of frameworks. You won’t always be able to follow Marty’s advice literally, but there’s lot from where build your own path.
Jeff Patton. User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product. (2014)
Advanced Product Management books
Christina Wodtke. Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results, 2nd edition. (2021)
The book on OKRs, and the strongest influence on how I think and act about them. The only angle I respectfully disagree with is cascading them up to the individual level. First published in 2016, Christina’s book stood the test of time and made it to a 2nd edition. All the advice is practically applicable, even for early stage startups.
Randy Silver. What Do We Do Now?: A product manager’s guide to strategy in the time of crisis. (2020)
Randy wrote and published this one in the middle of the crisis: the boom of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a snappy and actionable read on (sudden) change management for product manager. Oh, and its proceeds go to charity!
Richard Rumelt, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters. (2011)
As we move in seniority, books for product managers must include strategy — not just product, but business strategy in general. Rumelt stresses that strategies need to be a specific and coherent set of actions towards a goal. By only having a vague vision and non-actionable goals, most companies have bad strategy, or no strategy at all.
Andy Grove. High Output Management. (1995)
The title doesn’t really do it justice, and I regret having postponed reading it because of that. For Andy, we should see “individual contributors who gather and disseminate … information” as middle managers; I see product managers in that definition. Key takeaways include:
- managers as value multipliers (not value added),
- the value of writing even if no one reads;
- delegating without abdicating;
- monitoring at the lowest-added-value stage of a process as a way to fail cheap;
- effective meetings (including which not to hold).
Adjacent or Specific Product Management Skills
Kai-Fu Lee. AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, And The New World Order. (2018)
This book dissects an important competitive dynamic between China and “the western world” (most notably the US). With artificial intelligence at the centre, the book compares China’s and US’s different barriers and approaches to innovation. The author goes on to consider the impact of AI on society, and ponder on the role of universal basic income therein.
Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, and Sangeet Paul Choudary. Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy. (2016)
I will spare my words: this is simply THE book on platform businesses, period. It was also the biggest influence on my own view on product strategy for platform businesses.
Chris Voss. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It. (2016)
What does hostage negotiation have in common with product management? A lot, especially if you have problems dealing with conflict.
Karen Berman and Joseph Knight. Financial Intelligence, Revised Edition (A Manager’s Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean). (2013)
Knowing how a company’s finances work, although not essential, can help you:
- make better decisions, and
- understand some decisions made around you.
I’ve read it a couple of times cover to cover, and sometimes come back to it for reference.
Chris Anderson. TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. (2016)
Scott Berkun. Confessions of a Public Speaker. (2009)
(Product) Leadership books
Petra Wille. Strong Product People: A Complete Guide to Developing Great Product Managers. (2021)
Marty Cagan (with Chris Jones). EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products. (2020)
Currently reading it, I’ll add my personal note soon after I’ve finished it.
Julie Zhuo. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You. (2019)
If you see yourself managing PMs in the future, it’s a definite must-read. Otherwise, you’ll find useful lessons for:
- lateral leadership as an individual contributor,
- managing up (learning to “use” your manager), or
- coaching aspiring PMs without becoming a manager.
Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais. Team Topologies. (2019)
This book provides a model for organisation design around four fundamental types of software team topology. Although the model is arguably engineering-centric, it’s clear that these teams can be product teams. For that reason, it’s indispensable for any product leader who wants to co-design a product development organisation with their engineering leadership peers.
Camille Fournier. The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change. (2017)
This one clearly targets an audience of (to-be) engineering managers. However, it still provides lots of tips for PMs to work with them, and even help them in their journey.
Books on Culture and Working
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. (2018)
I’ve actually read Make Time more or less at the same time as this one. I found It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work to provide more generalisable (hence useful) advice. Make Time felt too focused on specific techniques the authors use but fall flat as soon as your context differs from theirs. (This is more or less how I feel about David Allen’s Getting Things Done too).
Erin Meyer. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Businesses. (2014)
In college, I learned about Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, and even then they sounded outdated. (Masculinity vs femininity? Really?) Erin’s book is a way more modern guide to interpersonal relationships and communication across cultures. It’s an essential soft skills book for product managers, especially if you work with remote / distributed teams. You shouldn’t used to stereotype cultures; you should instead use it to take a step back from your own culture’s biases.
Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. (2010)
Communicating with each other is what we most often need to do to be successful. Yet, we learn nothing about it in school/uni. While this is still the case, Difficult Conversations is a must-read to bridge that gap.
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