In a product manager meeting at our organization recently, we were all handed the book Insipired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love. Our leadership team had just started reading it and wanted all of the product managers to read it too. They asked if anyone had read it already, and I was the only one. Which surprised me a bit.
So with that, I wanted to put together my 5 "must read" books for product managers. I limited myself to 5 because this list could become huge. But these are the books that I've found the most useful and most important for product managers. I'm planning on writing a few more posts that break down books by stages of career and personal development, but here is my quintessential list of must reads for any product manager.
1. Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
This is basically the best handbook on product management that I've ever read.
It is primarily written for product managers and outlines the roles and best practices for product teams. Marty has vast experience working on products and with product teams, and has managed to distill that experience into a guidebook for all ofus. Honestly, if you don't ready any other book, this could probably get you started on the road to creating great products. However, he does reference and pull ideas from many places, so the more familiarity you have with things like lean, agile, research, organization, etc., the more you'll get out of this book.
Not only does this book outline best practices, but it calls out the things to avoid. And if Chapter 6 sounds at all familiar to you (it had me pretty depressed with how close to home it hit for me and often still does), then you know you need the lessons from this book.
It is also very much worth re-reading. As with any book, the lessons you're likely to take out of it depend on what you are currently experiencing. So this is a go-to book for me, and one of the few books that I have on my list to re-read periodically.
2. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
If there was an entrance exam into product management, then this would certainly be one of the textbooks you'd need to study in order to pass.
I didn't read it until years into my product management career, and felt a little embarrassed that I was just picking it up. It is incredibly detailed and dives into all things design. Everything from the psychopathology of things in our world to true design thinking.
The 2nd edition has a lot of updated examples, which are incredibly helpful. And there are still the classics, like office doors that don't have appropriate signals to let you know whether you should push or pull (we have doors that slide in my current office, so you can only imagine the havoc that has wreaked on people as they learn the identify the cues).
I'm a firm believer that as product managers we must be well-versed in good design. It certainly isn't something that is "just for the designers" (though your team's designer should be working with you every step of the way).
3. Competing Against Luck by Clayton Christensen
If you're not familiar with Clayton Christensen's books, you should definitely check them out.
He is probably most famous for The Innovator's Dilemma which is foundational to the idea of innovative disruption. Certainly a must read business book. But Competing Against Luck is much more applicable to product managers directly in my opinion. It is pretty much the culmination of all their team's research and writing on the idea of "jobs to be done" and its application.
Jobs to be done essentially boils to the idea that customers don't buy products for the sake of the product. They "hire" products in order to help them get jobs done. No one wants a quarter-inch drillbit, they want a quarter-inch hole.
So we need to focus on the job to be done and why customers hire our products. I've been a long-time subscriber to the theory of jobs to be done, and this is one of the best books that brings all the research and theory together.
4. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
This book pretty much started a revolution in how we create products (or brought together a lot of the new techniques that were taking off).
As a product manager, you need to understand the principles of lean. Whether it is for a startup or for a large company, the principles are largely the same. Getting to validated learning, rapid experimentation and shortened development cycles in order to understand what customers want and deliver those solutions.
The Lean Startup is pretty fundamental to product development these days. It is pretty much assumed that everyone is familiar with most of these principles, so you'll want to be familiar with this book. And more importantly, they will make you a better product manager creating better products. As you learn, get feedback and iterate, you will be able to avoid the pitfalls of so many products out there.
5. Sprint by Jake Knapp
This book has been really influential in my application of design thinking.
Like the title suggests, it is about testing ideas in order to solve big problems. And doing it in a week. It gives the blueprint for how to conduct a "sprint" (I think of it as a design sprint since we use sprint in other places for scrum). And it shows how to get from problem to verified solution in a week.
In my experience, you don't have to run design sprints to get the benefits of the principles of the design sprint. I've taken may aspects of this book and applied them to meetings or other contexts. We've done "mini-sprints" where we take smaller problems and go through the steps over the course of a few hours.
So whether you're looking at small problems or need to do a full week-long sprint to validate ideas, this is a very practical book on how to get there.
So there it is. My top books for product managers. It was pretty difficult to narrow this down to just 5 books. There are a ton of great options out there that I couldn't include here. But I truly feel like these 5 books lay an incredibly solid foundation for product managers. So if you have read any of these before, you and your organization will benefit from these principles.
My personal musings on a variety of topics.