Learn Product Management With These Great Books
- 20 May, 2023
You won’t find many, if any, colleges teaching software product management. I started my career in the early 90s and was lucky to have some great mentors.
Today, it’s a lot easier to kickstart your career in product management through a number of really great books. In this list I’ve compiled my favorite product management books.
Reading these is great starting point for you to begin learning about this really rewarding career.
I’ve listed only the best books that I’ve found that have helped me become a better product manager.
The list is broken into a number of key areas around product management. Where appropriate I’ve tried to cite the chapters in the books that pertain to the area they are listed. You will notice that some books are listed under multiple sections.
What is Product Management?
Product Management is building the right product for the right customer. Of course the devil is in the details. The chapters cited in these books provide a really great overview of Product Management. If you’re interested in getting into Product Management you should start here.
Product Manager Marty Kagan walks you through the things you need to do to build amazing products. The first couple chapters of his book talk about what Product Management is and isn’t.
Many organizations have adopted Agile Scrum as the process in which product is developed. In the world of Scrum there exists the role of Product Owner. This is very similar to a product manager and you may hear the terms used interchangeably. Roman Pichler’s book takes you into the role of Product Owner. He talks the steps you need to take to develop your product iteratively. In Chapter 1 Understanding the Product Owner Role he lays out what it means to be a Product Owner.
Understanding your Customers
You can’t begin to build a great product unless you understand who your customers are. These books will help you learn how to do that.
Conducting customer interviews is a core competency of any product manager. In this book from Rob Patrick, you’ll learn how to conduct customer interviews that will help you avoid building products that only your mother would love.
You can read my summary of The Mom Test.
Chapter 17 – Personas for Product Management talks about the benefits and pitfalls of using Personas.
Alan Cooper, the father of Visual Basic, wrote this classic User Experience (UX) book almost 20 years ago. It’s still relevant today and should be essential reading to any aspiring product manager. Pay particular attention to Chapter 5 – Customer Disloyalty and Chapter 9 where he introduces the concept of Personas.
People tend to think they behave in rational ways. Author Dan Ariely sets out to prove that by and large, we don’t. This is a great book for understanding the psychology of behavior and learning why we do the things we do.
Think about the applications and products you use everyday. When did they go from a product you use to a habit?
In Hooked, Nir Eyal talks about the mechanisms you can use to get your customers to form habits around your application. It’s broken down into four phases:
- The trigger that gets us to try something for the first time.
- The action that we need to do in order to use the product.
- The reward is the payoff of the need we had to use the product in the first place
- The investment of time, money or information that goes into the product.
Crossing the Chasm has had a huge influence on my thinking about bringing high tech products into the marketplace. It’s a great book on strategy and should be on every Product Manager’s bookshelf. In part one of the book, he breaks down the product adoption life cycle and illustrates why companies continue to fail as the move along their products move along the lifecycle curve. Understanding who your customers are and where they are along the product adoption life cycle can mean that your business will succeed where others have failed.
Read Crossing the Chasm
Building the Right Products
It’s not enough to understand your customers. You need to take what you have learned and build the right product for them. These books talk about how to make that happen.
This book pulls together essays written by great strategic minds in the business world. They don’t focus on any specific industry because the advice transcends any industry. Specifically read the chapter “What is Strategy?” from Michael E. Porter.
After you’ve read the initial piece What is Strategy?, take a deeper dive with into strategic thinking with Competitive Strategy. Michael E. Porter’s book has transformed the theory, practice, and teaching of business strategy throughout the world. It’s a heavy read but if you really want to become a good strategic thinker it’s essential reading.
Read Competitve Strategy
The Lean Startup takes ideas from Toyota’s world-class manufacturing process and applies them in a novel way to building startups. While the title has the word “startup” this book applies to companies at all stages of their development. To learn how to build the right products, pay attention to part one – Vision.
Read The Lean Startup
While the Lean Startup tells you what to build, Running Lean gives you a framework to figure out how to build it. I particularly like the Lean Canvas as a tool for mapping out product + market fit
Read Running Lean
Roman Pichler spends an entire section around Envisioning the Product. He provides both an understanding of what goes into a great product as well as specific techniques to follow to create the vision. In Chapter 2 Envisioning the Product, Roman provides guidance on creating the vision that you need to lead a team to execute building your product.
Using data to make decisions
It’s easy to think that you know what to build. It’s better to use data to help drive that decision. This doesn’t have to be hard either. These books talk about how to use data to make better product decisions.
This book by Avinash Kaushik digs into the world of website analytics. If you’re building an online product you’re going to need to use some form of analytics. This book helps you through the concepts.
In Part Two – Steer author Eric Ries dives into how to use data to validate your product experiments.
Read The Lean Startup
In the Lean Startup, the author talks about getting into an experimental mindset. In the book Running Lean the author provides a framework for making that happen. Chapter 5 – Get Ready to Experiment breaks down ways that you can conduct experiments to ensure that you’re iterating on the right product.
Read Running Lean
Building your Products with Agility
I’ve developed products using a number of processes over my career. I’ve settled in on Scrum because it’s a simple framework with a bias toward action. You can choose whatever method works best for you.
Section three of Roman Pichler’s book talks about working through your list of priorities – the Product Backlog in Scrum parlance. Read Agile Product Management with Scrum
User Stories are the typical unit of work in Scrum. This book takes you through ways that you can improve upon how you think about and deconstruct product requirements into User Stories. It’s a small read but packed full of really useful information. I’ve read this book a few times and never fail to pickup on something new.
The book Getting Real doesn’t advocate any particular software development framework. Instead it details the business, design, programming, and marketing principles of 37signals. 37signals is a software as a service business that has built the Basecamp project management tool and Highrise CRM. The “Feature Selection” and “Interface Design” section illustrate how they get products built.
Read Getting Real
The Process section in Getting Real illustrates a methodology for getting your product done from start to finish.
Read Getting Real
In the world of Agile Scrum development the Product Owner and the Product Manager are very similar roles. You may hear them used interchangeably. Roman Pichler’s book takes you into the role of Product Owner. He talks the steps you need to take to develop your product iteratively.
Product managers need to sell ideas both internally and to the public. Like it or not you will have to get good at public speaking. Here are some of the resources I’ve used to improve my public speaking and sales skills.
In this book the author dissects some of Steve Jobs best presentation and tells you why they were successful. He gives you point by point examples illustrating how you can sell your ideas in an enthusiastic way.
I once met the author Michael Port when he conducted an in-house public speaking course. He is an amazing, dynamic guy and that comes through in his book. Product Managers need to be good presenters. Escape the boring slide deck and learn how to tell stories.
Read Steal the Show
Great product managers lead by influence. This classic book gives you a number of techniques you can follow to help build rapport with your team and change their thinking.
Launching new products and features
Ok, your product’s built. Now you need to get it out the door. These books will show you how.
Part two of Crossing the Chasm talks about bringing your product to market. He uses a D-Day analogy to describe how to conqueror your market.
Read Crossing the Chasm
While Crossing the Chasm talks about defeating a market in broad terms, Getting Real offers more tactical advice. The section “Promotion” offers a number of ideas on how to successfully launch and market your product.
Read Getting Real
Agile Product Management with Scrum
When will it be ready? It’s a question you’ll hear with a lot of regularity as a Product Manager. In Chapter 4 – Planning the Release Roman describes the steps to follow to get products out the door in a Scrum environment.
Finding a Job in Product Management
If you’ve studied the books in this section you might be ready to take a shot at product management. Here’s are two really good books to help you network and nail the job interview.
If you are only going to read one book about finding a job, this is the one. It covers the gamut of how to conduct an effective job search.
Read Knock ‘Em Dead
In this excellent book, Keith Ferrazzi teaches you how to build your network before you need it.
Read Never Eat Alone
Leading Product Teams
The best organizations push product management out to the edges. What I mean is that individual product teams should be empowered to make decisions about their products because they are closest to the problem. Here are some great books that talk about organizational structure that is relevant to product management.
General Stanley McChrystal’s book talks about empowering teams using the formation of the Joint Special Operations Team as the through-line.
Patrick Lencioni uses a fable to describe the five common problems that even high performing teams struggle with.
In this fable, Patrick Lencioni talks about to improve the performance and job satisfaction of employees.
Note: If you purchase one of these books on Amazon I get a percentage of the sale. It helps pay for server costs. Whether you buy them from Amazon or somewhere else these are a really great set of resources to help you. I’ve read all of them, some multiple times