My “Product Management” Reading List — 2018
100+ summaries of books, articles, and talks about product management to help you learn and improve
For all of 2018, whenever I read a book or article valuable enough for me to take notes from it, I’ve added it to this post. It serves as my reference list and complements my actual note-taking system where I record the knowledge I’ve gained.
I compiled a similar list in 2017, and it seems like people found it useful:
So I decided to make a similar reading list in 2018. The reading list is organized around product manager skills:
You can find the whole reading list below — within the broader categories, the resources are in no particular order.
Topics around product management best practices, strategy, customer discovery, execution, user experience, marketing, data analysis, and product artefacts like roadmaps.
Product best practices
’10 Traits of Great PMs’ by Noah Weiss (2 min read). Live in the future and work backwards. Amplify your teams. Focus on impact. Write well. Drive a fast pace of high-quality decisions. Optimize for learning. Execute impeccably. Apply product taste. Exhibit data fluency. Immerse yourself in the tech.
‘We Don’t Sell Saddles Here’ by Stewart Butterfield (12 min read). Awesome memo from Slack’s CEO to his team just before their first launch. The points he makes are timeless and apply to all people building software.
‘Products Are Functions’ by Ryan Singer (4 min read). Products transform an input situation into an output situation. This lets you describe what the product does as a transformation of the user’s circumstance instead of a bundle of features. The user starts in some circumstance x. Whatever product or solution they apply is a function f(). Applying the product to that circumstance f(x) produces a result: y. → f(x) = y.
‘17 Product Managers Who Will Own the Future of NYC Tech — and the 9 Frameworks They’ll Use to Do It’ by First Round (28 min read). Lots of insights on how to be a good PM, prioritization, stakeholder management, product vision, storytelling, and when to work on what. One of my highlights: A good PM fills in the gaps and gets out of the way.
‘Practical tips for applying the growth mindset to product’ by Merci Victoria Grace (10 min read). Considers self-awareness, emotional resilience and an ability to understand people to be the primary drivers of PM performance. Seek feedback and manage up. Foster a growth mindset in yourself and your team.
‘Builders make the best Product People’ by Piero Sierra (4 min read).
The best product leaders are those who lead by serving others — people with high EQ and low ego, who are attuned to their teams needs (personal and professional). They speak for the customer, not themselves. They put the team’s goals ahead of their own ambitions, and work to make decisions by consensus.
‘Training your product intuition’ by Merci Victoria Grace (6 min read). Product intuition is a skill: it is the observation of human behavior, trained by data, and applied to software. The process of building product intuition starts with filling in your product hierarchy: start with customers as your base, then move up to their problems or opportunities, followed by their use case, and finally your product or solution.
‘Gods, Superheroes and Product Managers’ by Randy Silver (21 min talk). Your customers are the hero in your story. You as a PM are their mentor, the one who helps them succeed. Think of Q in James Bond movies. You as a mentor only play a small part. You’re somebody who comes in briefly, who’s absolutely necessary for the customer, but you’re not foremost in their mind. They have other things that they’re worried about. They have problems that they’re trying to solve, and they’re looking to you to help them solve it.
‘How to do a Product Critique’ by Julie Zhuo (6 min read). Step by step questions to ask yourself when you evaluate a product. Structured in questions to ask yourself before you actually open the app (how did you discover it, etc.) the first few minutes you use it (how you feel, usability, etc.), and the weeks & months after that (why do you come back, engagement, etc.).
Strategy & Product Vision
‘If your product is Great, it doesn’t need to be Good’ by Paul Buchheit (4 min read). What’s the right approach to new products? Pick three key attributes or features, get those things very, very right, and then forget about everything else. Awesome read.
‘Engagement Drives Stickiness Drives Retention Drives Growth’ by Sequoia (6 min read). Whatever your product’s core value, your greatest growth lever is creating magical moments in which users recognize that value. Without such moments, retention will suffer and growth will be difficult to sustain. Mediocre companies focus simply on growth. A great company focuses on sustainable growth — through engagement, stickiness and retention.
’20 Years Ago, Jeff Bezos Said This 1 Thing Separates People Who Achieve Lasting Success From Those Who Don’t’ by Jeff Haden (6 min read). Focus on the things that don’t change. Bezos: “In our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher.’ ’I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.”
‘Sustainable Product Growth’ by Sequoia (12 min read). A product’s current growth status falls into one of four scenarios: “leaky bucket,” “death spiral,” “end of life” and “sustainable growth.” Retention (product-market fit) and net growth are the two key factors guiding sustainability of your product’s growth. Neither high growth without retention, nor high retention without growth, is sustainable in the long term.
‘WTF is Strategy?’ by Vince Law (9 min read). Product strategy represents the set of guiding principles for your roadmapping and execution tasks to ensure they align with your mission and vision. It bridges the gap between what you aspire to be and what you are doing. The article contains a great example for teaching others about strategy, including amazing visuals.
‘The New Toolset of Product Strategy’ by Paul Jackson (22 min read). Great summary of JTBD and other approaches to shape product strategy. People have jobs. Things don’t. It doesn’t make sense to ask “What job is the product doing?” Products, things, and services are solutions for jobs. They don’t have lives to make better, they don’t have emotions, aspirations, struggles. People do. Consumers don’t simply adopt a product, they switch from something else.
‘ClassPass’ Founder on How Marketplace Startups Can Achieve Product/Market Fit’ by Payal Kadakia (20 min read). The story of ClassPass. My favorite bits were: Don’t overprescribe user actions. Instead let them explore your product: you may be surprised by how they intend to use it. If you want to influence user behavior, use Fogg’s equation. Be willing to kill your darlings and know you’ll always be iterating to maintain product/market fit.
‘Why Onboarding is the Most Crucial Part of Your Growth Strategy’ by Casey Winters (8 min read). Define what successful onboarding means for you. This means (1) a frequency target and (2) defining a key action. There are 3 principles to successful onboarding: Get to product value as fast as possible — but not faster. Remove all friction that distracts the user from experiencing product value. Don’t be afraid to educate contextually.
‘Real Competitive Analysis is About Learning to Love Your Competitor’ by Chris Butler (9 min read). Good list of competitive analysis practices.
‘Vision-Driven Product Development’ by Wook Jin Chung (7 min read). The need for product vision: “We are not on a treasure hunt looking for clues on the way. Rather, we are on a mission to reach an intended final destination with finite time and resources. We may not know all the details of the journey, but we must know where we need to eventually be.”
[on Medium’s paid tier] ‘How Great Founders Present Their Vision’ by David Bailey (4 min read). A product vision should describe an inspiring future product that would help a large group of people and make lots of money in the process.
‘A 5-Step Process For Conducting User Research’ by David Sherwin (19 min read). Conduct user research in 5 steps. Start with objectives, the questions you want to answer. List your hypotheses. Decide on the research methods you want to use. Use several. In the end, gather data and synthesize your findings. Great article to structure knowledge about user research.
‘Why You Are Probably Interviewing the Wrong People (And How to Fix It)’ by Teresa Torres (9 min read). Look for variety in the people you interview. Screen people when you recruit them for the interview. Include extreme users. Don’t confuse them with your target audience, but you can still learn a lot from them.
‘The Three Personas: How Marketing, Product, and Analytics Attempt to Define The Customer’ by Casey Winters (5 min read). You can segment users based on their usage and define them based on that usage. This segmentation can be useful to see if your product is becoming more or less engaging over time. Example from Pinterest: users were defined as core, casual, marginal, and dormant users. Core people came every day, casual people came every week, marginal people came every month, and dormant users had stopped coming to Pinterest altogether.
‘The forces at work when choosing a product’ by Rian van der Merwe (2 min read). Article about JTBD. Progress-making forces move people from their existing behavior to the new behavior, and consists of the push of the current situation (things they’re not happy with in the current product) and the pull of the new idea (things that sound appealing about the new product). Progress-hindering forces hold people back from switching to new behavior. It consists of allegiance to the current behavior (things they really like about the current product) and the anxiety of the new solution (worries about learning curves and not being able to accomplish their goals with the new solution).
‘If they don’t ask about the price it’s absolute bunk’ by David Wu (2 min read). What a person says they want is often different from “revealed preferences” — what a person actually choses when they purchase something.
‘Your Job is Not to Make Every Possible Customer Happy’ by Steve Blank (6 min read). Part of Customer Development is understanding which customers make sense for your business. The goal of listening to customers is not to please every one of them. It’s to figure out which customer segment served his needs — both short and long term.
‘Exploratory research: how to use it to drive product development’ by Jillian Wells (5 min read). Explains the 3 types of user research: exploratory, evaluative, and iterative research.
‘6 Guiding Principles for Effective Product Discovery’ by Teresa Torres (13 min read). How to build empathy with your audience: get specific, ignore everyone who doesn’t match your ideal user, and obsessively learn about your target customer’s needs and challenges.
‘Avoid Leading Questions to Get Better Insights from Participants’ by Amy Schade (5 min read). Explains what makes a question leading, which you should avoid in interviews. Contains a few useful before/after examples.
‘5 Steps to Create Good User Interview Questions By @Metacole — A Comprehensive Guide’ by Teo Yu Sheng (9 min read). After you have identified a problem statement for your research (e.g. “How do people make purchases online?”), reframe it as many times as you can. This will open new perspectives for how you approach the problem (e.g. how people think vs. how they feel).
[on Medium’s paid tier] ‘User research — what’s tomato ketchup got to do with it?’ by Lisa Jewell (5 min read). The story of the re-design of the Heinz Ketchup bottle shows how sometimes, you need to observe people using your product to gain valuable insights. Talking to people or running surveys is not enough.
‘4 Powerful Ways to Use Rapid Prototyping to Drive Product Success’ by Teresa Torres (10 min read). During the early days of Palm, the founder Jeff Hawkins carried around a wooden block in his pocket to test the ideal size for the initial PalmPilot.
‘Stop Validating & Start Co-Creating’ by Teresa Torres (9 min read). Instead of asking our customers, “Does this design work?” when we get to a final design that we are happy with, we can show our customers three or four design ideas that we are playing with. We can ask them, “What do you think of these options?”
‘How Much Time Should You Spend in Product Discovery?’ by Teresa Torres (9 min read). You need to balance discovery and delivery. Too much delivery is bad, because you’re not learning effectively. Too much discovery is bad, because you’re not shipping anything valuable (‘analysis paralysis’). Useful tools are opportunity solution trees and the distinction between type 1 and type 2 decisions.
‘Deploy != Release (Part 1)’ (5 min read) and ‘Deploy != Release (Part 2)’ (6 min read) by Art Gillespie. Ship = Build → Test → Deploy → Release. Many teams use ‘release in place’ (deploy == release), yet there are better ways to mitigate risk. An example is to use a canary, where you first release-in-place to just one of your instances as opposed to all of them. 3 more ways to mitigate release risk. Dogfooding = release to employees first. Incremental release = go from small % to 100% over time. Dark traffic = make a request to both the old and new instance, and disregard the answer from the new one to avoid exposing users to risk.
‘Shipping software should not be scary’ by Charity Majors (7 min read). Create cohorts when you release. Deploy to internal users first, then any free tier, etc in order of ascending importance. Don’t jump from 10% to 25% to 50% and then 100% — some changes are related to saturating backend resources, and the 50%-100% jump will kill you.
‘How to choose the right UX metrics for your product’ by Kerry Rodden (7 min read). HEART framework for measuring the success of your user experience: happiness, engagement, adoption, retention, and task success.
‘Net Promoter Score Considered Harmful (and What UX Professionals Can Do About It)’ by Jared M. Spool (15 min read). Opinionated read about the weaknesses of NPS. The argument which resonated most with me is the fact that NPS is based on a prediction of future behavior, not past behavior. I agree with the view that the real value of NPS is not the number, it’s the trend and especially the answer to the ‘why did you give us this score’ question.
‘Personas vs. Jobs-to-Be-Done’ by Page Laubheimer (9 min read). Summarizes best practices for JTBD and personas. Both methods are not mutually exclusive. They can be used together — the JTBD to focus on the underlying desired outcomes, and the persona to prioritize within the job and create empathy.
‘Addiction By Design’ by Natasha Dow Schull (30 min talk). How habits science can be misused. Slot machines get people in ‘the zone’, comparable to flow. They come back to gambling not because of the chance to win, but to experience the zone.
‘Increase your funnel conversion by getting users Psych’d’ by Darius Contractor (9 min read). Introduces the ‘psych’ framework, which is based on 2 key assumptions: (1) Every element on the page adds or subtracts emotional energy (2) Inspiring users is as important as reducing friction.
‘What The Psychology of Video Games Can Teach You About Product Engagement’ by Jamie Madigan (40 min talk). Endowed progress effect: when people feel they have made some progress towards a goal then they will become more committed towards continued effort towards achieving the goal. Frog pond effect: we feel better about our performance when we are the highest performing member of a bad group than if we are the lowest performing member of a good group.
‘The Art of Writing One-Sentence Product Descriptions’ by David Bailey (4 min read). Most of the time, you won’t be there to pitch your product yourself. Your users will talk to their friends etc. — so keep it dead simple. You don’t have 30 seconds, you have 3. A common format is: “You do X and Y happens”. Example from Uber: “Tap a button, get a ride”. Example from early Facebook: “Type someone’s name and find out a bunch of information about them.” Awesome post.
‘That’s Not a Hypothesis’ by Tal Raviv (6 min read). A good hypothesis is a statement about what you believe to be true today. It includes the reason why you think something is true. It’s not a prediction like “If we put concrete examples in the Patreon onboarding, then we will see a rise in successful creators”. There can be many predictions from one hypothesis. One belief can lead you to try many things.
‘Democratising Online Controlled Experiments at Booking.com’ by Lukas Vermeer (26 min talk). You cannot rely on experimentation alone as a way to develop your product. It’s a tool in your toolbox, and adds to the other tools you already have. Data is just data. To make good decisions, we need good evidence. We don’t just need data, we need data to support an idea. The narrative and ‘why’ behind experiments and data points is essential.
‘Please, Please Don’t A/B Test That’ by Tal Raviv (9 min read). A/B testing is not an insurance policy for critical thinking or knowing your users. Although it sounds fantastic, it’s often not the right thing to do. Use it only when you either (1) need a precise quantification of the change or (2) if there is a plausible downside.
‘It’s All A/Bout Testing: The Netflix Experimentation Platform’ by Netflix Technology Blog (11 min read). Valuable insights into how Netflix runs A/B tests at scale.
‘From Power Calculations to P-Values: A/B Testing at Stack Overflow’ by Julia Silge (9 min read). Interesting quote: “Product thinking is critical here… If we are confident that the change aligns with our product strategy and creates a better experience for users, we may forgo an A/B test. In these cases, we may take qualitative approaches to validate ideas such as running usability tests or user interviews to get feedback from users.”
‘Observations on Data, Metrics & Goals’ by Dan Hill (2 min read). Short read about the data aspect of PM. My favorite quote: “Know the confidence intervals around a metric before you send people off to explain why it’s up/down this week. Explaining noise is such a giant waste of time.”
‘Introduction To Business Research Methods’ by Dr. Anthony Yeong (40 slides presentation). Good reminder of scientific method terminology.
‘The Power User Curve: The best way to understand your most engaged users’ by Andrew Chen (8 min read). Power User Curves are an awesome way to measure user engagement. L30 and L7 graphs, and also look at cohorts of power users over time. After reading this post, we ran a similar analysis at Typeform.
‘Quantifying Qualitative Research’ by Leisa Reichelt (27 min talk). No research is neutral. No analysis is unbiased. Awesome talk, here are two great quotes from it. “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” — Gloria Steinem. “Faith in data grows in relation to your distance from the collection of it” — Scott Berkun.
Machine learning posts:
‘What Machine Learning Can Do for Your Business and How to Figure It Out’ by Yael Gavish (8 min read). Six-part series about machine learning. ML is a solution — you need to first define the problem. Talks about common applications, gives guidance on how to find opportunities in your product to use ML. Explains the 4 types of learning, NLP, the precision vs. recall tradeoff, and other important terms. Also explains a typical workflow to build ML features.
‘AI, Deep Learning, and Machine Learning: A Primer’ by Frank Chen (45 min talk). Good primer on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning. Includes some use case examples and a history of the field. Basic intro to the topic, useful for teaching others.
‘Why you should stop using product roadmaps and try GIST Planning’ by Itamar Gilad (8 min read). Never kill ideas upfront, put them into a prioritization death match, favor management ideas, or choose the ideas that are most hyped/pitched/politicized. Collect all ideas into a visible idea bank instead. “If you want to have good ideas you must have many ideas. Most of them will be wrong, and what you have to learn is which ones to throw away“ — Linus Pauling
‘Why Impact/Effort Prioritization Doesn’t Work’ by Itamar Gilad (9 min read). Five ways to make value vs effort prioritization work better. Do back-of-the-envelope impact calculations. Use available data or new data. Think of low-cost ways to validate your assumptions. Factor in Confidence. A/B tests.
Topics around self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and persuasion & influence.
‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change’ by Stephen R. Covey (432 pages book). This books is a classic for a reason, it’s awesome. The 7 habits: (1) Be proactive: you have the ability to choose how you will respond to any situation. (2) Begin with the end in mind: work backwards, and follow your principles on the way. (3) Put first things first: prioritize what’s most important, not just urgent; and have the discipline to do the things you don’t want to do. (4) Think win-win: keep a no-deal option as your backup. (5) Seek first to understand, then to be understood: listen with empathy, and understand the problem before offering a solution. (6) Synergize: same as in negotiation theory, joint problem solving. (7) Sharpen the saw: Continuously improve and allow yourself to rest physically, spiritually, mentally, and socially.
‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead’ by Brené Brown (290 pages book). Amazing book, I changed a lot after reading it. Vulnerability is at the core of all feelings — not just bad ones like fear, anxiety and shame, but also good ones like love, joy, and passion. Vulnerability means strength, not weakness. Understand and verbalize your shame to make it go away, “Failure is temporary, giving up is what makes it permanent.”
‘The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism’ by Olivia Fox Cabane (272 pages). Awesome book, changed me a lot and is very actionable. Charisma is defined as behaviors that project presence, power, and warmth. Charisma is a skill you can learn and practice. Charismatic behaviors must originate in your mind. 4 types of charisma: authority, visionary, focus, and kindness charisma.
‘How you can get more feedback from your team’ by Lighthouse Blog (9 min read). Ask for specific feedback, not a general “do you have any feedback for me?”. Always assume positive intent. Turn feedback into action: either you act, or you empower the other to act, or you explain why you can’t change anything for now. Use reciprocity and lead by example.
‘To Create a Real Connection, Show Vulnerability’ by Michael Simmons (4 min read). When someone close to us outperforms us in a task relevant to us, it often threatens our self-esteem. The more relevant the task is, the greater the threat we feel.
‘What a Real Apology Requires’ by Joseph Grenny (5 min read). At its best, an apology is the fruit of personal change, not a tool for interpersonal persuasion. Most of what has been written about apologies is fundamentally manipulative, because the focus is on technique — on applying psychology to extract forgiveness from others, as in: “What do I need to say in order to get my boss/child/neighbor to trust me again?” This view of apologies is one of today’s most pernicious assaults on trust.
‘Do You Make This One Big Mistake About Emotional Intelligence?’ by Daniel Goleman (3 min read). You can’t measure emotional intelligence in an ‘EQ’ score. We don’t have an EI score; we have an EI profile. The most accurate EI profile has peaks and valleys, showing the extent to which you demonstrate strengths (or not) in a given competence.
‘Six Habits of Highly Empathic People’ by Roman Krznaric (9 min read). Empathy is a habit we can cultivate.
‘4 Ways to Get Honest, Critical Feedback from Your Employees’ by Ron Carucci (5 min read). Know your triggers and encourage others to call them out. Read nonverbal cues.
‘What the heck is self awareness and why should you care?’ by Kate Leto (8 min read). The Johari window for structuring feedback.
‘4 Ways to Control Your Emotions in Tense Moments’ by Joseph Grenny (6 min read). External triggers are not responsible for our emotions, we are ourselves. When we feel emotionally threatened, we usually tell ourselves a variation of these stories. Victim stories that emphasize our virtues and absolve us of responsibility for what is happening. Villain stories that exaggerate the faults of others and attribute what’s happening to their evil motives. Helpless stories that convince us that any healthy course of action (like listening humbly, speaking up honestly) is pointless.
‘The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion’ by Kristin Neff (19 min talk). With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. Self-compassion is based on self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
Best practices for communication, effective writing and how to craft good presentations.
‘The Power of a Positive No’ by William Ury (272 pages). Awesome book, completely changed how I approach stakeholder management & team discussions. The structure of a positive no is a “Yes! No. Yes? statement.” The first Yes! expresses your interest; the No asserts your power; and the second Yes? furthers your relationship. For example, you might say “I, too, want prospective customers to see our company as current and approachable. I don’t feel that a dozen social media badges at the top of the page will help us achieve that. What if we came up with a few alternative approaches and chose the most effective one together?”
‘The Art of Being Compelling as a Product Manager’ by Sachin Rekhi (6 min read). Use the following techniques to be more persuasive. Framing: present a particular perspective to steer the audience to a desired conclusion. Social proof: leverage the shared opinion of others to convince key stakeholders. Goal seek: redefine your initiative in terms of a decision maker’s own goals. Inception: Make another believe the idea was their own. Citation: Share data, A/B test results, voice of customer to support your argument. Narration: Recast your argument as an engaging story.
‘Master the Art of Influence — Persuasion as a Skill and Habit’ by Tyler Odean (25 min read). When you pitch ideas, keep it simple and focus on the main message. Has many more useful tips on communication and persuasion. Gives examples of how the availability bias reduces the effectiveness of our decision making.
‘Getting to Yes: How To Negotiate Agreement Without Giving In’ by Roger Fisher (224 pages book). The first & most basic of 3 important books about negotiations from the same author. Separate the people from the problem. Focus on interests, not positions.Generate options for mutual gain.Insist on using objective criteria. Prepare a BATNA.
‘Effective Storytelling to Motivate and Align Your Team’ by Anna Marie Clifton (34 min talk). Data may help you find the best path. Storytelling is how you get other humans to walk that path with you. This talk gives very practical tips on how to use effective storytelling in your job as a PM.
‘The power of listening’ by William Ury (16 min talk). Great for teaching others about why listening matters. It helps understand the other side. It builds rapport and trust. It makes it more likely that the other person will listen to us.
‘How to Shape a Story, According to Famous Writers’ by Nick Douglas (4 min read). Introduces 3 ways to structure stories: Kurt Vonnegut’s Story Shapes, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and Dan Harmon’s Story Circle.
‘How to Become a Good Storyteller’ by Aimée Lutkin (3 min read). Tips for better storytelling: Know things by “heart”. Have a strong opener. Tighten it up. Add dialogue to a story.
‘Why You Should Get Good at Small Talk’ by Aimée Lutkin (3 min read). How to choose topics for small talk: FIRE. Family, Interests, Recreation, Entertainment.
‘Writing well’ by Slava Akhmechet (4 min read). Good collection of advice on writing well from Paul Graham’s ‘The Age of the Essay’, George Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language’, and Paul Roberts’ ‘How to say nothing in five hundred words’.
‘“Writing is Thinking” — an annotated twitter thread’ by Steven Sinofsky (6 min read). Explains the importance of writing to communicate effectively. Contains Jeff Bezos’ metaphor of the perfect handstand to explain that mastery takes time.
‘5 Tricks for Writing Catchy Headlines that Lead to Viral Articles’ by Jeff Goins (4 min read). Use what, why, how, or when. Use a number. Use interesting adjectives. Make an audacious promise. Use unique rationale. (as you can see, I followed neither piece of advice in this post 😂)
‘5 fun ways to test words’ by John Saito (7 min read). Print your draft and ask people to highlight parts they like and didn’t like, using different colors. Afterwards, ask the participant why they highlighted the words they did.
Topics around leadership, teamwork, stakeholder management, and developing others.
‘It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy’ by D. Michael Abrashoff (240 pages book). The main principles: Lead by example. Disagree and commit. Listen aggressively, treat every encounter as the most important thing at the moment. Communicate purpose and meaning. Create a climate of trust. Give people all the responsibility they can handle and then step back. Look for results, not salutes (ensure psychological safety). Take calculated risks. Go beyond standard procedure. Build up your people. Generate unity. Improve everyone’s quality of life.
‘What the best leaders do’ by Claire Lew (8 min read). Create clarity. Provide context. Ensure psychological safety. Ask meaningful questions. Respond within 24 hours. Let go. Lead from the front. Be consistent. Build rapport.
‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard’ by Chip & Dan Heath (305 pages). There are 3 aspects of change: the emotional side (the elephant), the rational side (the rider), and the environment (the path). The bigger the change you’re suggesting, the more it will sap people’s self-control. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem → shape the path by tweaking the environment, building habits, and rallying the herd. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion → motivate the elephant by finding the feeling, shrinking the change, and growing your people. What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity → direct the rider by finding the bright spots, scripting the critical moves, and pointing to the destination.
‘The Simple Tool That Revives Employee Motivation’ by Jack Chou (20 min read). The 4 elements of workplace motivation. Once a team can say, ‘Yeah, I like working with these people (‘people’). I get to make decisions that are pertinent to what I’m doing (‘ownership’), we’re hitting our numbers (‘goals’), and I understand why these numbers translate to what we’re trying to do as a company over 5 to 10 years (‘mission’),’ then people really have a clear and motivating path.
‘The Patient Change Agent’ by John Cutler (8 min read). If a suggested organizational/process change is working, you will sense the momentum and excitement. It will be palpable. No momentum…then it isn’t working. “Hmmm. That’s interesting…” is not momentum.
‘Use This Equation to Determine, Diagnose, and Repair Trust’ by Anne Raimondi (25 min read). Trust is the sum of credibility, reliability, and authenticity, divided by how much you think the other person is acting out of self interest. When your credibility is low, be reliable and upfront about it. Don’t wait to share bad news or ask for help. Don’t surprise people with decisions or problems out of the blue. The article also names tell-tale signs of eroded trust and when to apply the equation. Awesome read.
‘The Type of Team Diversity You’re Probably Not Paying Attention To’ by Itamar Goldminz (16 min read). Great summary of the heart / will / head model, which defines three “types” of people and how they see the world around them. The article explains the types, highlights their strengths and weaknesses, and gives actionable tips to understand others better.
‘How to prepare for a one-on-one meeting as an employee’ by Claire Lew (7 min read). Good guidance for effective 1–1s. Share what’s been most motivating to you. Reveal what’s been draining and demotivating to you. Explain how you want to stretch and grow. Highlight what you’re grateful for about the company, work environment, or how your manager has treated you.
‘Five Mistakes Product Teams Make When Collaborating’ by Bryan Kelly (5 min read). SCARF model of social behavior (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness). The brain processes information in two possible ways: minimize threats or maximize rewards. A positive emotion or reward creates a stimulus making people act, whereas a negative emotion or punishment causes a threat stimulus, which leads to avoidance. Consider the impact of your actions along the SCARF areas of social behavior.
‘How to Build a Strong Relationship with a New Boss’ by Carolyn O’Hara (7 min read). Your new manager likely has a lot on her plate, so take responsibility for establishing a great working relationship from the start. Have some empathy. Look for common ground. Ask about their communication style. Help them achieve early wins. Come armed with solutions and options.
‘The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead’ by Peter Bregman (7 min read). We complain because it feels (really) good, requires minimal risk, and it’s easy. But it’s destructive for yourself and your organization. Instead, talk with the person directly and try to change the root cause of your urge to complain.
‘The Art of Managing Stakeholders Through Product Discovery’ by Teresa Torres (9 min read). The only way to influence a more senior stakeholder is to bring new information to the table. Favor short, frequent updates over long, infrequent updates. Be visual. Integrate the feedback you get. Get feedback one on one.
‘How to Make Time for Customer Interviews and Validation’ by Rich Mironov (6 min read). 5 typical biases in executive teams. (1) Recency bias: “I was on a call with HSBC this morning, and everyone wants what they want”. (2) Simplification: “Halliburton just needs a user-configurable reporting engine. How hard could that be?” (3) Selection bias, (4) leadership bias, and (5) lack of recall what’s currently on the roadmap.
‘The Power of Listening in Helping People Change’ by Guy Itzchakov and Avraham N. (Avi) Kluger (8 min read). Instead of telling people what to do, create a safe environment for them to find their own answers by listening effectively. Don’t make people change, make them want to change. Give 100% of your attention, or do not listen. Do not interrupt. Do not impose your solutions. Ask more (good) questions. Reflect back on conversations you had.
Topics around decision making & cognitive biases, productivity techniques, and PM career advice.
Decision making & cognitive biases
‘Strong Opinions, Weakly Held — a framework for thinking’ by Ameet Ranadive (8 min read). How to apply the ‘strong opinions, weakly held’ principle in your decision making. First and as fast as possible (at McKinsey, it’s within 24 hours after starting a project), build a strong opinion. This initial hypothesis will come from a combination of good problem solving skills, pattern matching, and intuition. Second, try to prove yourself wrong. Seek disconfirming evidence until your timebox to take the decision is over or you get called upon to take the decision.
‘How Compare and Contrast Decisions Lead to Better Product Outcomes’ by Teresa Torres (19 min read). Avoid “whether or not” decisions and instead create “compare and contrast” decisions. Whether or not: we ask, “Is this idea good (or not)?” Compare and contrast: we ask, “Which of these ideas looks best?” Most teams experiment to determine if a single idea is good or not, another “whether or not” decision. Instead, experiment to help you choose amongst a set of good ideas, setting up a “compare and contrast” decision.
‘The Best Product Teams Crave Truth and Do Math’ by Hope Gurion (10 min read). A major threat to the success of any product is the unfounded feeling of certainty. How to overcome overconfidence bias: Consider: “How might we fail?” Get input from independent experts. Track predictions vs actual results. Be humble.
‘The Resulting Fallacy Is Ruining Your Decisions’ by Stuart Firestein (10 min read). Separate yourself from outcomes as much as you possibly can when thinking about decision quality (‘resulting’). We tend to create too tight a relationship between the quality of the outcome and the quality of the decision.
‘Cost Per Reasonable Decision (CPRD)’ by John Cutler (5 min read). Have a system in place to learn from past decisions. Lots of companies that freak about new decisions, do very little to learn from past decisions.
‘This Matrix Helps Growing Teams Make Great Decisions’ by Gil Shklarski (12 min read). Introduces a visual way of representing options. The matrix helps to assess the benefits, costs, and mitigations of each option.
‘Hyperbolic Discounting: Why You Make Terrible Life Choices’ by Lakshmi Mani (4 min read). People choose smaller, immediate rewards rather than larger, later rewards. This explains procrastination. Deal with it by empathising with your future self, pre-committing, and breaking down large goals into small manageable chunks.
‘Fundamental Attribution Error: Why You Make Terrible Life Choices’ by Nir Eyal (6 min read). Fundamental attribution error is a bias where we judge other people differently from how we judge ourselves. Example: When we screw up, we tend to believe things happened because of circumstances outside of our control. When others fail, we tend to think it is a result of poor choices or someone being a bad person.
‘Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds’ by James Clear (8 min read). The article is a bit all over the place, but features some inspiring quotes about confirmation bias and the importance of staying curious & open-minded. “Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.” — J.K. Galbraith
[on Medium’s paid tier] ‘The Spotlight Effect: Why No One Else Remembers What You Did’ by Louis Chew (4 min read). The spotlight effect: People tend to believe that more people take notice of their actions and appearance than is actually the case. We think we are in the spotlight and all eyes are on us. In reality, no one cares.
‘On the Shortness of Life’ by Seneca (112 pages book). Short read, full of the best ideas. It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life! Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.
‘One Googler’s take on managing your time’ by Jeremiah Dillon (3 min read). Your energy levels run the course of a wave throughout the week, so try to plan accordingly. Plan work which requires the most focus on Tuesday and Wednesday. Always bias your Make Time towards the morning, before you hit a cycle of afternoon decision fatigue. Hold the late afternoon for more mechanical tasks.
‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKeown (272 pages book). Has good ideas, but doesn’t invent anything really new & repeats itself. Don’t try to get more things done (efficiency), focus on getting the right things done (effectiveness). Grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions: “If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.” It’s not enough to do less, you need to have the discipline to put in the same amount of effort into fewer things.
‘Mental models’ by Slava Akhmechet (11 min read). Introduces many mental models. Two main learnings for me: Inversion — the observation that many hard problems are best solved when they’re addressed backward. In other words figure out what you don’t want, avoid it, and you’ll get what you do want. Bias for action — in daily life many important decisions are easily reversible. It’s not enough to have information — it’s crucial to move quickly and recover if you were wrong, than to deliberate indefinitely.
‘Why Calendars are More Effective Than To Do Lists’ by Srinivas Rao (5 min read). Use a calendar to prioritize your time. If something truly matters to you, put it on your calendar. When an event is consistently scheduled on your calendar, it’s much more likely to transform into an unconscious habit.
In the same vein: ‘Taming the Epic To-Do List’ by Allison Rimm (4 min read). Use your calendar to block out time to accomplish important matters on schedule. For example, instead of putting an item like “write speech” on your to-do list, put it on your calendar, blocking out the necessary prep time to get it done.
‘Outliers: The Story of Success’ by Malcolm Gladwell (336 pages book). Very light read. Sometimes generalizes with pseudo-scientific claims. Has some good insights. Genius is over-rated. Success is not just about innate ability. It’s combined with a number of key factors such as opportunity, meaningful hard work (10,000 hours to gain mastery), and your cultural legacy. Random factors of chance, such as when and where you were born can influence the opportunities you have.
‘Why time management is ruining our lives’ by Oliver Burkeman (22 min read). Interesting long read to balance all the self-help / productivity stuff. One learning: in an experiment, people under time pressure performed worse at the Iowa gambling game than people who felt they had enough time and no need to rush.
‘Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!’ by Richard P. Feynman (352 pages book). Classic read. “All the time you’re saying to yourself, ‘I could do that, but I won’t’ — which is just another way of saying that you can’t.”
‘A beginner’s guide to Getting Things Done’ by Siobhan O’Rorke (11 min read). GTD has 5 steps: capture, clarify, organize, reflect, and engage. Anything which comes to your mind, you organize into lists following this system.
‘Don’t Just Network — Build Your ‘Meaningful Network’ to Maximize Your Impact’ by Mike Steib (15 min read). Tips for effective networking. Classifies connections from unfamiliar -> familiar -> intimate -> meaningful, and structures the advice accordingly.
‘Try This Military Meditation Routine to Fall Asleep Fast’ by Beth Skwarecki (2 min read). Interesting routine from the US Air Force for when you have trouble falling asleep.
PM career advice
‘How to tell if a CEO is worth working for’ by Claire Lew (4 min read). Before you take a new job, ask the CEO 4 questions: When have you had to sugar-coat the truth — or avoid telling the truth — to your team? What do you think is your own greatest leadership blindspot? What does ‘success’ for the company look like to you? What would an employee who’s left the company say it’s like to work for you?
‘How to get that next PM job’ by Shreyas Doshi (195 slides). Great concise tips on career growth & interviewing as a PM, and how to transition into product management.
‘We Studied 100 Mentor-Mentee Matches — Here’s What Makes Mentorship Work’ by Whitnie Low Narcisse (22 min read). Always have multiple mentors, your Personal Board of Directors. Don’t use the word ‘mentor’, it’s a turn-off. Develop thoughtful agendas for your meetings and share them with your mentor in advance. The ideal experience gap is 5–10 years. Kick off relationships around distinct problems or challenges. Consider setting a soft deadline on an initial engagement from the beginning. Create a schedule — but keep it loose. Measure progress every meeting. Don’t treat it like a transaction.
‘Why the 70:20:10 Learning Model Works, And How to Implement It’ by Everwise (4 min read). When learning, you should balance your efforts in the following way: 70% of what we learn comes from job-related experiences. 20% from developmental relationships. 10% from formal coursework and training. It’s easy to overindex on reading and other formal courses, don’t fall into that trap.
‘My favorite PM interview question…for managers’ by Chris Jones (4 min read). Interesting interview question for PMs: “Now that I know you a bit, I’d like to give you a list of 4 broad work attributes. You’re a product manager, so I already expect that you’re strong in each. But I highly doubt that you consider yourself equally competent in all of them. So I’m going to ask you to stack rank them in order of strongest to weakest”. The four dimensions are execution, creativity, strategy, and growth.