11 Books You Should Read if You Want to Build Good Products

This post is part of a series about building things people want.

Believe it or not, learning the success secrets of the world’s best product builders is as easy as making Kraft macaroni and cheese. No really, it is! You simply need to read the books they've written.

But not all of these books are equally excellent. After reading my fair share of tomes on building great products, I've found a few that stand tall above the rest. To save you the trouble of trudging through books that are as useful as ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife, I've rounded up this list of the 11 Books You Need to Read if You Want to Build Good Products. Enjoy!


Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

by Ed Catmull

This book by the president and founder of Pixar, is pure money. In its papery pages, Catmull shares the trajectory of his career and talks about how Pixar came to be. The information you can glean from these stories is priceless. In addition, this book is like the Rosetta Stone of organizing creative teams; it cracks the code to making your team efficient, innovative, and awesome.


Rework

by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

If you’ve read The Lean Startup and thought, “this could have been 600 pages shorter!” meet your new best friend of a book: Rework. This no bullshit guide on how to be pragmatic and ship great products gets to the point with pointed, concise advice.

Pro tip: Ignore pages-long rant on the VC industry in Silicon Valley (at your own risk, of course!).


Agile Project Management with Scrum

by Ken Schwaber

Aspiring agile product leads often hit a roadblock when trying to show the rest of their team why agile is the way to go. To monster-truck roll over this roadblock, fine-tuned agile project management skills — and the ability to explain them well — are necessary.

This book is a great hands-on guide to implementing Scrum in your organization and running agile processes. It’s even written by the one of the founding fathers of the Scrum process, so it stays true to the original principles of agile. Trust me, you’ll find it more useful than ESP when trying to win the lottery.


Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Model

by John Mullins

If success grew on trees, we’d all be Bill Gates. Until botany becomes so bountiful, we’ll have to reply on books like this one instead. Success is about knowing when to throw away your old plan and instead execute on the opportunities in front of you, and in this book, Mullins teaches us on famous examples the why and when behind this concept.


The Mythical Man-Month

by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.

Ever wondered why adding more people to a team doesn’t make the team execute faster? This book explains why. In addition to telling you why smooshing more people onto one team actually slows things down, this book offers scads of other need-to-know details about the human elements of software engineering.


The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

by Charles Duhigg

If you’re looking for a blockbuster of a book on behavioural science, this one’s it! Stuffed full of fascinating information and easy-to-understand even if you are not a brain doctor, this book is as fascinating as it is useful.


Imagine

by Jonah Lehrer

A spark of creativity is not a random phenomena of nature, nor something you have to be born with. It’s something you can systematically produce, and this book teaches you how. In short, this piece of non-fiction is a game changer.


The Manual: How to Have a Number 1 the Easy Way

by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty

If you’re looking to produce a number one hit, this book will be your bible. At once an incredibly pragmatic guide and an amusing satire, this book is full of poignant truths and useful tips to help you along on your journey to reaching the top.

Side note: Reading this book got me from being good to being outrageously genius…invite me for a burrito and I tell you why ☺


Four Steps to Epiphany

By Steve Blank

This tome is more or less the mother of the lean software development movement. Warning: it might be a little boring if you’ve already read everything there is to know about lean, but it serves as a fantastic foundation for any aspiring product-builder.


Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

by Tom DeMarco

The book is the definition of oldie but goodie. Since products are built by people, it’s never the technology that fails, but rather — to put it frankly — the people. Regardless of your role, (software engineer, designer, QA engineer, lead, manager, etc.), this book will wow you with its wisdom. Its lessons apply to any and every work environment, so add it to your list stat.


The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership

by Bill Walsh

Not just one of mine but also one of Jack Dorsey’s favorite books. Bill Walsh is a towering figure in the history of the NFL. His advanced leadership transformed the San Francisco 49ers from the worst franchise in sports to a legendary dynasty. In the process, he changed the way football is played. There is a lot to learn for any kind of leader from Bill…and not just about football :)


Hope you find this list helpful, and please add your recommendations in the comments!

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Thanks to Venetia Pristavec, Guido Böhlke and the internet for insisting to read these books.