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Some Product Management Related Books that Helped Me to Be a Better PM

Photo by Ergita Sela on Unsplash

In past years, I completed a bunch of Product Management related courses, I enjoyed them all, and I read a lot of great books in the process. Some of the books I read really changed my life, and I’m a better product manager (and a better person in general) because of them.

If you want to make a move to product management or even want to know more about the role, I recommend you also read this post about LinkedIn Learning courses and read some (or all) of the books I’m recommending in this post.

1 — The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

It took me a while to start this book, but as soon as I started I was sold. I read it super fast. I wanted to know what happened in Eric Ries’ startup and why they failed. I love when people talk about failure, what they learned in the process, what they could have done differently, and how they validate their lessons. Ries addresses them all. He created the Lean Startup framework after some failures. It’s really interesting how many of the things he mentions are preventable. If you have the framework you can be a stellar product manager and team player.

Ries defines a startup as a company that is dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty, and he says that you really need to have the right framework to operate and work in this environment to create a path for sustainable business. Extra kudos when he mentions the Five Whys technique. I love how simple and direct it is. If you want to learn more about it, I wrote a blog post explaining this technique.

Another concept that changed the way I see value is the idea of not just failing and learning, but also validating the lessons. Ries talks about the importance of validating constantly the lessons learned. This is because if you’re only failing and learning, you’re not getting anywhere. Think about startups and how nimble they are and how we should be creative and capital efficient.

In the Lean Startup framework, he also covered the idea of rapid scientific experimentation rather than wasting time planning the whole project with lots of uncertainty. Ries breaks the problem into small and tactical chunks. So, for example, it may be possible to shorten the product development in a non-polished app, where it’s possible to gather metrics, measure the progress, adjust, and adapt before it’s too late, while learning what the users really want. The Lean Startup framework enables a startup to shift directions with agility and validation. This book is definitely worth reading!

2 — Cracking the PM Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro

I read this book a long time ago when I decided to become a product manager at the end of 2014. I love Jackie Bavaro’s Medium posts, and I have followed her since I moved to the Bay area. Reading this book helped me to understand what a product manager actually does and the skillsets I need to have as long as the ones I could leverage by my past experience. I’d say I had a lot of fun reading this book, and I could actually see myself in lots of situations Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro described.

I came from a marketing and project management background, and this book helped me to understand I wasn’t too far away from my goal to be a product manager, which was a huge relief to me. It also helped me to develop some skills and mindsets necessary to perform the product manager job. I love the questions they pose: “How many pizzas are delivered in Manhattan? How do you design an alarm clock for the blind? What is your favorite piece of software and why? How would you launch a video rental service in India?”. It definitely helps you get into the product manager mindset and start to prepare yourself for the interview questions. This book will help you to prepare for these types of questions and how to best answer them.

I like how comprehensive the book is and how it can really help you to land a product manager role in a startup or big tech company. They also explain how ambiguous and different the project manager, program manager, and product manager roles are from company to company, what they really are, the kind of experience you’ll need, and how to leverage your current work experience and job.

It’s interesting how they also cover the brand part of it, for example, how do you showcase your work? What skills and work-related experience should your resume have? What should you include in the cover letter? They cover these topics all brilliantly! Reading this book will definitely help you to prepare for product manager interviews. You will feel comfortable with the technical and product questions, which are usually the biggest concern. Add this book to your list if you’re planning to switch to a career in product management.

3 — The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni

I read this book when I was studying Project Management at UC Berkeley at the recommendation of a teacher. Of course, I got obsessed. I love how this book intrigues the reader and makes you want to know more about the dysfunctional company and how to discover the problems, analyze and solve them.

Patrick Lencioni did a great job with this book. The leadership fable is really fascinating! Kathryn Petersen is Decision Tech’s CEO, and she’s facing a leadership crisis. Her team is extremely competent, their product is good, but they’re not moving in the right direction. The team is having a lot of problems, and sometimes the problems can be imperceptible. A question that always pops into her mind is how can she unite her team towards the same goal and collaboration?

During this journey Kathryn Petersen is immersed in the complex world of her company teams and discovers a lot of things in this process, including the five dysfunctions of a team. It’s a really interesting journey through which you can see that even the best teams with great products can struggle. Lencioni outlines a model and actionable steps that can be used to solve team problems and help you to foster a collaborative and strong team.

My key takeaway and big lesson is that even with lack of conflict, you and your team can fail. Lack of consensus doesn’t necessary means prosperity, it can also mean your team is not comfortable enough to vocalize their different points of view. Another key takeaway is that conflict is not necessarily something bad, the existence of conflict can mean you and your team have the opportunity to clarify misunderstandings, brainstorm new solutions, and agree to a common goal. Leadership means courage and openness. This is definitely one of my favorite books!

4 — Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

This book was on my list for such a long time, but I only managed to read it last month. How do successful companies create products people can’t put down? This book brings an interesting point of view of not only ship products, at least not only any product but a product that is really different and impacts other people’s lives.

I kept thinking about how we can create products people can’t put down. Why do we have more interest in some products than others? How can we capture the user’s attention in a way that we become a habit? Why do we engage more with certain products, what do they have? What’s the secret? This book includes practical insights to create user habits that stick along with actionable steps for building products and inspiring real-life examples.

I’ll guarantee you’ll never look at some products in the same way. Eyal provides a really interesting point of view. Through the Hook Model, Eyal will help you to understand some important questions we should consider. The model is based on a four-step process that most successful companies encourage in customer behavior.

At what point are we responsible if the final user gets addicted to our product? What should your company do to prevent cases like that? Are they really thinking about the user’s health? This is definitely a topic for another post, but it’s really interesting to think about it.

5 — Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown

I read this book after watching all Brené Brown’s TED Talks on YouTube. What I like about her is that everything she says is based on years of exhaustive research she conducted. I love how deep she digs into her research and how even she is surprised with some results and discoveries she encounters.

I believe that part of a product manager’s job is to inspire and lead by example. Contrary to what some people might think, leadership skills can be taught, and I really encourage you to learn and improve these skills. In this book, Brown shows how to put some ideas into practice so we can feel free and lead. Isn’t that awesome?

She says that when we dare to lead, we don’t fake it, we don’t pretend we have all the right answers or that we know how to do everything. Daring to lead is more about taking responsibility and staying curious to learn and also to acknowledge the potential in people and ideas. It’s more about asking the right questions, making everyone comfortable in being their true self, and disagreeing or agreeing when necessary.

You might be asking, what can we do better? Brené Brown says: empathy, connection, and courage, to start. Brown writes, “One of the most important findings of my career is that daring leadership is a collection of four skill sets that are 100 percent teachable, observable, and measurable.”

6 — On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

I love to write, and I love Stephen King books so it was easy to like this book. What I didn’t expect was to learn a lot of details about King’s life and to better understand his thinking and writing style. As a review said, this book is part memoir, part master class.” This book is an immense value to aspiring writers and also non aspiring writers.

As a product manager you’ll need to write a lot, write emails, Slack messages, product documentation, specs, and replies to users comments, and it’s extremely important to know how to be clear and concise with your written communication to the team, stakeholders and users.

One of the key points of this book is the importance of reading and writing. I loved when he writes about being able to read/write at any time and in any circumstance. This is a great exercise to practice. You need to write as much as you read in order to be able to write well, even though you’re not a writer, you’re a product manager.

The book describes Stephen King’s experiences as a writer and also includes advice for aspiring writers. The book highlights events that happened in his life that helped King become who he is. In this book, he gives some basic grammar tips and encourages the reader to take the writing process seriously. It’s really interesting to read his thoughts and the fears that almost made him not publish the book. His serious car accident that delayed the book made it even more interesting.

7 — INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan

Marty Cagan talks about how successful tech companies develop and deploy their products. Most of the time their processes are very different from company to company, or even product to product.

The goal of the book is to show you how to structure and staff a product organization to be successful. And similar to the Hooked book, Inspired shows how to deploy products that users will love.

It addresses selecting the right team to do the work and skill sets necessary for the job. In this process, Cagan highlights how important it is to have a lean and lightweight process with a strong product culture that enables collaboration and transparency.

Regardless of the maturity level your company or even if it is still a startup, this book can definitely inspire you and your product organization to a new level of collaboration and customer engagement leading to highly innovative products and business achievements. I always feel inspired when I see real-world examples from powerful and strong product culture companies. It’s amazing how this book still super actual and resourceful. Enjoy!

8 — Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships (Nonviolent Communication Guides) by Marshall B. Rosenberg

When I first heard this term, nonviolent communication, I thought, but I’m not violent at all. I was really interested in this concept and heard great things about it from close friends. Violent communication is communicating in a way that may hurt/harm other people. This means that you might be judgemental, defensive, or even preventing the other person from fully expressing themselves.

Rosenberg shows you how you might be acting with pre-established concepts and even unintentionally not listening to the other person. He says that non-violent communication is the sum of four different things: consciousness, language, communication and means.

  • Consciousness is the set of principles that support our life and bring us empathy, a sense of courage that makes us feel responsible for the words and language we use to communicate.
  • Language means the responsibility we have for what we say and the way we speak. It’s understanding that the way we communicate can bring or distance the other person.
  • Communication is the knowledge that we’re responsible for the way we speak, and we need to know how to ask for what we desire and also how to react in case there’s a disagreement.
  • Means is the use of our influence or power to bring people together, share the power, and become stronger together.

One of the most powerful skills a Product Manager can have is the power of influence and effective communication with the entire team. Nonviolent communication can help increase your ability to live based in connection and meaning, and you can apply that to your work and the connections you make. It also helps you to have more empathy and can also help you to have better relationships and be kinder to yourself and others. Last but not least, it could inspire you to really bring people together and share their power.

9 — Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

I’ve read all of Austin Kleon’s books, and I’m anxiously waiting for his new book, Keep Going, which I’ve pre-ordered already. Show your work is a really inspiring book, not just for designers and artists. It has 10 amazing rules to help you be more creative, collaborative, open, and out there.

Kleon basically shows you the tools to unlock creativity that is already inside of you. He’ll give you a structure to organize your mind and expand your creativity to new levels. He introduces this concept of “stealing,” which actually means in the book something like surrounding yourself with things that inspire you and spark joy to help you reach the creative level you want.

I included this book in my selection because I believe we product managers need to be creative all the time. If you know how to be creative and find smart solutions to problems you can be a super badass product manager. We need to fall in love with the problem and see it creatively in order to find the right solution. In this book, Kleon shows you how to take the essential next steps on a creative journey.

You’ll find a framework that will help you feel inspired, share your work, gain visibility, and leverage your existing network in a self-discovery journey through creativity. This book has great content and illustrations, many inspiring stories and examples, and also some cool quotes. One lesson that stuck with me: “you can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.” Let’s use our voices and kick some asses!

10 — The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

I started to read this book because I was struggling with my time management some years ago. I wanted to know what habits successful people have, what their secrets are. Stephen R. Covey talks about seven habits highly effective people have. The headline overpromised by saying that it was going to transform your life as it had transformed CEOs’ and even presidents’ lives before.

As a product manager you’ll have an insane workload and an equally insane number of meetings to attend. The book organizes the habits in really easy-to-understand steps, and it comes with infographics that definitely help clarify the process.

My favorite habit is definitely the fifth, which is to seek to understand first and then to be understood. This is amazing because it summarizes a lot of things, if you seek to understand first, it means you judge less since the other person will have the adequate time to explain her thoughts. It also helps to have more empathy, because you’ll be willing to understand the other person’s thoughts and motivations.

With lots of real-life examples, the book guides the reader through each habit step-by-step. The first habit is to be proactive. The second is, to begin with the end in mind, this an awesome reminder when things get dizzy. The third habit is about prioritization, to put first things first. The fourth is to think win-win, it’s about always trying to get the best outcome for both sides. As I mentioned above, the fifth is seek first to understand then to be understood. The sixth habit is about synergy, and the last is to sharpen the saw.

BONUS: Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews by Lewis C. Lin

I’m currently reading this book, but since I hear great things about it, I decided to add it to our list. Decode and Conquer is one of the first books exclusively focused on product management interview preparation. The book includes a framework for product design and metrics questions, identifies the biggest mistakes candidates make in interviews, and also describes what interviewers are looking for.

I hope you liked it. I’d love to know your books reco too! Share it with me :)

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