Throughout my career as both a product manager and startup founder, there’s been one severely underrated skill I credit for much of my success — and that’s reading. (Trust me, when I say I’m an avid reader. Just take a look at my Goodreads list!)
I’m constantly consuming articles on product management, product culture, startups and entrepreneurship to bolster my career as a product person and leader. So I thought I’d share some of my favorite reading materials that have helped me through my career in product — and are still crowding my bookmarks tab.
For this list, I stuck to online posts strictly. (If I listed books, we’d be here forever.) This list is not the be all end all; there are countless ‘must-read’ articles for PMs. I’ve hand-picked articles that specifically helped me during key moments in my career. Some sit outside the product domain, but still directly pushed me as a product manager to connect and empathize with other team members.
Let’s get to it. Here’s my list of favorite online posts for product managers.
What’s most critical to the success of a startup? That’s a rather… ambivalent (and annoying) question. But in part 4 of a 9-part series on startups by Marc Andreessen (co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz), there are three factors to startup success identified: your team, product and market.
However, Marc argues that it’s actually market knowledge (or “user empathy”) that’s likely the determining factor for your startup. It’s a compelling and non-BS answer relevant for PMs at any sized-company.
I really love this post because most PMs struggle to conceptualize product-market fit, since it varies from product to product. But in this post, Tren Griffin, Senior Director at Microsoft, sums up the concept succinctly. My personal favorite explanation: “The term product/market fit describes ‘the moment when a startup finally finds a widespread set of customers that resonate with its product.’” This article should be top of mind when anyone embarks on a new product journey, so they can pinpoint the exact moment when product-market fit is achieved.
Originally written for founders, by a founder (my man, VC and entrepreneur Paul Graham), this post speaks exactly to the quality I look for when hiring a PM. Almost no amount of experience, knowledge of theory or models, or charisma can outshine a PM’s ability to be relentlessly resourceful.
I recall Warren Buffett saying in a speech, “Who is the person in your class most likely to succeed?” Do they have the best grades? Are they the most intelligent? It’s somebody who navigates every problem with determination and grit to get shit done. This post was a great reminder to keep my own (and my hires’) resourcefulness in check.
Answer: The cost of maintaining new code. The more complex you make your product, the higher the cost of altering that code afterwards. How many times I refer this post to new PMs still surprises me. Yes, I want to know when something will ship in the short-term, but I care 5x more about its maintenance cost in the long-run.
As a PM you eventually accept that when you put your ‘baby’ out into the world, it’s probably not going to be perfect. Knowing when to pull the trigger on a product release is a necessary, albeit tricky, skill for PMs to develop. So Shopify’s Director of Product, Brandon Chu, developed a framework to streamline that decision-making process. A tactical and handy post!
6. Maker’s schedule, manager’s schedule
Author: Paul Graham (told you I was a big fan!)
This is a post that really informs how I interact with team members day-to-day. I’m cognizant that designers and developers generally dive deep into one problem at a time — asking them a question can disrupt their flow. Managers, on the other hand, can be interrupted because their job is to constantly switch between contexts.
I can also thank this article for encouraging me to schedule my own maker time and shifting my regular schedule. I don’t take meetings in the morning (unless I absolutely have to) and I workout from 3:30 to 5 PM, so that I can reflect on what to achieve post-sweat session.
Author: Brandon Chu
Yeahhh, you might notice a few go-to writers on this list. In this post, Brandon Chu offers PMs a healthy reality-check about being realistic with deadlines and the need for balance. (Trust me, burnout is a very real thing.)
I have to admit though, as I re-read this post, I got emotionally charged because most people don’t actually understand the PURPOSE of friggin’ deadlines. It’s not about hitting dates; it’s about changing behavior. It’s no coincidence when you give deadlines to salespeople, quarter ends usually are the busiest. Keeping insights from this article in your back pocket will do you well as a PM mapping out project timelines.
Fine, this one isn’t a ‘must-read;’ it’s a ‘must-watch.’ But I’ve always been fascinated with Spotify’s famous squad, tribe, Survivor-esque sounding setup — especially as agile becomes status quo for product orgs, and more companies shift to this specific engineering culture. The video delves into the motivation behind the culture and offers learnings that PMs can apply to their own culture.
This one’s aimed at designers, but considering the author Julie Zhou, Facebook’s VP of Product Design, is an ex-PM, I’m throwing it on the list. As much time as designers spend with engineers, a PM is sure as hell spending just as much (if not more) time working/communicating/pulling their hair out with their engineering team (we are shit umbrellas for a reason). Hence, why this helpful cheat sheet for designers is also essential-reading for PMs.
10. How to work with designers
Author: Julie Zhou
We talked working with engineers, now let’s chat working with product designers. With just as much time invested in working with your design team (as you do engineering), you might want to brush up on how best to manage that working relationship as well. Julie provides another useful cheat sheet, this time specifically dedicated to PMs and engineers.
If you’re ever looking for a think-outside-the-box type of exercise that’ll test your UX chops, this post is for you. I strongly believe all PMs should be design-centric (it’s all about that empathy, folks!), so this post allows PMs to put on their product design hats and get thinking like a designer.
12. Ruthless prioritization
Author: Brandon Chu
Brandon Chu makes yet another appearance on the list with a different framework; this time to help with prioritization (between projects and within a project).
A sign that a PM is more junior in their career is the tendency to over bloat, i.e. prioritizing too many things. A seasoned PM knows how to prioritize just enough to get an MVP (or MSP — minimum sellable product — as I like to encourage). This article can help junior PMs trying to level-up AND senior PMs who want to effectively evaluate more junior team members.
The “innovator’s dilemma” is one of those commonly-misunderstood buzz-terms tossed around the product space. But 2x entrepreneur and VC Mark Suster kindly breaks it down in his post. Beyond defining the term, he goes onto explain what it means for a company — and by extension a PM — whether you’re a startup aiming to “disrupt” (another buzzword) the market or you’re the incumbent (a.k.a. a leader within your market).
14. Dear PMs, it’s time to rethink agile at enterprise startups
Author: First Round Review (or at least someone from there…)
There’s a common misconception in the product space that agile and planning don’t go hand-in-hand. As a co-founder of a roadmapping platform, I think you know where I stand on this idea (hint: it’s not true), but don’t just take my word for it; read this post too. This interview with Ogi Kavazovic, CMO and SVP Product Strategy at Flatiron Health, outlines a tactical perspective for balancing these seemingly counterintuitive concepts.
15. The agony and ecstasy of building with data
Author: Julie Zhou
Julie’s deconstruction of the perils of data and A/B testing was too on-the-nose to be left off the list. Highlighting common pitfalls for PMs embarking on data testing, this is a post I constantly reference when dealing with data. One particular pitfall that constantly brings this article to mind? Making biased decisions based on short-term data. Let’s just say, this article prevented me from making this mistake more than once.
16. The best advice we heard at First Round’s CTO unconference
Author: Still unknown, but First Round Review again
As a PM, you’re surrounded by technical people; hell, you might just be a technical PM. So why not read insights from a bunch of tech leaders discussing, well, tech while crammed into one unconference for a day? Chock-full of actionable advice on topics ranging from hiring to metrics to diversity, this post provides multiple perspectives from your everyday techie.
17. Do things that don’t scale
Author: Paul Graham (again)
Build it and they will come. A commonly frustrating phrase I hear around the product space, that’s often just flawed. People like to believe that startups either succeed or don’t — but that dichotomy is an outdated mentality. Paul Graham explains that in reality startups excel when founders take actionto make them succeed. Specifically a few unscalable actions. PMs, don’t pass up on this article because it’s aimed at startups; these principles are VERY applicable to your product too.
18. What we look for in founders
Author: Paul Graham
Last one from Paul — I promise! This one’s written with executive-level people in mind. Listing five traits that a founder should embody, this list was something I kept in mind when hunting for my technical co-founder. But these traits shouldn’t be relegated to only founders. These should be traits you look for in any hire (I’m looking at you PMs!).
19. What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?
Not really an article, but this Quora thread compiles answers from various product leaders about what differentiates the crème de la crème of product management. I want to point you specifically to the response by Ian McAllister (then Director at AirBnB) as he highlights key traits that PMs should aspire to and how these qualities (while difficult) should always be on your mind.
The gift of gab ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. We’ve stressed before how writing is a vital (and underrated) skill for PMs, so I definitely had to include this post about the superiority of written communication over verbal communication from Walter Chen, Founder and CEO of Animalz. As a PM, take a read to clear any doubts about why those technical docs you’re writing actually matter.
Product management = juggling and managing many, many, many expectations. President of Y Combinator, Sam Altman, wrote a much-needed reminder that as PMs we must have conversations with our executives about their expectations to see if we align on product strategy. Do you really know what you’re signing up for as a PM?
Alright, I broke the rules again; it’s a video. What starts off as your run-of-the-mill motivational speech about leadership, morphs into a riveting talk about hidden expectations of leaders. As a PM, you’ll more often than not, be looked to as a leader. Watch the video to understand deep-seated beliefs of being a leader and how you can gain trust from those you work with.
Delighting your users shouldn’t be a nice-to-have; it should be a must! That’s why I root for the Kano model. I don’t even know how many posts there are about this model, but I particularly gun for this post by Martin Eriksson, founder of ProductTank and co-founder of Mind the Product, because he neatly sums up the model’s central lessons for a PM. No matter which prioritization techniqueyou’ve enlisted, this post makes a case for why you need Kano in your life.
24. Creating effective customer feedback loops for product teams
Author: The Roadmunk team
Yes, this one’s a shameless plug, but I do consider it necessary reading for PMs. At product orgs, customer feedback steers product teams towards a stronger product that users actually want. But getting that feedback to and from your product team is a system that needs finessing, otherwise feedback can easily get lost. Read how our CS team gets the feedback loop perpetually going to ensure our product team makes the most of user feedback.
If you haven’t seen this infamous interaction between Steve Jobs and an inquisitive-yet-insulting audience member, this post packages together the biggest learnings from that moment. What could’ve been a seriously awkward encounter, turned into an eloquent and well-articulated lesson for anyone who’s ever released something and faced significant criticism. This post (and video) is a teaching of patience and humility for when PMs (or anyone, in fact) is confronted with those uncomfortable moments of pushback.
Don’t just read about product management — get tactical with it! Visit our template library to get roadmapping.