My 12 book recommendations for product managers

Latif Nanji
Jun 13, 2018 · 8 min read

I’m going to preface this list by stating (in my opinion) that the long-form content that currently exists on product management isn’t as great as the short-form — like the articles I previously listed out here.

So, the books I’m including in this list aren’t specifically about product management or written uniquely for PMs.

But they will help PMs create stronger team dynamics, lead more efficiently and improve productivity. These books have all helped me in my day-to-day tremendously, and I’ve become a more well-rounded product person / leader because of these readings.

If you like my book recommendations below, follow me on Goodreads for even more.

1. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Every company is a tribe — or a network of tribes depending on headcount. And the way that individuals operate as part of their tribe is really powerful.

In Tribal Leadership, the authors walkthrough how you can identify where your tribe’s culture lands on a the tribal scale (it goes from one to five). And they provide specific tools that you can use to elevate your tribe to higher levels.

NBA coach Phil Jackson actually used the research outlined in this book to transform the 1995–1996 Chicago Bulls into the only level five team in the league–and its dominant, winning force. He wrote about this in his own book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success (also a good read).

This book really shines with its communication tactics. Now, when I encounter new people or new tribes, I can quickly categorize them based on the tribal scale and identify the mechanisms they use to communicate with each other and outsiders.

Check it out on Goodreads.

2. Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

It’s not uncommon for there to be tension between a product manager and the sales team. But here’s the thing, a PM can learn a little something from a sales rep — specifically when it comes to crafting a message that persuades someone to do something.

This is a skill that can be very beneficial to PMs. We need to be able to tell stories that influence stakeholders and entire departments to align on / move towards one product strategy.

This book was written by a sales pro and it can help PMs frame the story they want to tell and tug on the right emotions to get the buy-in they seek.

Check it out on Goodreads.

3. Letters from a Stoic

Okay. This is a very, very old book but it really holds up. It was written by Seneca — born in 4 BC — one of the founders of Stoicism.

The book contains letters that Seneca penned to his pal Lucilius. He shares stories that really made me re-think how I should be approaching communication (in and outside of work) and how powerful kindness can be in every situation. Seriously, I was just walking around my apartment for days thinking of how I should have handled past conversations.

I recommend this book to all PMs. You will learn a new set of principles in regards to responding to common behaviours and interacting with your team. It will leapfrog your ability to lead. Trust me. Even if you apply just a small percentage of the book’s lessons.

Check it out on Goodreads.

4. Ego is the Enemy

Ryan Holiday used to be American Apparel’s director of marketing. And, in this book, he explores how your big ego is getting in your own way.

Holiday shares stories of how taking a pragmatic approach to business problems is much more efficient than finding a maybe-not-so-reasonable solution that only serves to make you look good.

I’ve applied a lot of his lessons to check myself and how I make product-based decisions. Sometimes, listening to what the data is saying over your own intuition (read: ego) is the best, most balanced solution to a product problem.

Check it out on Goodreads.

5. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Chris Hadfield is one of my heroes (and not just because we’re both Canadian). His whole life story is compelling. The man had a dream to become an astronaut and he faced a lot of adversity to make it happen. It’s inspiring.

But the part that is most applicable to PMs is this: in any situation, you can either be a “plus-one”, a “zero” or a “minus-one”.

Always aim for zero.

A plus-one adds value to whatever new situation they find themselves in. A zero is competent, has little ego and doesn’t get in anyone’s way. A minus-one just causes problems.

But a plus-one can easily become a minus-one if they’re ego gets the better of them.

Zeros listen, observe and share advice when it makes sense to — they’re like a plus-one that doesn’t have to tell anyone that they’re a plus-one. They’re the best people to work with. And I think zeroes make A+ product managers.

Check it out on Goodreads.

6. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditations in Everyday Life

This is probably the book that I gift to others the most. It’s a little niche in that it will mostly resonate with people who want to practice mindfulness in the workplace.

This book stands out for me because it was written by Jon Kabat-Zinn. He’s a scientist, researcher and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic. He has been analyzing the brain waves of buddhists to fully understand the impact that meditation has on a person’s life.

For product managers, this book includes practical lessons to help you be more empathetic and rational at the office (and with your users) by tapping into your inner peace. It’s a great introduction to mindfulness if it’s something you’ve been wanting to learn more about.

Check it out on Goodreads.

7. The Hard Things About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

This is a bookshelf staple for founders. Before becoming a VC, Ben Horowitz was a product manager and then a founder. The book is a real and honest look at the challenges of building a business.

I love his style because it’s relatable to any product person. The problems he discusses are not unique — they cross products, markets, customers of all kinds.

Check it out on Goodreads.

8. Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

According to Simon Sinek (and I agree with him), figuring out why your company exists is important but it’s just as vital to get your people on board. This book walks through how to inspire trust and commitment within your team.

Your team will perform exponentially better when they fully understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Sineck also writes about the importance of safety. Safety = progress. And a great leader makes their team feel safe. When someone doesn’t have to worry about failing alone or the future of the company, they’ll be able to fully focus on their work.

This is a great read for PMs to learn tactics to get better results from the team they manage and the teams that they influence.

Check it out on Goodreads.

9. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Peter Thiel is a weird guy, but I love this book. It changed the way I think about product in terms of market fit, finding a niche and creating a monopoly in an untapped category.

Theil states that there are two types of innovation:

  1. Horizontal progress: when you take something that exists and improve it — going from “1 to n”.
  2. Vertical progress: when you create something brand new — going from “0 to 1”.

The most successful companies in the world (Google and Apple for example) won success by going from “0 to 1”. They were all once startups but grew to their size and power by introducing the world to something new.

This book is must-read for PMs thinking about making the transition to entrepreneur. You’ll learn how to find a niche and make an impact through disruption.

Check it out on Goodreads.

10. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose

Tony Hsieh is someone I’ve always admired because of the importance he placed on team culture at Zappos. And there are many tactile lessons I took away from Delivering Happiness. This book is actually the reason why we introduced mandatory customer support training for all new employees at Roadmunk.

But as a product manager, this book really taught me how essential it is to fully understand a customer’s journey and experience. From top to bottom.

Every interaction — whether it’s an interaction with a customer success rep or how easy it is to find information on your website — impacts how they view your product and company.

It’s easy to get caught in a feature war with a competitor but that often comes at the cost o building delighters (inside and outside of the product).

Read this to learn how to build trust and loyalty to your brand.

Check it out on Goodreads.

11. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

I really love taking the time to mentor other startup founders and product managers. And, over the years, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of similarities in the challenges and responsibilities faced by founders and PMs — specifically when it comes to communicating strategy and vision with the rest of the team.

Now, if an org isn’t aligned on what’s going on with the product in the short- and long-term, it’s going to be a huge problem when growth starts to kick in. Enter: dysfunction.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team walks you through the root causes of team dysfunction — and there are five of of them:

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

You’ll learn how to overcome all five — this is a book I recommend to many founders and PMs (both to combat dysfunction pre-emptively and reactively).

Check it out on Goodreads.

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

I chose this book to close off this list because it’s an inspiring, feel-good story. It’s the tale of how Pixar came to dominate the world of animation. And, hey, you’ll be surprised at how similar managing a product is to making a movie.

This book takes you inside of the meetings and brainstorming sessions at Pixar. And it’s an excellent book for PMs looking for ways to inspire creativity and originality within their team.

Catmull is super honest and candid about the techniques his team used to turn Pixar in to a widely beloved — and profitable — brand.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Happy reading 🙂

Product to Product | Roadmunk

For product people, by product people.