The 3 Books to Read to Gain More Confidence as a Product Manager

Ben Staples
May 12 · 7 min read
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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Published on www.Ben-Staples.com

Stuck at home and finally ready to pick up a book? Looking to grow your career as a Product Manager? Check out the below recommendations that have helped me gain more confidence as a Product Manager.

Not sure if these books are right for you?

Maybe you are:

  • Just starting out your journey as a Product Manager
  • Are on the track to become a Product Owner
  • Have moved on to a new team
  • Are looking to shake things up and double down on your daily level of motivation

No matter what, reading can cultivate confidence to drive success for your product, business, or personal brand.

Here are three books I’ve read at various points in my Product Management career and how they have guided me as I approached a few different situations.

**I hope you get as much of a benefit as I did from these books. As a heads up, if you do end up buying one of them from a link on this page, I may collect a small share of sales.

The Books

  1. Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
Cover image for the book Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan
Cover image for the book Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan

After I realized I wanted to make the move from Product Marketing to Product Management, I started looking to learn what skills I needed to develop as a Product Manager and was on the hunt for an end to end course or resource.

As I looked around for courses to take, and current Product Managers to talk to, a co-worker at Vistaprint mentioned Marty Cagan. They mentioned he was one of the leading Product thinkers currently out there and suggested Inspired.

The following are a few key components about Inspired that lead me to list it as my top recommendation:

A. Marty Cagan is one of the best leaders in Product Management thinking.

Getting familiar with leaders in the industry and how they think is beneficial to having more confidence in your job. There is no better way to get into the head of a great mind than to read their book; the author’s best shot at stringing together an uninterrupted end to end thought process that is organized to the best of their ability.

A year or so after reading this book I had the chance to see Marty Cagan speak at a Boston Product Management Association event where I got an even deeper understanding of how Marty thinks. Afterwards I wrote Marty to thank him for taking the time to write this book that deeply influenced my career, he replied! Marty runs the Silicon Valley Product Group and I’d highly recommend signing up for their email distribution.

B. Focus on core Product Management processes: what to focus on and what to say no to.

For people trying to get into Product, or if you’re brand new to the field, this book serves as a great foundation for many skillets that a product manager must have. I’ve also seen experienced product managers revisiting this book to see what habits have developed over time that could be optimized

C. Transparent lessons learned from one of the greats.

While Marty is a very strong Product thinker, at the end of the day he, like the rest of us is only human and has a wealth of experience. His ability to recount some of the complications he ran into and the key learnings he took away from those obstacles reminded me that everyone has problems, issues are normal, and it’s the way you come away from them that is the differentiator. Learning from those situations separates the good from the great.

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out this awesome book review from MAA1

2. The One Thing by Gary Keller and Kay Papasan

Cover image for the book The One Thing
Cover image for the book The One Thing

Nope, this is not your grandma’s Product book, but instead a real estate book. The One Thing hammers on a concept around driving focus for you and your goals. I couldn’t just leave this one to a section of an article, but instead went in depth at how this book has impacted my product journey and transformed how I approach Scrum Team standups.

Check out my deep dive on how The One Thing can transform your scrum team stand-up!

3. Cracking the PM interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro

Cover image for the book Cracking the PM Interview
Cover image for the book Cracking the PM Interview

I heard about this book when I decided to start exploring opportunities. The bottom line at the time was, while I had grown confidence as a Product Manager at Vistaprint with my job responsibilities, I was not at all confident in my interviewing skills. Vistaprint was my first job out of college which gave me two considerations that were top of mind:

  1. I had three rounds of internal interviews at Vistaprint when I made the switch from Product Marketing to Product Management, I had never interviewed externally for a Product Management role (something realistically everyone should take the time to do periodically)
  2. The last time I had formally interviewed to date was while I was still in college. It had been over 5 years and I knew I was going to be rusty

While networking with people at companies I’d dream to work for, a former PM at Facebook who recommended this book.

The first version of this book focused on cracking the engineering interview. This focused on giving software engineers the tools to really hone their interviewing skills with the goal of getting into big tech companies that everyone wants to work for. The idea is the same with this book, just for Product Managers. Here were the biggest benefits I got from this quick read:

A. Insight into the high level strategy the big tech companies (google, facebook, twitter, Microsoft) use for Product Management and more specifically, what they look for in Product Managers.

For example, I come from a Business and Marketing background and do not have direct software development experience. Certain companies only hire Product Managers that have previously been software developers. Others split their Product Managers into technical and non technical Product Managers that lean in to either software development or business backgrounds.

My takeaway was the need to shift my focus in my job hunt to what organizations value, AND on what skill sets I should continue to work to develop based on specific company targets.

B. Insight into how other companies are doing their interviews.

A few years earlier, I was given the opportunity to develop a new case interview for Vistaprint’s product marketing organization. I’d never done anything like developing a brand new case interview before and unfortunately didn’t know about this book at the time.

While there are differences in how big tech companies do their interviews , as someone tasked with developing a new interview, I found it interesting to learn more about what these companies so focused on to get a great talent pool to hire from.

C. Motivation to practice.

This book had some great resources for practice. There were breakdowns of different kinds of case and behavioral interview questions, followed by a few sample questions with answers in the back. While for most case interview questions, there is never just one correct answer, seeing these experienced Product people walk through how they think about attacking different types of questions increased my confidence walking in to interviews.

So there you have it!

The 3 books that are top of mind for me as I think back on what I’ve read to prepare for my role as a product manager, get better at the craft and helped me develop more confidence across a few different situations. Of course there are many other books that have greatly helped me develop my skill set that unfortunately didn’t make the cut, but I hope this summary gives you a sense of what these books were about, and how they impacted my career.

A note on COVID:

These are challenging times. I personally was selected for furlough at Trunk Club because of the pandemic, but am fortunate enough to have been asked to return to work. If you are still lucky enough to be employed, don’t let working from home stop you from being a confident Product Manager!. It’s these times that we need even more confidence and collaboration.

About the author:

Ben Staples has over 6 years of product management and product marketing ecommerce experience. He is currently employed at Trunk Club as a Senior Product Manager responsible for driving engagement through the Trunk Club Native App. Previously, Ben was a Product Manager at Vistaprint and founded the Vistaprint Product Management guild with over 40 members.

I do product management consulting! Interested in finding out more? Want to get notified when my next product article comes out? Interested in getting into Product Management but don’t know how? Want even more book recommendations?! Email me!

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Ben Staples

Written by

Ben Staples has over 7 years of product management and PMM eCommerce experience from at Nordstrom, Trunk Club, and Vistaprint . Currently based in Chicago IL

The Innovation

A place for a variety of stories from different backgrounds

Ben Staples

Written by

Ben Staples has over 7 years of product management and PMM eCommerce experience from at Nordstrom, Trunk Club, and Vistaprint . Currently based in Chicago IL

The Innovation

A place for a variety of stories from different backgrounds

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