The 10 Books Every Product Manager Should Read
Building a value-driven mindset will put you on a successful path as a Product Manager.
How can you educate yourself to become a robust Product Manager?
What should you learn to avoid the endless traps ahead of you?
How can you lead teams to build successful products & services?
Product Management is constantly evolving. It’s daunting to succeed as a Product Manager because companies don’t provide a proper environment. But you can succeed if you have a value-driven mindset.
Over the years, I’ve searched for different opportunities to learn more about Product Management—for example, meetups, webinars, conferences, books, podcasts, and so on. It’s a young discipline; it’s hard to find great content.
Although reading books is the most traditional approach, it’s still my favorite way of learning. I believe the right set of books can shape your mindset to become a robust Product Manager so that you can overcome any challenge ahead of you.
Allow me to share with you the ten books every Product Manager should read, in my opinion.
(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through these links, it will help me earn a small amount of money — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)
Inspired, Marty Cagan
“Product management is about insights and judgment, both of which require a sharp mind. Hard work is also necessary, but for this job, it is not sufficient.”
― Marty Cagan, Inspired
The first part of becoming a Product Manager is understanding what the job is and what is not. Marty Cagan nailed it down. If you want to clarify what you should do to succeed as a Product Manager, I’d strongly recommend reading this book.
After reading this book, you will have a clear picture of the Product Manager job. It’s indeed challenging to thrive as a Product Manager. But if you acquire the relevant skills, you will rock to the top.
Escaping From the Building Trap, Melissa Perri
Building something nobody needs is what Product Managers have to avoid. Yet, many times people end up in this situation. Whenever your confidence is too high, you may forget to validate assumptions, which inevitably will lead you to build something nobody cares about.
“It’s not the customer’s job to solve their own problems. It’s your job to ask them the right questions.”
― Melissa Perri, Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value
Melissa Perri calls this pattern as the build trap. Product Teams focus on building more and more features, yet they ignore the users’ real needs. If you want to learn how to escape from this dreadful trap, you should read this book.
I’ve fallen into the build trap multiple times. While reading the book, I could connect to most of the problems. I wish I had read this book before.
Building a Story Brand, Donald Miller
Understanding the customers is key to success. Until Product Managers find a meaningful problem to solve, they are not ready to talk about solutions.
But finding an opportunity with the customers is not enough. How you communicate the story with the potential customers is vital to reach the right audience. Product Managers should constantly clarify the message so that customers understand what is in the product for them.
“People trust those who understand them, and they trust brands that understand them too.”
― Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand
Value Proposition Design, Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur
As a Product Manager, you have to know what your customer needs. You need to understand what holds them back from achieving what they want. A product only makes sense if it solves customers’ real problems. Otherwise, it will be useless.
A widespread trap is to assume you know what your customers want. Yet, you are surprised when customers say, “I don’t need this product!” If Product Managers do not empathize with the customers, most probably pointless solutions will be developed.
If you want to gain insights on building valuable products, the Value Proposition Design is definitely for you.
“Your customers are the judge, jury, and executioner of your value proposition. They will be merciless if you don’t find fit!”
― Alexander Osterwalder, Value Proposition Design
User Story Mapping, Jeff Patton
In my opinion, prioritization is the worst nightmare of Product Managers. You always have more to do than the capacity allows. From my experience, prioritizing is a hassle because many teams lack a clear overview of the product.
If Product Managers don’t have a clear picture from end-to-end, prioritization will be impossible. Stakeholders will insist everything is urgent. A way out of this trap is called: shared understanding. To build a shared understanding, collaboration is vital.
“Your job isn’t to build more software faster: it’s to maximize the outcome and impact you get from what you choose to build.”
― Jeff Patton, User Story Mapping
Product Managers can use User Story Mapping to build a clear picture of the product. The beauty is not the Story Mapping alone, but the shared understanding built among stakeholders, developers, and everyone else who is impacted by the product. Jeff Patton explains precisely how to work efficiently with User Story Mapping; it’s a great book for Product Managers.
Start With Why, Simon Sinek
Product Managers are leaders. Communication is vital to lead teams in a unique direction. That’s why Product Managers should master the art o communication.
From the book Start With Why, I learned how to communicate better. Before reading it, I started telling what I wanted, then how, and rarely I said why. This approach only confused people because they couldn’t understand what I was talking about without knowing the reason.
If you want people to follow your ideas. You have to start with why. Once people understand the reason, then you can share the what. Then, later you can talk about how. If you invert this order, people will not connect to your message.
“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe”
― Simon Sinek, Start with Why
The Lean Startup, Eric Ries
Learning fast is crucial to thrive. Product Managers need to use techniques to validate their hypothesis as fast as possible. The faster you learn, the faster you can succeed.
“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”
― Eric Ries
“We can build an MVP.” Whenever you hear this sentence, you have to be careful. People tend to suggest building an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) without knowing what it is in the first place. It’s not about building; it’s all about learning.
When using MVP correctly, you can speed up the learning time. Eric Ries defined the feedback loop in The Lean Startup. If you follow this advice, you will save a lot of time by not building many useless features.
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni
All Product Managers have one aspect in common. They are part of a team. How the interaction between the people happens defines how successful your team can be. Why do some teams reach so much while some are always running in circles?
Ordinary teams are only a group of people working together, which is not a team. In such a scenario, the group lives in an artificial harmony, they don’t discuss, but they also don’t deliver on their commitments. They fail to achieve what they promised.
Successful teams work passionately towards a common goal. They discuss intensively, argue, commit, and deliver what is promised.
“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
― Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
Good to Great, Jim Collins
“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
― Jim Collins
First who, then where. Right people on the bus, wrong people out of the bus. Jim Collins insists on hiring the right people for the company is crucial to be successful. Great leaders find the right people to be with them, and only after that can they define where to go. Without the right people on board, the company will inevitably fail to achieve the goals.
Leadership is a vital difference in companies that make the leap from good to great. All companies have leaders, but few have a level five leader. The most significant difference is the humility. The Level Five executive is someone who leads by example. Someone who is not interested in getting credit for anything. A person who is humble and who believes the achievements were the result of the incredible people around.
Product Managers need to become a Level Five leader to lead teams in successful endeavors. But don’t get me wrong. Product Managers do not manage anyone, but you are ultimately accountable for the outcome of the product. Your decisions lead teams. That’s why you should learn how to be an inspiring leader.
“A company should limit its growth based on its ability to attract enough of the right people.”
― Jim Collins
Made to Stick, Chip Heath & Dan Heath
“The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.”
― Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Product Managers must be great communicators. It’s impossible to lead a team without mastering communication. Yet, it’s such a daunting skill to master. The book, Made to Stick describes why some ideas stick and others disappear.
If you want to learn how to communicate in a way that resonates with people, Made to Stick is a must-read. Until people care about the message, nothing will happen. But once they connect to the message, changes can occur.
The authors’ Chip & Dan Heath, shared extensive examples of communication styles and methods that have worked for centuries. This research led to their framework for creating ideas that stick.
If you have decided to be a Product Manager, congratulations, your days will never be boring. Yet, tons of work await you. You should do the following to overcome the challenges ahead of you:
- Be a leader who inspires teams to achieve impossible challenges.
- Master the communication so that people care about your message.
- Learn how to uncover the hidden needs beyond customers’ wants.
- Treat ideas as assumptions. Validate what you don’t know.
- Search for alternatives to learn from your customers as fast as possible.