12 Books Product Managers should Read in 2020

Lena Haydt
Jan 17 · 9 min read

2019 was an exciting year for new books and provided us with some excellent reading material for the new year. With some new publications by already established authors, great newcomers and many valuable insights from areas around testing & user experience, machine learning, team building, and communication, we have selected our top 12 books for 2020.

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Trillion Dollar Coach

The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell
by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle

The team behind How Google Works returns with management lessons from the legendary coach and business executive, Bill Campbell, whose mentoring of some of our most successful modern entrepreneurs has helped create well over a trillion dollars in market value.

Bill Campbell played an instrumental role in the growth of several prominent companies, such as Google, Apple, and Intuit, fostering deep relationships with Silicon Valley visionaries, including Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt. In addition, this business genius mentored dozens of other important leaders throughout USA, from entrepreneurs to venture capitalists to educators to football players, leaving behind a legacy of growing companies, successful people, respect, friendship, and love after his death in 2016.

240 pages, Harper Business 2019

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Testing Business Ideas

by David J. Bland & Alexander Osterwalder

7 out of 10 new products fail to deliver on expectations. Testing Business Ideas aims to reverse that statistic. In the tradition of Alex Osterwalder’s global bestseller Business Model Generation, this practical guide contains a library of hands-on techniques for rapidly testing new business ideas.

368 pages, Wiley 2019

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How to Speak Machine

Computational Thinking for the Rest of Us
by John Maeda

John Maeda is one of the world’s preeminent interdisciplinary thinkers on technology and design. In How to Speak Machine, he offers a set of simple laws that govern not only the computers of today, but the unimaginable machines of the future.

How to Speak Machine provides a coherent framework for today’s product designers, business leaders, and policymakers to grasp this brave new world. Drawing on his wide-ranging experience from engineering to computer science to design, Maeda shows how businesses and individuals can identify opportunities afforded by technology to make world-changing and inclusive products — while avoiding the pitfalls inherent to the medium.

240 pages, Portfolio 2019

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What You Do Is Who You Are

How to Create Your Business Culture
by Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz has long been fascinated by history, and particularly by how people behave differently than you’d expect. The time and circumstances in which they were raised often shapes them — yet a few leaders have managed to shape their times. In What You Do Is Who You Are, he turns his attention to a question crucial to every organization: how do you create and sustain the culture you want?

What You Do Is Who You Are is a journey through culture, from ancient to modern. Along the way, it answers a question fundamental to any organization: Who are we? How do people talk about us when we’re not around? How do we treat our customers? Are we there for people in a pinch? Can we be trusted?

288 pages, Harper Business 2019

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The Team That Managed Itself

A Story of Leadership
by Christina Wodtke

In The Team That Managed Itself, Christina Wodtke teaches leaders how to build and lead high performing teams based on her long career in the trenches in Silicon Valley. Her book is engaging, actionable — and built around a story you’ll want to read.

Learn to lead the team along with Allie as she tackles one challenge after another while the clock ticks down. How do you build the right team and choose the goals to pull them to greatness, even if you’re dealing with a toxic environment? How do you keep your people moving in the right direction without burning out or burning it all down? As Allie finds out, even in the face of overwhelming pressure it’s about setting expectations, giving good feedback, checking in against goals, and learning as a team…

268 pages, Cucina Media, LLC 2019

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Shape Up

by Ryan Singer

This book is the latest gem — written by one of the founders of Basecamp. Shape Up focuses on product development teams that face the issue of shaping, building and shipping. The book gives teams language and specific techniques to address the risks and unknowns at each stage of the product development process. Full of eye-opening insights, Shape Up will help you break free of “best practices” that aren’t really working, think deeper about the right problems, and start shipping meaningful projects your team can celebrate.

Get the first version of this book, here:

Print, e-book, and audio versions will come next. Join the newsletter to hear when they’re available.


Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
by David Epstein

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields — especially those that are complex and unpredictable — generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.

352 pages, Riverhead Books 2019

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Nine Lies About Work

A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World Hardcover
by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall

You crave feedback. Your organization’s culture is the key to its success. Strategic planning is essential. Your competencies should be measured and your weaknesses shored up. Leadership is a thing.

These may sound like basic truths of our work lives today. But actually, they’re lies. As strengths guru and bestselling author Marcus Buckingham and Cisco Leadership and Team Intelligence head Ashley Goodall show in this provocative, inspiring book, there are some big lies — distortions, faulty assumptions, wrong thinking — that we encounter every time we show up for work. Nine lies, to be exact.

This book leads to some free thinking about the way we do our jobs and how we can approach what we do in a different way.

256 pages, Harvard Business Review Press 2019

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How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries
by Safi Bahcall

What do James Bond and Lipitor have in common? What can we learn about human nature and world history from a glass of water?

In Loonshots, physicist and entrepreneur Safi Bahcall reveals a surprising new way of thinking about the mysteries of group behavior that challenges everything we thought we knew about nurturing radical breakthroughs.

Drawing on the science of phase transitions, Bahcall shows why teams, companies, or any group with a mission will suddenly change from embracing wild new ideas to rigidly rejecting them, just as flowing water will suddenly change into brittle ice. Mountains of print have been written about culture. Loonshots identifies the small shifts in structure that control this transition, the same way that temperature controls the change from water to ice.

368 pages, St. Martin’s Press 2019

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Design for How People Think

Using Brain Science to Build Better Products
by John Whalen

User experience doesn’t happen on a screen; it happens in the mind, and the experience is multidimensional and multisensory. This practical book will help you uncover critical insights about how your customers think so you can create products or services with an exceptional experience.

Corporate leaders, marketers, product owners, and designers will learn how cognitive processes from different brain regions form what we perceive as a singular experience. Author John Whalen shows you how anyone on your team can conduct “contextual interviews” to unlock insights. You’ll then learn how to apply that knowledge to design brilliant experiences for your customers.

240 pages, O’Reilly Media 2019

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Outcomes Over Output

Why customer behavior is the key metric for business success
by Joshua Seiden

In the old days, when we made physical products, setting project goals wasn’t that hard. But in today’s service- and software-driven world, “done” is less obvious. When is Amazon done? When is Google done? Or Facebook? In reality, services powered by digital systems are never done. So then how do we give teams a goal that they can work on? Mostly, we simply ask teams to build features — but features are the wrong way to go. We often build features that create no value. Instead, we need to give teams an outcome to achieve. Using outcomes creates focus and alignment. It eliminates needless work. And it puts the customer at the center of everything you do. Setting goals as outcomes sounds simple, but it can be hard to do in practice. This book is a practical guide to using outcomes to guide the work of your team.

76 pages, Independently published 2019

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Talking to Strangers

What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know
by Malcom Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers — and why they often go wrong.

Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.

Gladwell brilliantly argues that we should stop assuming, realize no one’s transparent and understand that behavior is tied to unseen circumstances.

400 pages, Little, Brown and Company 2019

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PM Library

Over 200 curated books that everyone who builds products should read

Lena Haydt

Written by

Senior Product Manager @XING, Founder of @PM Library

PM Library

Over 200 curated books that everyone who builds products should read

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