There seem to be tons of books out there that claim to be “perfect” for the Product Manager and those wanting to move into a role in Product Management. There are also reading lists across the Internet — some better, some worse. I’ve found the following 18 books to be essential reading for anyone who is or wants to be a Product Manager; the list is in no way a complete list of all the great books, but a shortlist of those that I think are absolute must-reads.
Business Strategy & Planning
- Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey Moore
Geoffrey A. Moore shows that in the Technology Adoption Life Cycle–which begins with innovators and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards–there is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are willing to sacrifice for the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the technology actually offers improvements in productivity. The challenge for innovators and marketers is to narrow this chasm and ultimately accelerate adoption across every segment.
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany – Steve Blank
The Four Steps to the Epiphany launched the Lean Startup approach to new ventures. It was the first book to offer that startups are not smaller versions of large companies and that new ventures are different than existing ones. Startups search for business models while existing companies execute them. The book offers the practical and proven four-step Customer Development process for search and offers insight into what makes some startups successful and leaves others selling off their furniture. Rather than blindly execute a plan, The Four Steps helps uncover flaws in product and business plans and correct them before they become costly. Rapid iteration, customer feedback, testing your assumptions are all explained in this book.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.
- The Inmates are Running the Asylum – Alan Cooper
This book argues that the business executives who make the decisions to develop these products are not the ones in control of the technology used to create them. Insightful and entertaining, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum uses the author’s experiences in corporate America to illustrate how talented people continuously design bad software-based products and why we need technology to work the way average people think. Somewhere out there is a happy medium that makes these types of products both user and bottom-line friendly; this book discusses why we need to quickly find that medium.
- The Innovators Dilemma – Clayton Christensen
Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. No matter the industry, he says, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices. Offering both successes and failures from leading companies as a guide, The Innovator’s Dilemma gives you a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.
- The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute.
- The Mythical Man-Month – Frederick Brooks
Few books on software project management have been as influential and timeless as The Mythical Man-Month. With a blend of software engineering facts and thought-provoking opinions, Fred Brooks offers insight for anyone managing complex projects. These essays draw from his experience as project manager for the IBM System/360 computer family and then for OS/360, its massive software system. Now, 20 years after the initial publication of his book, Brooks has revisited his original ideas and added new thoughts and advice, both for readers already familiar with his work and for readers discovering it for the first time.
Design & User Experience
- The Design of Everyday Things – Don Norman
Product Management and Product Design go hand-in-hand, especially in companies that don’t have separate design teams on whom we can rely to provide us with expert guidance. Understanding how the things we use every day came to be the way they are is an excellent first step toward approaching our own products with an eye to making them simple and approachable.
- Don’t Make Me Think (Revisited) – Steve Krug
While originally published in 2000, Steve Krug has updated this seminal work in user experience and user interface design for the modern era. Every Product Manager should read this book to provide them with a fundamental basis for designing their products and ensuring that users come first.
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products – Nir Eyal
A great examination of how to achieve what we all want to do — create products that customers simply can’t do without. Eyal lays out a four-step process that Product Managers can leverage to not only delight their prospects and customers, but to make them return again and again.
- Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience – Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden
The concepts of “Lean” development, design, and business validation continue to be a hot and compelling topic within the world of Product Management — and for good reason, as markets change every single day in both minor and major ways. In this book, Jeff Gothelf shows us who we can apply the fundamental principles of “lean” thinking to our UX design efforts, providing a more compelling and fulfilling end product to delight our users.
- Made to Stick – Chip & Dan Heath
Chip and Dan Heath provide an amazing, insightful look into just what it is that makes an idea “stick” rather than disappear silently into obscurity. They focus on six traits that successful and “sticky” ideas have in common. From urban legends to life learnings, this book will help you identify those thoughts, ideas, and products that are more likely to remain solidly embedded in your customers’ minds.
- Cracking the PM Interview – Gayle Laakman McDowell
A regular contributor on Product Management questions on Quora, Gayle lays out the common interview questions a new PM will face, as well as time-tested approaches to provide valuable answers.
- Decode and Conquer: Answers to Product Management Interviews – Lewis C. Lin
Lewis Lin provides great insights into commonly-asked Product Management interview questions, along with practical recommendations for answering them. An essential companion for anyone looking to succeed in a PM job search in this market.
- The Art of Product Management: Lessons from a Silicon Valley Innovator – Rich Mironov
Rich Mironov provides a guidebook to aspiring Product Managers based on his own extensive experience both in and out of Silicon Valley. An essential companion guidebook for any Product Manager.
- Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love – Marty Cagan
One of the most fundamental texts on how to approach modern-day product ideation, validation, and management relying on user-centered practices. Every PM should have this book in their library.
- Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work – Chip & Dan Heath
In this insightful analysis of how we make choices and how we can improve on the choices that we do make, Heath proposes a four-point plan that allows you to identify and overcome the innate biases that we all hold when making decisions in both our professional and personal lives.
- Purple Cow – Seth Godin
If you’re not remarkable, you’re invisible — at least that’s the thesis of this amazing work by Seth Godin in which he presents the concepts and methods through which you can differentiate your product from not only competitors but from all the other noise in the market. Put a little Purple Cow in everything you do.