What kind of books should you read as a product manager?
Well, it depends (super helpful, I know 😅).
There are different types of product managers with a different focus, based on the product they build and their audience. Some lean more towards technology, others towards data or design.
The foundations however are the same for everyone. A product manager needs to have a wide range of skills and understanding of different roles in the product team and the process as a whole. Kind of like a jack-of-all-trades of the product team.
That’s why this list includes books about strategy, research, design, and UX but also leadership, productivity, and some inspirational books to keep you going.
Strategy and research books
The Product Book: How to become a great product manager
Written by Josh Anon, Carlos González de Villaumbrosia
The Product Book explains what product management is (and isn’t) and describes what product managers do on a daily basis; and how they interlock with other product teams like design, engineering, and marketing. It also touches on company strategy and how to understand it; what the product management artifacts are, such as personas, use cases, user stories, and product roadmaps; but also explains key product metrics, the product life cycle, and how to create and validate hypotheses.
If you’re starting in product management or you’re curious about what it is, then this book will clearly answer the majority of your questions and get you started.
The Lean Startup: How constant innovation creates radically successful businesses
Written by Eric Ries
This is one of the first strategy books I ever read, and how thankful I am for it. This lean startup book is the number one book every entrepreneur and product manager should read before starting their business or product.
A lean startup is a minimalist approach to starting a new company and building products that will succeed, through simple build-measure-learn steps together with measuring progress, setting the right milestones, and prioritizing work.
The lean product movement changed how products get developed by defining MVP’s and continuously testing the product vision with customers, in order to achieve product-market fit. No wonder the book is often referred to as a bible for entrepreneurs.
The Lean Product Playbook: How to innovate with minimum viable products and rapid customer feedback
Written by Dan Olsen
The Lean startup book was a hit, but many teams failed when trying to implement processes described in it. Which is where the Lean Product Playbook comes in to guide you through the lean startup principles and show you how to apply them while building your own product. It teaches you how to identify target customers and their needs, create product strategy, as well as define, design and test your product MVP. All these steps help develop an initial idea through rapid iterations, and achieve product-market fit.
There is also a guide to Agile development at the end of the book, explaining each of the agile methodologies, how to understand progress and what the key metrics are that we should be tracking pre and post-launch to better understand where our product stands.
This book is great for everyone who is looking for a practical guide on how to apply Lean startup methodology while building their own products.
This is Service Design Doing, applying service design thinking in the real world
Created by Marc Stickdorn, Adam Lawrence, Markus Hormess, Jakob Schneider
There are plenty of strategy books on how to build better products, but very little on the methods that will actually get you there. If you’re looking for a complete collection of methods, use cases, and examples of service (aka product) design to improve your product, then this handbook is for you.
There is also an online library featuring the majority of methods included in the printed handbook, but it’s missing on the theoretical introduction, use cases, and case studies.
What I enjoyed about this book is that it gives me a clear step-by-step process for each of the design and research methods to successfully perform them.
The Customer-Driven Playbook: Converting Customer Feedback into Successful Products
Written by Travis Lowdermilk and Jessica Rich
The Customer-Driven Playbook is a great book for teams who find it difficult to adopt lean product development and processes, and implement customer feedback. The book explains the Hypothesis Progression Framework (HPF) with end-to-end processes to formulate hypotheses, conduct experiments, collect feedback and process it, and of course, continue to improve products.
The first part of the book focuses on the theoretical foundation behind the importance of customer feedback as well as the Hypothesis Progression Framework, and the second part focuses on the step-by-step processes used to create hypotheses and test them.
Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days
Written by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz
In today's competitive world where speed matters, sometimes more than anything, getting an answer to a big question such as whether your idea is the one that will save you, is a priority. .
Design sprint describes the process of how you can achieve exactly that in just 5 days, get contributions from everyone on your team, and as a bonus, have some fun!
The schedule of the design sprint is quite tight; each day has a different focus - map the problem, sketch solutions, decide on the winners, build a prototype, and test with target customers.
Also, there is also a great website explaining the key steps to run your own design sprint, so you no need to go through the whole book if you don't want to, or refer to it later.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Written by Nir Eyal, Ryan Hoover
If you’ve ever wondered why some products make users stick around more than others, then you might be interested in learning more about the Hook Model.
Products that have a high percentage of returning visitors have managed to create a habit in their users and they all follow the same pattern explained in the Hook Model - Trigger, Action, Reward, and Investment.
If you achieve all points mentioned in the Hook Model there is a high chance your product becomes successful, with high retention numbers.
Well designed: How to use empathy to create products that people love
written by Jon Kolko
In today's agile world many teams rush their decisions when designing a new product, which could lead to overcomplicated products over time; products that are overwhelming for both the team and users.
In this book, Jon Kolko describes the importance of empathy and emotional connection in order to truly understand customer needs and feelings when developing products. This knowledge then gets reflected in the product itself with a well-described design process and storytelling.
The process itself consists of 4 key steps: determine product-market fit, identify behavior insights, design product strategy, and polish product details.
If you’re looking for a new way or ideas to improve your product design process with clear examples of exercises you can do along the way, then this book is for you! Also, the cover is so beautiful you can keep it on your desk to remind you what the key principles of well-designed products that make people smile are. 😊
Badass: Making Users Awesome
written by Kathy Sierra
As much as we’d like it not to be so, users, in general, don’t care about the product. What they actually care about is how awesome they feel while doing what they do, while your product helps them achieve that.
The Badass: Making Users Awesome book teaches you the core principles of how to create the right product strategy and messaging in order to shift your thinking from your product to your users first, and make people feel like superheroes while using it.
Unlike other product management books I’ve come across, this one features way more images (including comics-like ones) than text, which is great for a change. It gets straight to the point, it’s simple and memorable and doesn’t feel like rocket science.
Design and UX books
UX bites: Small bites of useful information about user experience design
Written by Gabriel Kirmaier
Even if you don’t really aspire to be a full-time UX designer, as a product manager it’s useful to understand basic UX principles so you can build better, more beautiful, and user-friendly products. This book is a true piece of art, delivering bite sizes of UX design best practices and principles you can easily remember.
Spoiler alert: this is one of my favorite books on this list!
Branding in five and a half steps
Written by Michael Johnson
This book will open the secret door to successful brands and how they managed to achieve success. Even though this book focuses on company and product branding, you might learn a thing or two and realize that the strategy and research are familiar to you as a product manager. Plus, it’s always good to understand what folks in marketing and design are up to; anyways, we should all share the same vision and speak the same language.
Don’t get tricked by the book's title, it’s around 300 pages of high-quality paper with over 900 illustrations so quite a heavy piece, making a nice addition to your coffee table book collection.
Productivity and Inspirational books
Visual Doing: A Practical Guide to Incorporate Visual Thinking into Your Daily Business and Communication
Written by Willemien Brand
As a product manager, one of your key responsibilities is to clearly communicate the product vision to your team and company. The Visual Doing book introduces exercises, techniques and tips that will help you create your own visual story, so you may represent your ideas, strategies, and important information better, and clearer.
Visual Doing teaches you how to simplify and represent information via sketches in order to make it more memorable.
So, if you’re looking for a way to sparkle your next meeting or presentation, pick this one up!
Get sh*t done
Edited by Lauris Liberts & Startup Vitamins
A great book of inspirational quotes, on a startup topic, collected across social media and in a small format. Quotes are structured into 8 categories that coincide with the phases of developing and selling products - think, plan, build, lead, sell, persevere, and evolve.
Yes, I agree, inspiration quotes are such a cliche but when you feel down or you’re looking for inspiration to get you through the day, it’s great to have this little book on hand.
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day
Written by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
If you read and liked the book Sprint mentioned earlier, you’re probably going to like this one too. This time, Jake and John teach us how to make more time and destroy everyday distractions that stop us from achieving what we want, with only small adjustments to our habits.
The high-level steps of the framework are simple - Highlight, Laser, Energize and Reflect; however, we do need to figure out the details ourselves so we can see what works for us. But don’t worry, the book offers plenty of examples and tips on how to go about it.
Trillion Dollar Coach
Written by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle
Trillion Dollar Coach is a masterpiece that describes the life, principles, and values of Bill Campbell, coach to some of the biggest Silicon Valley tech companies like Intel, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others.
Bill was an incredible, loved person who inspired everyone around him, and built performant and happy teams, cultures, and leaders. There are many stories shared from people who worked with this former executive coach, so you’ll definitely learn a thing or two about how to create and coach a successful team.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Written by Ben Horowitz
The Hard Thing About Hard Things is one of the most admired business books in recent years. What makes it so special? Many business books focus on describing best practices and frameworks, but often in business reality, things don’t happen the way we planned them.
This book is a great reality check, starting with this strong statement: “nothing in the business runs like it’s written in the business book”. It describes real decisions Ben himself needed to make while running a business, and to be honest, some of them you’ll pray to never have to experience yourself.
Although this book is mainly written for CEOs and entrepreneurs, as a product manager you might find valuable knowing how it feels to be in a CEO’s shoes. At the end of the day, you’re the one who needs to understand business decisions, as well as customers, in order to build the right products.
Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth
Written by John Doerr
You probably heard of the OKR framework before, a secret potion to align your organization and teams, and measure progress as well as success. Measure What Matters describes the history of OKRs, where they originated, and why (spoiler alert 🚨 it was in Motorola). In the second part of the book, John describes a new management framework - CFRs - an acronym for Conversations, Feedback and Recognition, and takes a look at the OKRs framework itself.
Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don't
Written by Simon Sinek
This book explains how to create an environment where people feel inspired, and love to be in. You'll learn what the true purpose of leaders is and how to create a safe circle for your team so they can focus on achieving great things without worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
If you want, you can watch Simon Sinek’s presentation which summarizes a big part of the book! 👇
If I could only pick 3 books from this list, which ones would I choose?
Tricky decision! Many of these books are must-reads and foundations for you to understand product management; like Lean Startup, Sprint, or Hooked. So I'll place my top picks as books to which I return regularly.
- Branding in 5 and a Half Steps 👉 for inspiration and to learn from the past.
- This Is Service Design Doing 👉 a great collection of anything I can think of related to PM and especially HOW it’s done!
- UX Bites 👉 when I’m looking for a nice informative way to share some UX practices with my team.