Product managers have no shortage of reading material. There are many blog posts, articles, and social media threads to get lost in, covering every topic imaginable. In fact, we’ve gone through and completely revitalized the list since it was originally published three years ago. Now, it reflects all the new best product management books available for learning.

They dole out hot takes, helpful hints, and sage advice for everyone from aspiring product management newbies to Chief Product Officers with decades under their belt. And that doesn’t even count all the amazing podcasts, webinars, and video series out there.

While quite valuable and scratching that itch for bite-sized information and opinions, they all lack the space to dive deep into a particular subject. You can’t get lost in them, and they don’t build up evidence, engaging anecdotes, and supporting facts to hammer home an overall thesis or philosophy—they’re simply too scant and fleeting by their very nature.

That’s why any healthy mental diet should require some books as the main course. Whether it’s a topic directly related to product management or merely tangentially relevant, taking the time to wade into a book lets you soak and stew in the subject matter, connect with the author’s worldview, and come out the other side both wiser and more knowledgeable.

Best Product Management Books

Books simply reach us in a way no other media format can, due to the length of time we spend with them, and their ability to explore and explain things in greater detail. While these may or may not qualify as summer beach reads, we’ve refreshed our reading list and highly recommend these 14 books for product managers.

1. Free

What’s great about Chris Anderson’s Free is that the former WIRED editor-in-chief forces us to take a long, objective look at how we’re pricing our products. The book asks us to confront whether, in an era when more and more products and services are becoming free, we can afford to stick to the old paradigm of gating our offerings and making them available only to paying customers.

Free also offers one of the earliest explorations of the freemium model. A company would make much of its offerings available for free on the gamble that:

  1. It could lure in users and then charge them for additional functionality
  2. If only, say, 5% of all users ended up becoming paying customers; the product could still profit.

We’ve offered some suggestions on this blog about making smart decisions when pricing your products. Still, the book Free presents you with some pretty radical thinking about how to charge for your offerings, and how giving a lot of them away can at times be the most lucrative strategy of all.

Also available as an audiobook.

2. Do the Work!

Do the Work! is by Steven Pressfield. It’s a fun and fast read at under 100 pages with great advice for staying on track through any creative undertaking, including driving a new product to a thriving market release.

But perhaps the most crucial aspect of the book for our purposes is its section discussing research. Specifically, Pressfield warns that as valuable as research is, it can also turn into a stalling way—what the book describes as “The Resistance.”

It is a great gut check for product managers. It forces you to ask yourself if you are stuck in research mode, waiting for more data. You’re afraid to move ahead with your product development in earnest—building the roadmap, presenting it to stakeholders, and committing to timelines, getting your engineering team going, etc.

We have offered product managers plenty of advice on this blog about how to set your priorities more strategically and how to boost your productivity.

 

Do the Work! offers some fantastic strategies for these as well. We believe the book’s real value will be in helping you identify The Resistance in all of its sneaky, slithery disguises, and helping you conquer it so you can keep moving forward on your product’s path.

Also available as an audiobook.

3. Crossing the Chasm

Here is a more traditional product management book. It focuses on how businesses can develop products that make that rare and challenging leap from cool novelties for a small group of early adopters to full-blown mass-market successes.

We include Crossing the Chasm here partly because its principles have stood the test of time. Because it was originally published more than a quarter-century ago, you won’t have to worry about any of its examples or data not holding up because they are skewed in favor of some temporary trend.

It is simply a great explanation of how a successful product will make its way through a standard bell curve — from early adopters to the early majority, to the late majority, and finally to the laggards — and how to structure your products to follow this successful path.

4. Presentation Zen

Yep, we know this is a list of books for product managers, and we know we’ve included a book about presentations. And with good reason.

As a product manager, you will undoubtedly have to present your plans— particularly your product roadmap—to several different audiences. And no matter how brilliant your product’s strategic vision, how well you’ve thought through the details of the execution, you will have a difficult time earning the buy-in and enthusiasm of these audiences if you present it in a flat, boring or convoluted way.

Presentation Zen offers dozens of great ideas for making your insights and arguments resonate as you present them.

Trust us: You’ll find gems in this book.

5. Analytics at Work

We stated in our Do the Work! recommendation that getting stuck in research and data-analysis mode can be a genuine pitfall for product managers. But we also pointed out that research can be invaluable for compiling both the real-world knowledge you’ll need for your own strategic thinking about your product and the ammunition you’ll need to convince stakeholders and others that your thinking is on point.

For this reason, we recommend Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results, by Thomas Davenport and Jeanne Harris. This book offers great insights into collecting the right data, what tools to use for analyzing it properly, and how to learn from the most successful and data-driven companies before setting your own analytics objectives.

One word of caution: Analytics at Work explores metrics-driven learning as it relates to the whole company—in terms of how it applies to expansion, hiring, marketing, etc.—and not merely how to gather and analyze user data on your product. But remember: We believe you can find great insight for product research in learning how the best companies use data in their hiring and advertising decisions.

6. Complete and Utter Failure

Here’s a fun and, at times, hilarious exploration of the many public failures of individuals, institutions, and businesses.

We include it here because reading it might remove some of the debilitating fear you have about the possibility your product might fail. It might (statistically speaking), but as you’ll read throughout the great little book, many massively successful corporations have failed, and they bounced right back.

Enjoy this one. It’s a fun read.

7. The Art of Product Management

Okay, here is the list’s one true product management book: The Art of Product Management. We would be remiss to not include this book in our list of the best product management books.

Like Crossing the Chasm, we feel comfortable including this one, because it has stood the test of time. Even though the book was published way back in technology’s Paleolithic era of 2008, its principles and insights still stand up today.

The book offers valuable lessons for product managers about developing an effective product roadmap, adequately equipping your support teams (which few businesses do, even today), properly implementing agile, etc.

Although this is one of the best books for product managers in the technology industry, specifically, we believe its principles are broad enough to offer value to a PM in any field.

8. Read This Before Our Next Meeting

Here’s another valuable little title that, like Do the Work!, came out of the Seth-Godin-produced Domino Project. This short book addresses a single topic, meetings, and offers some new insights about it.

Author Al Pittampalli offers a fresh take on office meetings. He introduces some very high-threshold criteria that a manager should have to meet before being able to call a meeting.

There are some great ideas here for product managers, in terms of finding other ways to communicate updates or other important information without having to assemble a large group of people in a room (or a Google Hangout session) for an extended period.

Read this before you call your next meeting.

Also available as an audiobook.

9. Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love

Here is another classic product management title, written by one of the most successful product managers in modern times.

Marty Cagan, a longtime product executive for companies like eBay and HP, walks the reader through his hard-won insights about how to identify when you’ve got the right product and when you don’t. You’ll learn how to work with technical teams to get your products built the right way and the basics of how to be a great product manager.

The second edition shares the latest best practices and techniques from leading technology firms.

Also available as an audiobook.

10. The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

And guess what? Even after you’ve read all of these books (and a bunch of other must-reads), helped build products with a loyal following, and grow your company into a thriving enterprise, you’re still not out of the woods.

As author and Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen explains in The Innovator’s Dilemma, new technologies and processes and approaches are hitting the market all the time — and some entrenched leaders lose to scrappy upstarts because they fail to adapt to these new realities.

Or, just as frustrating, other successful companies employ a culture of remaining nimble and adapting to new technologies to stay competitive — but often make the mistake of adopting the wrong new technologies and losing because of that misstep.

It’s one of our best product management books because it forces you to acknowledge that your product is never finished. Your business (no matter how successful) can never slow down and rest on its laurels. True product management is a process of innovating, continually learning, and continually adapting.

Also available as an audiobook.

11. Escaping the Build Trap

Product managers build products. We don’t take a big step back and ask ourselves “why” we’re making them too often. Melissa Perri’s book sets out to encourage product leaders to remove themselves from the constant cycle of churning out new products and releases to spend a little more time on the underlying motivations and rationale for this.

It starts with what these companies are measuring and prioritizing. Velocity is prized, new features mean more press releases, landing pages, and outbound campaigns hunting for additional users and the revenue they bring (or may represent to investors).

But the point of product management is identifying and solving pain points while delivering additional value to current and new users. Cranking out releases just to build new things and keeping everyone busy doesn’t always align with those fundamental goals.

Also available as an audiobook.

12. Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters

Basecamp’s Ryan Singer has made a career out of increasing productivity. Basecamp’s tools help teams communicate and work together on projects of all shapes and sizes. Still, this book uses Basecamp’s own internal experiences to help others fix broken processes, bust down silos, and get valuable products out the door and into the hands of users.

Shape Up discusses how Basecamp settled on a six-week cycle for shipping things (long enough to make meaningful progress, but not so long things got stale or overtaken by unwieldy scope creep). It also delves into why pre-work is so crucial before handing things over to the implementation team, from both a strategic perspective as well as to ensure the team understands what they’re trying to build and why.

The book continues by explaining how Basecamp makes bets on these projects and then empowers the teams to deliver them autonomously. It includes how to get design and development to work in tandem and how to spot and address problems before becoming blockers.

This book is currently available as a free e-book, with print and audio versions to come.

13. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

If there’s one truism about product management, you’ve got to wear a lot of hats. Unlike our peers in sales, development, finance, operations, and design, we need to know a little about a lot of things. Our wide range sets us apart and makes us tricky to hire. But being a versatile individual contributor is also why we’re so valuable to the organizations we work for.

In Range, David Epstein illustrates why being a generalist is a compliment, not an insult, and that organizations across the board would do well to employ more of us and fewer “experts” that see the world through a narrow lens. He also explains that it’s okay to take a wandering path through life and your career. These different experiences and settings usually make us better in future roles, even though they may seem irrelevant.

Evidence shows that specializing too soon is usually a recipe for failure and burnouts, as it limits options and closes off those individuals from new possibilities when they peak. Meanwhile, those who follow a more meandering route tend to be happier and more successful in the end.

Also available as an audiobook.

14. Start at the End: How to Build Products That Create Change

Tech exec and behavioral scientist Matt Wallaert’s book tries to get companies to kick the habit of coming up with ideas, falling in love with them, and then forcing them on the market via expensive marketing campaigns and aggressive sales tactics. Instead, companies should be identifying what customers want to do and understanding why they’re not already doing it. Then, they can help them achieve that goal via their products and services.

This new take on the adage that you shouldn’t build a solution that doesn’t address a problem posits that, by focusing on outcomes, the best products create behavior change versus supplementing existing bad or inefficient habits. Wallaert discusses the concepts of the Intervention Design Process and the research that backs this up.

Psychology and behavior often take a backseat to sexy technical solutions and slick user interfaces. However, products that stick identify the ideal and work on what behaviors must change to turn that into reality.

Also available as an audiobook.

But wait, there’s more

There’s no excuse to stop investing in yourself, broadening your horizons, and learning more about your craft. Books provide a unique opportunity to spend some quality time with a subject and escape the daily rat race.

ProductPlan has its own virtual bookshelf of free books and an ultimate guide to other resources for product professionals that are ready for your perusal. We’ve got titles on product strategy, prioritization, Agile, leadership, and, of course, roadmapping. Make sure you don’t miss any future titles by signing up for our free newsletter.


Any other great books for product managers we forgot? Please share them in the comments section.