Books for the Product Manager’s Summer Reading List

A Pew Research study released in 2018 found that one in four Americans hadn’t read a single book in the previous year—and that includes all forms of books, such as eBooks and audiobooks. The report also pointed out that these stats have stayed pretty much consistent for years.

Two thoughts on this. First, how sad. Millions of Americans, maybe even some of your fellow product managers, are clearly missing out on the collective wisdom and many of the greatest insights available in every field.

Second thought, what an opportunity for you to increase your knowledge base and develop a competitive advantage in your product management career. As we enter summer, while those non-readers are doing whatever non-readers do with their free time (Twitter, American Idol, etc.), you can dig into these great works below and add to your product management prowess.
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7 Books with Great Insights for Product Managers

1. Product Leadership

We at ProductPlan found so much value in this book that we devoted an entire post to reviewing it.

The book’s three co-authors—all successful product managers and product leaders themselves—interviewed dozens of product professionals and poured all of that collective wisdom into the book.

Whatever challenges you’re experiencing in your role as a product manager, or whatever you hope to learn to up your game, chances are they cover it in this book. They offer practical advice on everything from managing people, to developing your strategy, to crafting just the right product roadmap, to making yourself an effective product leader.

2. Ego is the Enemy

Okay, it’s not strictly speaking a product management book. But there is plenty of wisdom in Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy that an observant product manager like you can certainly put to great use. That is, unless you and your product team are completely without ego.

The book uses some of business’s most incredible stories—good and bad—to illustrate how products and entire organizations succeed and fail.

To cite just one example of the wisdom in the book, Holiday warns us not to create a narrative after the fact, something our ego is always tempted to do but that can obscure important truths and forces us to miss important lessons. He points out, for example, that Jeff Bezos understands this point and repeatedly tells the media that “there was no aha moment for Amazon.” That’s Holiday’s point: Ego wants you to tell yourself you’re a genius if you hit on a winner, but that’s almost never the reason. It was almost certainly a matter of taking many slow, deliberate steps: Building, trying, succeeding, failing, learning, building…

You’ll find many great lessons here that can help you in your product management role, and pretty much every other area of your life.

3. Customer Centricity

It’s easy to fall back on the old principle that the customer is always right. But this well-meaning approach can lead a product organization to counterproductive and even damaging business practices—such as allowing unreasonable customers to lead them around by the nose.

Customer Centricity takes a radically different approach. The book makes the interesting case that there is no such thing as “the customer.” There are those customers who are worth your time, and those who are not.

The book then offers practical advice and strategies for delivering outstanding service to your best customers, as well as strategies for more effectively—and cost-effectively—dealing with everybody else.

4. The Lean Product Playbook

This book’s subtitle gives you a good idea of the practical ideas and insights you’ll find: “How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback.”

Author Dan Olsen has taken the Lean Startup concept and applied it directly to building products—using what he calls the “Lean Product Process,” which he walks you through step by step in this book.

Olsen takes you from how to identify your target customer, through figuring out what that customer’s underserved needs might be, through finding a winning product strategy, and through zeroing in on your minimum viable product. From there he’ll walk you through designing and rolling out your MVP to your target customers, and iterating rapidly based on what you learn. And he provides practical, step-by-step guidance at each stage of the process.

5. Building a StoryBrand

Did you know your customer is a hero? And that she has a real villain? And that if you position your product the right way she just might use it to slay that villain and save the day?

So says Donald Miller, author of Building a StoryBrand. Miller brings a completely fresh approach to product and company messaging, because he himself was a successful screenwriter before he became a product and marketing consultant.

Miller’s interesting idea is to apply the principles of storytelling—the same ones used in every fairy tale, novel, and Hollywood movie—to introduce your products to customers. Apply the fresh insights you’ll find in this book, and your products will succeed forever after. The end.

6. Inspired (Second Edition)

This book is tech-product specific. In fact, its subtitle is “How to Create Tech Products Customers Love.” But many of its principles and ideas could apply to any industry.

The first edition of Inspired, which came out in 2008, became required reading for tech-industry product managers for years. For this new edition (2017), Marty Cagan, founder of Silicon Valley Product Group, has updated much of his original thinking with new best practices and insights both from his own entrepreneurial work and with real-world examples of the leading companies like Google and Netflix.

Whether you’re the product manager for a technology company or managing products for another industry, you’ll find a wealth of great ideas in these pages to make your product a winner.

7. Thinking in Bets

We’re pretty sure this will be the only book recommendation list you find for product managers that offers a book written by a professional poker player. But this title offers some interesting insights that apply directly to the world of product management.

Author Annie Duke, a former World Series of Poker winner, uses poker as a metaphor for making intelligent decisions without perfect information. Sounds like a dilemma facing every product manager every day, doesn’t it?

Duke shows how anyone from a businessperson to a politician uses the information available to make smarter decisions, take the self-defeating emotions out of the outcomes, and continually apply learnings to become an ever-better decision-making machine.

There are great lessons for product managers here, we promise. Plus, it’s a really fun book.

Bonus Recommendation: Career Guide for Product Managers (this one’s free)

Finally, as you assemble your summer reading list, we thought you might want to peruse a book dedicated to the product manager’s career. Even if you’re completely happy in your current product management role, you’ll still find some practical tips in this book—like how to become a more effective internal advocate for your product. Best part: It’s free!

Happy reading! And if you have product management book recommendations of your own, please share them in the comments section.