I’ve published two separate reading lists in my time as The Clever PM, but who wants to click through multiple pages? So here’s your collected list of my top recommendations for books related to the process, skill, and talent that’s required to be a great Product Manager. It’s by no means a complete list, nor is it comprehensive, but it’s a great place to start!
Note: The Clever PM may make a small commission on purchases made through links on this page.
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.
- About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design – Alan Cooper, et al
If there’s one secondary skill that I strongly believe all Product Managers should pick up, it’s a basic understanding of interaction design and user experience. About Face is one of the most approachable, yet comprehensive books on the subject available on the market, from a leader in the industry for decades. This book won’t make you an amazing designer overnight, but it will build within you an understanding of the importance and complexity involved in creating effective product designs.
- Tuned In – Craig Stull, et al
In this interesting and engaging work, Craig Stull and his collaborators outline a six-step process that they’ve developed over the past 15 years to accelerate the identification of innovative and entrepreneurial opportunities that will actually solve customer problems. The framework is a great tool to add to your Product Management repertoire.
- Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days – Jake Knapp (w/ John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz)
Authored by three partners from Google Ventures, Sprint provides a practical and applicable guide to testing hypotheses about your products, your market, and your company with a minimum of effort and a maximum return, all within a short period of time.
- Predictably Irrational – By Dan Ariely
As Product Managers, one of the things that we’re constantly expected to do is to anticipate the responses that our users will have to our products, our solutions, and our designs. And, unfortunately, these responses can sometimes appear to be irrational and unpredictable. But appearances can be deceiving — the concept explored by researcher Dan Ariely in this wonderful book that delves into how we can identify patterns and understand how hidden forces that are entirely knowable can impact the outcomes we expect to achieve.
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
One of the most important aspects of human behavior that we have to know and understand in order to be effective Product Managers is how people make choices. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein present an in-depth analysis of how, why, and when people make decisions, which can inform many of our decisions from priority to implementation to positioning and sales support.
- 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.
- Product Management for Dummies
By Brian Lawley & Pamela Schure
There’s long been a drought in good from-the-basics books focused on the discipline of Product Management; this has been broken by the work of Brian Lawley and Pamela Schure here with Product Management for Dummies! Name aside, this book has great insight and suggestions for Product Managers of all stripes, while establishing fundamentals for those interested in entering the profession. Note: a free copy of this book was provided to the Clever PM for review.
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In – Roger Fisher, William Ury, & Bruce Patton
As Product Managers, we’re constantly being asked to engage in a wide variety of negotiations with our co-workers and stakeholders — and sometimes even our management teams. Fisher & Ury’s handbook to negotiation is the go-to primer on knowing how to move the needle when engaged in such discussions without giving up the things that you absolutely need.
- Presenting to Win – Jerry Weissman
There’s not a single Product Manager out there who isn’t required to present their ideas in many different contexts; in fact, for some of us it’s the crux of our position in the company. In this great guide, Jerry Weissman outlines an actionable and interesting approach to solving some of the biggest issues that presenters face, from establishing rapport and attention to focusing on telling your story, and all the way to crafting your slide deck to effectively drive to the outcome you need.
Leadership & Communication
- Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz – Frank J. Barrett
I’ve been a fan of jazz music for a long time – the way in which disparate artists can jump together and with little guidance or structure create improvisation music that flows, merges, separates, and comes back together has always fascinated me. In this great book, Frank Barrett takes these lessons and applies them to the chaos of the business world in a fun, interesting, and compelling work.
- Meaningful: The Story of Ideas That Fly – Bernadette Jiwa
It’s never enough to just have a good idea, and it’s rarely enough to have a solid technological solution — the magic of creating a successful product lies in telling a story that your customers connect to in a profound and meaningful way. Bernadette Jiwa’s book guides us through the process of building that story and making connections that go beyond mere problem/solution statements. A must-have for every Product Manager.
- Thinking: Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
In this insightful exploration of the brain, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner for Economics, Daniel Kahneman explores the two primary modes in which our brains work — the fast, intuitive, and emotional versus the slower, deliberate, and logical. Every Product Manager needs to understand what it is that drives human behavior, and Kahneman provides excellent insights and techniques that we can all use to lead through influence.
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain
There are a lot of introverts in technology, in fact it sometimes seems as though they almost outnumber the extroverts. Susan Cain’s excellent book outlines many of the risks that we take on by under-valuing the contributions that introverts make, and provides excellent examples on how to seek out and elicit the insights held by those who innovate and create, but do not seek out self-promotion. Understanding how to work with introverts is a key indicator of the effectiveness of any Product Manager.