Let’s go through 9 of the very best product management books. Each of these books can help you create better products, better services, or even better experiences for your customers.
Now, of course, you don’t have to go through all 9 books immediately, but what I would recommend is that you go through the rest of this episode, familiarize yourself with the basic idea behind each one of these books, because that way you’ll be in a better position to choose the best book for you to get started on, and then eventually you can come back to this list and follow up on some of the other books that might seem interesting to you.
So with that said, let’s dive directly into the list.
Best Produt Management Books
Starting with book number one, which is “Sprint” by Jake Knapp. This book covers Google Ventures’ unique five-day process for answering critical questions really early in the product development process. So if you’re dealing with big questions, big areas of uncertainty, if you don’t know how customers might react to a certain approach with your product, or if you’re second-guessing what it is that you’re building, conducting a sprint week can help you address these issues really early on in the process so you can break through the kinds of things that can get a team stuck in a rut, or otherwise cause a project to really stall out.
So if that’s the situation you find yourself in, or if you’re just looking to make really rapid progress right out of the gate, consider picking up a copy of this book and learning about how the sprint week works. Because if you incorporate this into what you’re doing, it can help you break through this kind of uncertainty and get back on track where you’re making very real progress with your product or your service, or whatever it is that you’re aiming to build.
Let’s move on to the next book on the list, which is “Start at the End” by Matt Wallaert. This book is all about creating products that customers actually use. It’s about figuring out how to change behavior, increase engagement, and at the end of the day, find ways to create a greater impact in the world.
So if you wanna create a product where customers actually use it, it doesn’t end up buried in a desk drawer or buried in a closet, if you really wanna create an impact where people use what it is that you’re creating, this book can help you figure out how to do that more effectively. It explains how you dive into the promoting pressures, the inhibiting pressures, what caused people to take action or to not engage with whatever it is that you’re building, and how to ultimately design what it is that you’re creating to be more likely to get used.
So it starts with getting very clear on what it is that you want to achieve, hence the title, “Start at the End”, figure out how you want people to use your products and your services, and then you work backward from there and figure out exactly how you have to design it in order to make that outcome more likely.
Next on the list is “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick. This book is all about learning more through early customer conversations. So when you’re still at the beginning stage, when you and your team are still discussing exactly what it is that you’re gonna build, and you’re trying to gauge how interested potential customers might be in what it is that you’re creating, whether it has promise, whether it needs to be adapted or adjusted to be a better fit for your customers, when you’re at that stage, this book can help you conduct those conversations in a more effective way.
So you’re not just getting casual or passive praise and encouragement for what it is that you’re building, which so often is the case in these kinds of customer conversations, where you bring up what you’re doing, and they respond with something polite like, “Hey, sounds great, keep us in the loop, we’d like to hear more.” That kind of feedback can be very misleading because often it’s rooted in them just being polite and doing the socially acceptable thing of being encouraging. But what you really want to achieve in these conversations is to figure out the hard facts.
What do they like about the idea? How do they actually engage with similar products and services? This book is all about making sure that, when you sit down to have these conversations, whether they’re formal or casual, depending on the situation, regardless, it’s about figuring out how you ask the right questions in the right way to make sure that you’re actually getting useful information so that you don’t just end up going back to your team saying, “Hey, they love the idea, we’re on the right track,” when you might not be.
So this is the kind of book that can save you a huge amount of wasted time, energy, and money by getting really critical information very early in the process. I highly recommend this book.
Let’s move on to “Inspired” by Marty Cagan. This book is perfect for product managers that are working on technology-related products. So it goes into the unique approach used by some of the biggest and most successful technology-related companies in the world, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other companies of this caliber. And this, of all the books on the list, is probably one of the most detailed when it comes to everything involved in being a great product manager.
So if you’re looking for a very detailed and thorough resource, where it’s gonna walk through everything that you need to know, including topics like how to put together the right team, how to determine the right product, scaling the organization, creating an effective product culture, these kinds of ideas and many more, then you might consider picking up a copy of this book.
The one thing I will say about this book, unlike some of the others, it is so much more detailed and more thorough, so it’s that much more difficult to get all of the takeaways from a book like this. With some of the other books on the list, they might have a handful of really key principles and then drive them home in a wide variety of ways, including examples and more detail.
A book like this is covering a lot more information, so it can be a little bit trickier to get all of the value out of a book like this, but it’s extremely well-rated, it’s a great book, and if you’re looking for that kind of thorough, really detailed resource, then this is almost certainly the book for you.
Next on the list, we have “Contagious” by Jonah Berger. One of the most important factors behind long-term product success is whether or not the product naturally encourages word-of-mouth referral. So if the average customer is ever so slightly more likely to share or recommend it with family, or friends, or with anybody else they know, that can have a huge impact on the long-term success of whatever it is that you’re building.
So this book is all about how to create products, services, or even ideas that are more likely to benefit from word-of-mouth referrals. It covers the six principles of contagiousness, which include social currency, triggers, emotion, public observability, practical value, and stories.
So if you can incorporate any one or more of these ideas into your product, it makes it more likely that people will share and recommend it to others, and this, of course, in turn, can allow you to earn more money from the product, and possibly turn around and invest even more into making it a better product moving forward.
Next on the list, we have “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday. This book is all about how to create timeless products that actually grow in popularity over time. So whereas so many products today, might have a big launch, they might initially create a big splash, and then eventually, sometimes within a few months, sometimes within a few short years, they start to fade, their sales start to decline, and they become largely irrelevant, this book is all about how to create a classic product, the kind of product that actually performs better and better over time.
And we see these kinds of products in every industry. The kind of product where everybody that’s interested in that niche or that category is familiar with the product, it’s highly recommended, everybody either owns it or at least knows somebody that owns it and recommends it to other people. That’s the kind of product you ultimately wanna create if you wanna create this effect where, rather than having your sales decline, they slowly pick up and have greater and greater results over time. So that’s the premise behind this book.
Now, I found this book both inspiring, from the perspective of firing me up and wanting to create a really great, timeless, classic product. But I also found it to be incredibly practical in terms of the kinds of things that you wanna think about if you’re seeking to create this result. So for example, it covers the creative process, things like positioning, marketing, word-of-mouth referral. These are the kinds of things that are really important if you wanna increase your odds for creating this kind of timeless product that actually has better and better results over time.
Next on the list we have “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. This book is all about how to successfully market and selling disruptive products to mainstream customers. And while that might sound on the surface like it’s all about marketing, or it’s all about sales, the reason why this is so important is that, depending on the stage of your product development, you have to factor in who it is that you’re selling to and what it is that they value.
So for example, when you’re creating any kind of a disruptive product, whether it’s a technology-related product or anything else that causes users to have to change or alter their behavior, well, you have to understand what it is that different people value. Early adopters, the kinds of people that like new technology, have very different preferences and needs, and are gonna be sold on a different value proposition, then a pragmatist, mainstream customers, where they don’t want new technology for new technology’s sake, they want proven solutions. They’re not interested in the latest and the greatest, they’re looking for something that is proven to work.
And again, while much of this does come down to marketing, and sales, and positioning, and things like that, very important as a product manager to be aware of who it is that you’re trying to please and what it is that they value. And ultimately, what this book can help you do is cross the chasm from early adopters who love new things to the pragmatist, mainstream buyers that want proven solutions, and everything involved in delivering that, because ultimately, the overwhelming majority of revenue and profit is typically achieved by appealing to this second group.
And so that’s what this book is all about. Not directly related to product development, but plays a very important role in how you might approach product development.
Next on the list is “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. This book is all about how to escape the bloody red ocean of competition. A very common trap that product managers fall into is they focus on what the competition is doing. What are customers already buying? How can we create a slightly better version of that product so we can win customers over?
But of course, the issue is, when you do this, when you make a slightly better version of the product, well, they’re gonna do the same, and pretty soon you’re gonna be trying to edge each other out, and ultimately competing on price because the product is almost certainly gonna become heavily commoditized.
So the idea behind this book is to look for opportunities to make the competition irrelevant, to build a product strategy that’s gonna allow you to separate yourself from the competition, where you can attract your own customers, you can please those customers, you can create greater value for them, and you’re not as likely to fall into product commoditization.
Now, this book is a little bit more geared towards business strategy than just product development, but the ideas are so directly applicable that, if you’re a product manager, if you’re dealing with a competitor that’s creating a similar product to you, this is the kind of book that you wanna read if you wanna look for opportunities to separate yourself and make it less likely that you will find yourself in direct competition with a rival.
Next on the list is “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. This book is all about how to create products or services as a startup. This book is a classic at this point, it popularized the idea of the lean approach to product development, it introduced terms like the minimum viable product or MVP, and it really stresses the fact that, right from day one, you should be looking for opportunities to learn as much as possible from your customers.
So, rather than assuming you have all the answers, or you know exactly what the customer wants, this book is all about making sure that, right from day one, you’re trying to learn, you’re trying to grow, you’re trying to adapt, and you’re giving yourself the best opportunity for ultimately delivering a better product.
So whether you’re in a startup, or even if you’re in a larger organization but you want your team to operate like it’s a startup, I highly recommend this book. This is the kind of book that, really, if you’re at all involved in product management, you should read this book at least once, if only to be familiar with the ideas and the terms, and some of the other insights that are included in such an incredibly popular book.