You don’t have to go very far to find a Top 10 list of books for Product Managers. So why would I write another one?
Because all of these lists are missing one important thing: They don’t acknowledge that Product Managers of different experience levels should read different books.
New or Aspiring Product Managers are simply trying to learn how to break into the career, what exactly a Product Manager does, and how to position themselves for a strong start.
“Leveling Up” Product Managers are trying to find their next step, whether that is a Senior PM, a Director of Product, or something similar. They need to learn how to lean into their Product strengths and how to think more strategically.
Advanced Product Managers have leveled up (maybe even a few times), but are still looking for ways to stay fresh and at the top of their game. They want to stay ahead of the latest trends, recruit top Product talent, and build winning Product organizations.
Top Books for New Product Managers (0–2 years experience)
Why it’s great for New PM’s: Don’t know what a Product Manager does day-to-day (or should be doing)? The Product Book covers all of the basics of ideation, validation, testing, execution, and design.
P.S. If you’re lookingfor a jump-start to your Product Management career, check out Product School, they’re doing some pretty cool and unique things across the USA, Canada, and Europe to teach the next generation of PM leaders.
2. Building Digital Products (2nd Edition)
Self Promotion Alert! The author of this blog post also wrote Building Digital Products However, I strongly believe it is a must-read for aspiring and new Product Managers. It’s the book I wish I had when I started in Product.
Why it’s great for New PM’s: Where The Product Book focuses on the hard skills and methods for each step of the Product Management cycle, Building Digital Products helps new and aspiring Product Managers in a different way.
Building Digital Products shares real-world lessons through stories, successes, and mistakes made by the author Alex Mitchell. Additionally, the book includes content on how to build a healthy team (even if you only can influence the decisions early in your career) and how to better communicate and work with your engineers and designers.
Bonus content in Building Digital Products includes an Urban Dictionary for Product Managers, development checklists, and several case studies.
Top Books for Leveling Up Product Managers (2–5 years)
Why it’s great for Leveling Up PM’s: Ben Horowitz’s 2014 book has already established itself as a tech startup classic. Product Management (especially at a small startup) is not a straight line up and to the right. There will be bumps, there will be rapid changes and, of course, there will be hard times.
As you grow as a Product leader in your organization, this book is invaluable in understanding how to approach these changes and set-backs. The Hard Thing about Hard Things will help you start to develop your CEO mentality.
Why it’s great for Leveling Up PM’s: So you’ve been a Product Manager for a few years now. It’s likely you’ve managed a small product, a legacy product, or were a part of a team that managed a big product.
It’s time to start thinking big picture.
It’s time to start thinking disruptive.
It’s time to start thinking new.
It’s time to start thinking Zero to One.
Zero to One will help you escape the world of the incremental and open your mind to truly learn how to think new.
Why it’s great for Leveling Up PM’s: Every Product Manager wants to build products that their users love, tell their friends about, and can’t stop using.
In Hooked, author Nir Eyal explores what exactly makes Products habit-forming. He shares his “Hook Cycle” and how you can build it into the Products you manage. As you grow as a Product Manager, make sure your users and customers are Hooked.
Why it’s great for Leveling Up PM’s: As a Leveling-Up Product Manager, it becomes increasingly valuable to understand psychology and economics. Why do people do what they do (even if those decisions are not in their best interests) and how can you steer them to make better choices?
Nudge explores how we make the big (think 401k) and little (what’s for lunch?) decisions every day and how we, as architects of the systems people use, can steer those decision-makers towards better outcomes.
Note: There is a darkside of this world (see: Dark Patterns), but Nudge can help you stay in the light and make the world a better place with seemingly simple, but thought-out design and product architecture decisions.
Why it’s great for Leveling Up PM’s: Similar to Hooked, Contagious an important read to understand how you can increase the virality of the products you build. However, Contagious focuses more on why people recommend, share, and talk about products or content with their peer networks.
While Contagious at times steers more into the world of marketing and messaging than Product Development, these are important skills to acquire for your Product Management toolkit as you level up.
Top Books for Advanced Product Managers (>5 years)
Why it’s great for Advanced PM’s: If you’ve succeeded as a Product Manager, you’ve certainly set goals and tracked metrics for the products you manage. But how exactly did you set those goals? Venture Capitalist and Silicon Valley Legend John Doerr shares a framework called OKRs that he originally found being used at Intel. He then brought that method to Google in its formative years, and the rest is history.
Now that you’re a Product leader, read Measure What Matters and set Objectives that matter to your business and back them up with the Key Results that tell you clearly if you succeeded or not. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this model, it’s incredibly valuable.
Why it’s great for Advanced PM’s: How are some companies (and their products) able to engender sustained loyalty, while others struggle to keep customers even lightly engaged after their first interaction or purchase? Author Noah Fleming explores that important question and many more in Evergreen.
As an Advanced PM, you need to be thinking not only about the loyalty or the retention rate for your specific product, but also the loyalty a customer has to your brand and your business. You need to think globally or you’ll find yourself on the “new customer treadmill”.
Why it’s great for Advanced PM’s: In The Master Switch, author Tim Wu explores a fascinating (and truly terrifying) trend where every technology begins in an open and chaotic marketplace before eventually growing to be dominated by a monopolist or cartel.
Is this the future for the Internet and Tech companies too? Although this book is a few years old, it’s lessons are still valuable to understand today.
As an Advanced PM, The Master Switch may not provide you any tips and tricks to implement tomorrow, but it will open your mind to the macro trends of how technology changes over time.
Building Insanely Great Products: https://amzn.to/2NWOHrO
Along the way of David Fradin’s failures and successes, he identified six key areas that must be focused on to accomplish product and/or service success. He discusses all of them in this book, so you do not have to repeat the mistakes he made and you can learn what works.