A Reading List for Aspiring Product Managers
Looking to break into product management? Here are some pointers
Over the years, I’ve given advice to quite a few people who were interested in breaking into product management. Amongst other things, I’ve always left them with a list of books and articles to read — there is a lot of great content that can shed more light on the job of product management and give tangible advice on getting into product management.
I have written some pieces myself that would be relevant in this respect — the PM 101 series, for example, or my articles on CVs and product interviews. However, in this article I want to share primarily resources that I personally found useful when I first read them.
Great books for aspiring product managers
Reading great books is a high leverage activity: In a relatively short period of time, you can meaningfully improve your skills and therefore increase your future productivity. This increased productivity will yield compounding results over time, generating a very high return on the initial time invested. Of course, not all books are great, and that is especially the case in the realm of business books, where quite often you will find books that could have been a blog post instead. All books recommended below stand out from the crowd. I’d advise reading them in advance of trying to land your first product management job.
The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup book. Read 3,506 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. Most startups fail. But many…
“The Lean Startup” is a book that started a movement. It codifies the principles of incrementally discovering and delivering a product that is valuable to its end users and a viable business. At its heart is the “build — measure — learn“ loop: you deliver something that you believe to be of value (build), you validate its impact (measure), and then you learn from the results and either charge ahead or course correct. While it can’t be said that all tech companies follow this approach to the letter, it is nevertheless at the heart of how many leading product organizations approach product development. It also established terminology that is heavily used and expected to be understood by product managers, most notably, the term “Minimum Viable Product (MVP)”. I would consider this book required reading for anyone wanting to break into product management.
Competing Against Luck (Clayton Christensen)
Competing Against Luck
This book presents the idea of Job to Be Done and proposes it as a theory to make innovation more predictable and not…
The late Clay Christensen has written several books that have become canon among the tech scene. He is perhaps best known for his theory of disruption (laid out in the book “The Innovator’s Dilemma“), which describes how scrappy upstarts using emerging technology can beat established incumbents, and has given rise to myriads of startups branding themselves as disrupting this industry or the other. That book is obviously worth reading, but not his first book I would recommend to aspiring product managers.
Instead, I would advise starting with “Competing Against Luck”, which — in contrast to The Innovator’s Dilemma — is a bit more actionable in terms of how you create successful products. It established the “Jobs To Be Done” (JTBD) methodology, which is another mainstay of product lingo. JTBD promotes a customer centric view by asking what “job” the customer “hires” a product for — in other words, what is the need / problem / desire they have that they are using the product for?
Principles of Product Management (Peter Yang)
Principles of Product Management
"Every morning, identify no more than three tasks that you want to accomplish during the day. Update your calendar to…
There are, by now, a few books about the entire breadth of product management end to end that I can wholeheartedly recommend. “Principles of Product Management” by Peter Yang is the one that I would most endorse for aspiring product managers, because it provides a great overview of the most important aspects of product management. The two other product management “handbooks” that I like are “Inspired” by Marty Cagan and “Cracking the PM Career” by Jackie Bavaro and Gayle Laakmann McDowell, but I believe the latter two are more suited for product managers with already a little bit of experience.
Cracking the PM Interview (Jackie Bavaro and Gayle Laakmann McDowell)
Cracking the PM Interview
I read this book and landed the job of my dreams - so how can I possibly give it anything less than 5 stars? :D To be…
Product management job interviews often have a very particular style, in which the candidate is asked to walk through a product design exercise from problem through to solution. If you have never done the job of a product manager before, I would therefore highly recommend to read one of the books on product management interview preparation if you are looking for a job in that area.
Having read a few books of that kind myself, the one that I would most recommend is “Cracking the PM Interview” by Jackie Bavaro and Gayle Laakmann McDowell. It gives a great overview of the various different kinds of questions that you might be asked, along with strategies and frameworks for solving them and tangible ways to prepare for those interviews. As an alternative, “Decode and Conquer” by Lewis C. Lin is also great.
Great articles for aspiring product managers
The great thing about product management is that a lot of posts are written about it online and free to access. Of course, that also makes it difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Especially for someone new to the field, the deluge of content can feel quite overwhelming. To help you out, here are some suggestions for articles for aspiring product managers.
Product Management: Start Here (Marty Cagan)
Product Management - Start Here | Silicon Valley Product Group
There has never been more interest in becoming a product manager. There has also never been so many strong and helpful…
Marty Cagan, Founder and Product Partner at Silicon Valley Product Group, whose fantastic book on product management I have already mentioned above, has written this great article serving as an index to quite a few of his blog posts on the topic. It is an excellent primer to the most relevant content for an aspiring or newly minted product manager.
How to Get Into Product Management (And Thrive) (Lenny Rachitsky)
How To Get Into Product Management (And Thrive) ✨
Figure out if this role is for you, how to make the move, and what skills you’ll need to build in order to be…
Lenny Rachitsky was formerly a Growth PM Lead at AirBnB and now runs one of the best newsletters for product managers (see below). In this article, he lays out the reasons to get into product management (or not), the various paths into product management, as well as the skills to build.
Why the Heck Can’t We Change Our Product? (Steven Sinofsky)
Why The Heck Can’t We Change Our Product?
I drove by the fork in the road and went straight.
Steven Sinofsky was a high-ranking executive at Microsoft, where he was responsible first for Office and later for Windows. He is now a general partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz. He occasionally publishes his thoughts on product development, and I really liked this article in which he addresses one of the perennial struggles of product management: the impetus to change vs not rocking the boat.
Great newsletters for aspiring product managers
There are a lot of newsletters for product managers. Even if you only include the ones that are really worth reading, there are still more than I would recommend subscribing to if you are just thinking about breaking into product management… So here are just a few highly selected ones.
Lenny’s Newsletter (Lenny Rachitsky)
I’ve mentioned Lenny Rachitsky above. His newsletter has quickly become the best newsletter for product managers — he dives deep on lots of different topics, and often has experts write up summary articles of their respective fields of expertise. The free tier is a must subscribe for any product manager (or follow Lenny on Twitter to get the super condensed version), but I would even recommend subscribing to the paid tier, which also gives you access to his Slack community, which offers incredibly deep and helpful conversations with practitioners from around the globe.
Product Talk (Teresa Torres)
Product Talk | Make better product decisions.
Make better product decisions.
Make better product decisions.www.producttalk.org
Once you get read up more about product management, you will inevitably learn about Product Discovery. Product discovery is the process of coming up with what to build — in a world of waterfall software development, this might have been called the “requirements” and “design” phases, but the name “discovery” puts more emphasis on the fact that you need to actually go out to your users and customers, identify their needs, come up with solution ideas, and validate them. Product discovery is where product managers are most at home in the product development lifecycle. Teresa Torres’ area of expertise is continuous discovery, i.e., being in a constant mode of deepening the understanding of the customer, spotting opportunities, and ideating ways to exploit these opportunities.
Bring the Donuts (Ken Norton)
Ken Norton | Product Management | Bring the Donuts
Ken spent more than fourteen years at Google where he led product initiatives for Docs, Calendar, Google Mobile Maps…
Ken Norton was in product management at Google for a long time and is now working as a product management coach and advisor. He recently reinstated his highly acclaimed newsletter “Bringing the Donuts” after a hiatus of several years.
Who to follow on Twitter
Another great aspect of product management today is that you can easily engage in a conversation with experts on the topic all around the globe on Twitter. Here are some of the accounts to follow where are you will be able to learn a lot about the bleeding edge of product management. I am intentionally keeping this list short, there are of course many other product people on Twitter that are worth following, but as first steps, these accounts below will definitely be worth your while.
Shreyas Doshi works in product management at Stripe and was previously at at Twitter, Google, and Yahoo. Shreyas has perfected the art of the Twitter thread as a means for sharing product management content.
John Cutler is Head of Education at product analytics company Amplitude and one of the most prolific writers on product management. On his Twitter, he frequently shares thoughts on product management practices as well as discussion prompts.
Janna Bastow is founder of the product management community Mind the Product as well as CEO of product management software company ProdPad. She also invented the time horizon based (now/next/later) product roadmap.
I hope you found this article useful. If you did, feel free to follow me on Twitter where I share thoughts and articles on product management and leadership.