Reading a book can help you get up to speed on product management, either to get started in a product management role, or to work more effectively with product managers as part of a product development organisation. Unfortunately, some of the books that aim to introduce product management will send you to sleep with their dry descriptions of roles and responsibilities. Instead, read the great product management books, and start with one that fits your background.
Escaping The Build Trap, Melissa Perri
Escaping The Build Trap explains good product management, and how avoids wasted development effort - the trap of trying to build all possible new features.
😀 Pros: short, and relevant to people who’ve worked in a ‘feature factory’.
🥺 Cons: no depth on any specific techniques, and targets a particular type of disfunction.
Start here if you have a background in IT.
User Story Mapping, Jeff Patton
User Story Mapping explains the user story mapping technique in depth, with so many examples and side quests that it ultimately includes all of product management.
😀 Pros: immediately practical, and relevant to anyone who already uses user stories.
🥺 Cons: more chapters than you need for an overview or introduction.
Start here if you’ve used user stories before.
Lean Analytics, Alistair Croll & Ben Yoskovitz
Lean Analytics explains data-informed product management in enough depth to explain most of product management.
😀 Pros: explains product management in terms suitable for an analytical mindset, and focuses on a fashionable topic.
🥺 Cons: long, and often about analytics that are only relevant for consumer software (with many customers).
Start here if you have an analytical (data or programming) background.
What to read next
Product managers have all kinds of backgrounds, each with different gaps. For example, if you come from a design or customer success background, you probably have more experience interviewing and generally talking to customers than someone with a development background.
Product managers who want to learn more about product discovery, especially those with a technical background, should also read:
Similarly, product managers with a non-technical background will probably benefit from reading about how software development works, so they can have more productive and valuable conversations with developers.
A few of the other books on my shelf didn’t work well for me, because I didn’t find them interesting and engaging enough.
- Product management for dummies - too shallow
- The product management survival guide - too boring
- Product Leadership - too dense
Other product managers recommended all three of these to me, however, so they probably work for other people or in other contexts.
Inspired, by Marty Cagan, should appear on this list, but I hesitate to recommend it here. Inspired focuses on Silicon Valley companies that make consumer (B2C) software.
😀 Pros: its extremely shallow treatment of so many ideas allows new product managers to sound good in meetings and on social media.
🥺 Cons: doesn’t include enough substance to impart any new understanding, other than which buzzwords product management thought leaders use.
Perhaps you should start with Inspired if you have no background in software at all, and don’t want to understand it.