5+1 books to read for Product Managers

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I’m not a big fan of books that provide Product Management frameworks. I provide this disclaimer because it’s probably why you clicked on this post.

Here is why — I don’t believe that frameworks work.

In 20+ years of working in companies big and small, I’ve never once attended a Product meeting where someone presented a product idea using a framework.

No one ever came to a Product Meeting and used the Kano model to describe the new features we are about to launch or use a business canvas to describe the GTM plan.

In addition, PM frameworks are notoriously hard to implement because of adoption challenges. Here is an example to prove my point about frameworks — In most large organization there exists a PMO (Program Management Office) organization that is tasked with actively policing the software release process — these teams ensure common templates, checkpoints meetings etc. Widespread adoption remains a challenge because antibodies within the organization constantly refuse to comply and continue to point out the inefficiencies and inapplicability of the process. After a point, the process breaks down and a new set of people or processes are put in place. And the process repeats itself.

The best presentations / pitch decks / PRD’s are simple, flow naturally, take in to account commonly known assumptions and are built upon working something out from first principles. A focus on frameworks inhibits this natural flow and de-emphasizes the actual skill of being a Product Manager — which is about developing awareness and persuading people.

I believe that you will be better served taking a Psychology 101 course (if you have never taken one before) than reading about Product Management frameworks.

Towards that end, below is a list of recommendations that will help you to understand people and prepare you to persuade them.

  1. Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman — This is an absolute must-read. I must warn you that it’s not an easy book to read especially the second half but its a masterpiece. Daniel Kahneman received a Nobel prize for his work on decision making and he describes how our brain works. It’s amazing to learn that even when we are made aware of the cognitive biases we can still not remain unaffected!
  2. Radical Candor by Kim Scott — This book provides us with a framework on understanding the motivations of people at work esp. bosses. Based on real-life experiences managing various teams at various iconic Silicon Valley companies Kim Scott does a masterful job of addressing every aspect of managing teams. I found this book better suited in understanding modern-day Silicon Valley company dynamics than the classic The First 90 days.
  3. Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin — I’ve read this book a few times and it effectively classifies people around you at work and recommends strategies to work with them. Understanding your own tendencies can help you navigate your career more effectively.
  4. Make to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath — This book is a detailed workbook on the art of storytelling — the most important skill in leadership. After all, how you ask is everything. This book is especially useful if you are new to making presentations to decision makers and/or executive teams.
  5. Resonate by Nancy Duarte — This is the best book on how to make presentations. It a gentle, actionable guide to making presentations that will get your point across quickly. You can also attend one of the in-person workshops that they Nancy and her team offer.
  6. Twitter — If used judiciously, Twitter is a really good source of advise and insights in your area of interest. Here is a starter list of people to follow for Product Management: Rich Mironov Ken Norton Sachin Rekhi Hiten ShahRoman Pichler Steve Blank Steve Johnson Andrew Chen Scott Belsky and @MartyCagan. They are all recognized thought leaders who tweet regularly and most of them have written seminal books on Product Management.

On Twitter, you can witness the evolution of their ideas because many of them are testing their ideas bit by bit, before compiling them into a book or a framework!

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