10 books that made me a better product manager

That weren’t really about product management


I never set out to be a Product Manager. In fact I never even really knew what it was until someone told me I was one. This just a quirk of fate and luckily I loved what I did and having a name for it opened up a world of opportunities to learn more.

I have never really worked anywhere where product management was an established role so I have just kind of gone my own way and defined my own remit and judging by what I read I tend to pick a bit from a whole bunch of different job descriptions, shake the bag up a bit and then take it from there.

Agile Coach, Product Evangelist, Hiring Manager, Social Media officer, User Researcher. There is a little bit of all of them and more in how I work and the following books are at least a little to blame for that →

  1. The Lean Start-up — OK so it has a lot to answer for and has probably spawned more bullsh*t blogposts and dodgy start-ups than anything ever written but actually it is full of gems and I am now working somewhere where even more of it makes sense.
  2. Turn the Ship Around — the best book I’ve read about new approaches to leadership and team working. The fact it is about leading the crew of a nuclear submarine is almost by-the-by (but does make it pretty interesting!).
  3. The Phoenix Project— this was the first business book I had read that took the narrative, story-telling approach. It was also the first book that really explained to me what the hell DevOps was and the real meaning of ‘lean’.
  4. Radical Focus — this was the second business book I read that tok the narrative, story-telling approach. It really explains the OKR approach to prioritisation and why it can be so successful. I was pretty non-plussed about the concept before this book but now I am a total convert.
  5. Sprint— I was actually introduced to the Google Ventures approach to Design Sprints long before this book via a talk by Dan Ramsden from the BBC. I’m a big fan of the approach — it isn’t for everything or everyone but it is valuable tool and generally just a good framework for user-centric working even if you ignore the all in five days element!
  6. The Everything Store — there is a lot about the Amazon way that is pretty icky particularly that they treat their staff dreadfully from the warehouse to meeting room to the data centre. This book though is a really insightful into how they became the colossus they are today and how a militant focus on the customer was a massive part of that.
  7. Work Rules— on the one hand any book about hiring, organisational culture and staff development that is almost entirely about Google is not going to be that transferable. After all they are a place people queue up to work, with significant salaries and the opportunities to really work on huge projects. Most of us don’t have those advantages. That said Google are far from perfect, do some odd things and alienate their share of candidates as well. This book shows both sides of that and is a really great primer for why making hiring a major priority is so important if you ever want to be successful.
  8. Little Rice — Clay Shirky’s tale of the rise of Xiaomi, the Chinese mobile manufacturer, is an amazing story that again demonstrates how a total focus on being customer-centric, reacting to feedback and operating at pace can power an ascent past more established competition in hardly any time.
  9. Linchpin— Like many of Seth Godin’s work this is more pamphlet than book and mainly consists of a handful of key ideas but what I found incredibly useful when I first read it a few years ago is that it seemed to endorse the kind of role I was creating for myself. The idea of being the connector, the centre of a network. Of being open and sharing for the benefit of the organisation and in doing so becoming a ‘linchpin’ was all extremely reassuring.
  10. Creativity Inc— Who the hell wouldn’t want to learn from Pixar. If anything you do is the slightest bit creative or you work in any kind of collaborative environment then this is a must read. Sure it can be a bit down-heartening when you compare what they are up to with your own experiences but they are Pixar after all! It is inspiring and not without usable nuggets that are worth a try.