The Product Manager's essential reading list for 2024
Just in time to fill your stockings...
It’s that time of year again! If people are asking “what do you want for Christmas” or you just want to treat yourself — here’s the books I recommend reading in 2024. They come from a range of personal research and recommendations from other PMs I trust.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
Growth is hard. As you develop in your career, or as your company develops, the strengths and skills you mastered may not be those you need to get to the next level. You might still think of yourself as a product manager, designer, or a software engineering, but the skills you need to run a 10-person product pod are not those you need to run a 100-person organisation. This book does an incredible job of framing this up with examples, and offering practical tips to help you discover what it is that you need to do to get to the next level.
American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin
This is the biography that inspired the 2023 movie Oppenheimer. It’s leadership story about people and technology - and how a clear goal can help diverse groups of people achieve incredible things. J. Robert Oppenheimer was the most unlikely of leaders — untested, nerdy, mercurial - yet was able to lead one of the most ambitious feats ever undertaken. It has so many parallels with product development: uncertainty, the need to prioritise, take risks, handle disagreements, stakeholder management, and the bridging of cultures (in this case the world of theoretical physics and the american military establishment). A long but thoroughly fascinating read.
Death by Meeting by Patrick M. Lencioni
Meetings are not just an inevitable part of working life - they’re important. Even more so when fewer of us are working in offices - meetings may now be the only time many of us have to work together “face to face”. But they can easily be over-used. Death by Meeting sets up a practical framework for the meetings you should have, on what frequency, for what purpose, with whom, and about what topics. I defy you to read this book and not go back to your company and make some changes to how you operate.
The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick
Talking to customers (existing or potential) is a critical part of product management. But how do you know the feedback you’re getting is valid? People don’t like to be brutally honest - it’s uncomfortable - so they’ll lie: they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. I’ve experienced this first hand, and it created problems for me down the line. This book is about the signs to watch our for that your customer conversations might not be giving you the information you need, and how to tune your questions and actions to extract maximum signal from the noise.
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée A. Mauborgne
Building a great company is about finding a market and dominating it. This book is about how to think about product and business strategy to “make the competition irrelevant”. A must-read for anyone thinking about product strategy for their team, their org, or their company.
Strong Product People and Strong Product Communities by Petra Wille
I had the pleasure of meeting Petra when she and Arne Kittler invited me to speak at Product at Heart in Hamburg in the summer of 2023. As a product leader, one of your most important products is your team; and that involves growing people — either tackling people’s weaknesses or developing their strengths. Even if you’re doing this well today, there’s even more you could be doing. This book is packed full of practical ideas, as well a signs you should be looking for that not all is well in your org.
Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono
One of the reasons meetings or discussions go off the rails is that the participants are not in the same mental space. If someone’s in creative thinking mode while someone else is analysing the last idea, they won’t listen properly to each other. The Six Thinking Hats is a framework to help groups of people be explicit about different through processes, and use that to enable faster, more productive discussions and decision-making.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
This is the story of the Sackler family, their company Perdue Pharma, and their blockbuster drug: the opioid painkiller OxyContin. It’s a cautionary tale that combines technical innovation, politics, failures in regulation, and greed. OxyContin certainly had product/market fit — but what happens at the limits when the incentives of the product-maker and addiction of the customer result in lives being destroyed.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
It’s insane this was written in 1936, but remains as relevant today as it was then. Some of the examples are, obviously, dates, but the fundamental concepts are evergreen. As a product manager, we have to mostly lead through influence, so ensuring people are open to you and your ideas is critical to success. Even people who think they’re good at this tell me they re-read this every few years to refresh themselves, and counter some bad habits that might creep in.
Empire of the Sum by Keith Houston
Easily the nerdiest book on this list — it’s about the history of the pocket calculator. But it’s a great example of how a technological advance (microelectronics) can find a clear problem to solve (replacing bulky and expensive machinery), and have impact way way beyond its humble origins.
If you have any recommendations you think should be added to this list, or to my own pile for 2024, please drop me an email at email@example.com.
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