The Product Manager's Essential Reading List for 2023
Yet another haul of awesome books for your Christmas stockings.
Previous reading lists: 2018, 2016 pt1, 2016 pt2
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 2023. They come from a range of personal research and recommendations from other PMs I trust.
Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
How many companies have said: “Our strategy is to become #1 in the market”? Not a strategy! This book is an incredible primer on what strategy is and is not (and especially the latter!). Strategy development is a core part of the PM’s job - so if you’re not doing this, you’re doing it wrong. Spoiler: Strategy = an opinion about the future AND a credible plan to get there.
Empowered by Marty Cagan
Another classic from the OG PM writer. A solid tutorial on how to set product teams up for success by empowering them to own the problem, not just deliver your solution.
Take Back Your Power by Deborah Liu
Deb was my old org lead at Facebook, and is now CEO of Ancestry. In her time at Meta, she built TWO billion-dollar businesses (Mobile App Install Ads and Marketplace) — very few people get to build just one. She’s a solid product leader, and has a few things to say about woman in the world of work. A must-read for male and female PMs alike.
Becoming the 0.1% by Gareth Timmins
A curveball. Not a book about product at all, but a book about the extreme hardship, sacrifice, and dedication it takes to become a Royal Marines Commando. In the book, Timmins takes his learnings, and translated them to be relevant in a business context. Building products in an ambiguous space is scary — you’re not sure you can do it. Reading this helped remind me that great things require persistence, belief, and grit, especially when you think something may be beyond your capabilities and self-doubt starts to creep in.
Billion Dollar Loser by Reeves Wiedeman
An uncompromising take on the rise and fall of WeWork and the cult of the founder. There’s a fine line between a charismatic leader having an ambitious vision that convinces people to invest their time (employees) or money (investors) to back them — and that vision being so ambitious as to be unrealistic. A cautionary tale (as was Theranos) that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between what doesn’t work, and what doesn’t work yet.
Leadership on the Line by Ronald Heifetz
People often aspire to be “leaders”, but it’s not always as fun as it might seem from afar. Leadership is having opinions, making decisions, and winning people round to your point of view — and often when the “right answer” isn’t at all clear — if it was clear, it’d not be leadership. In this book, you learn how to lead, but manage the risks inherent in taking a stand.
The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto
As PMs it’s our job to think clearly, reason objectively, and communicate our thinking crisply. This book offers a framework that may help up-level your thinking.
Build by Tony Fadell
Mr iPod. Mr Nest, and an OG from General Magic. Tony Fadell has had a ringside seat, or been in the ring for some of the most important digital & physical products of the last 20 years. Here, he tells his war stories, and lays out his philosophy for how to build great things.
Outliers by Malcom Gladwell
An oldie, but still a goodie. What makes people successful? Spoiler alert: it’s both expertise and timing. The two compound to enable people with the right skills to take advantage of the right opportunities to produce uncommon results. Unlike some business books (that should really just be a pamphlet), this is almost a page-turner of a novel in comparison. Super compelling and easy to read.
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
From the author of The Martian, it follows a similar style: solve one problem, then another. While the premise is far out (man meets alien in deep space) the subtext is one about ingenuity and persistence. Both things every PM needs to have in spades.
Secrets of Sand Hill Road by Scott Kupor
Money is what enables founders to built the future. Sand Hill Road is (still) the epicentre for venture funding in Silicon Valley, and thus the world. What makes these places tick? What are they looking for? This book helps you understand how VC’s think. This isn’t just applicable if you’re trying to raise money — the principles apply all over - for example, how might your lobby your VP or Director for more resources?
Eccentric Orbits - the Iridium Story by John Bloom
Before Elon’s Starlink, there was another upstart internet satellite constellation. It was audacious, technically incredible, and, back in the late 90’s a terrible business. This is relevant to PMs because it’s a classic story of product/market fit, timing, customer positioning, and competitive differentiation. Makes you think a lot about not just what is possible, but when is it viable?
Not Nice by Dr Aziz Gazipura
As a brit, I find it hard to be direct and candid. It’s hard! This book makes the case that being candid and speaking up might not be “nice” but it’s “kind” — meaning good for them and good for you in the long run.
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