I often get asked for book recommendations related to product management. This is a hard question to answer. There are a lot of great books out there. But I think the most important aspect of being a good product manager requires working from the perspective of the whole business. It’s not enough to build a good product. You have to build a good product that customers / consumers not only like but are willing to pay for. It’s the last part that is the hardest to accomplish.
Over time, I’ll write about many of the books that have influenced my perspective on product management. But I want to start with three that I think do a great job of setting the context in which product managers should work.
Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank
I love this book. I wish I had read it much earlier in my career. This is as close to a step-by-step guide to how to run a startup as I think we’ll ever get. Steve does a great job of breaking up the four stages of building a company from scratch. There are a few things I want to note about this book:
- It’s easy to say you should get out of the building and talk to customers. Steve shows you how. Often the hardest part is knowing what to ask and Steve includes many great questions to get you started.
- You might not think the sections on sales and developing a sales roadmap are relevant to you as a product manager, but they are. If nobody buys your product, it means you failed.
- This is a dense book. I wouldn’t read it all in one sitting. Read the first section on Customer Discovery. If your company hasn’t left that stage yet, don’t read on. Once it’s ready to move on to Customer Validation, read that section next, and so on.
This book will save you countless hours trying to figure it out yourself. Stop what you are doing. Buy it and read it. You can thank me later.
Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder
This is a beautiful book. The Business Model Canvas is a wonderful visual tool that simplifies the complex process of understanding how business models work. It’s well-written. It’s beautifully crafted. As a designer, I love having such a great tool for understanding the nuts and bolts of a business model.
Again, as a product manager, if nobody buys your product, you failed. This book will help you clearly make the connection between your value proposition, your customers, how you’ll reach those customers, and most importantly how you’ll make money from this. I am confidant you will love it.
While I’m a sucker for Kindle books, I recommend picking this one up in print. It’s a beautiful book with fantastic illustrations. Even the Kindle Fire won’t do it justice.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Eric builds off of Steve’s work. This book is getting a lot of buzz of late and I couldn’t be happier. There’s a lot of great material here. My favorite elements include:
- Focusing on actionable metrics rather than vanity metrics, with great examples.
- The Five Whys to get to the root cause of a problem.
- The Minimum Viable Product and a ton of material on hypothesis testing.
You can’t go wrong with any of these books. I’d recommend reading them in the order listed, but if one grabs your interest more than others, start there.
What other books have helped you work from within the context of the whole business?