The 9 Best Product Management Books to Sharpen Your PM Skills

Product Management Jan 31, 2022

Great product managers never stop learning. That's why we scoured our bookshelves to make a list of the best product management books we could find to share!

Technology is always changing, as are customer habits. To maintain an edge, you need to adapt quickly and strategically.

Fortunately, there is a cornucopia of stellar books perfect for product managers who want to learn everything from user-centric design principles to advancing their career.

Below is a list of some of the best product management books spanning nearly two decades of thinking.

These top-rated PM books will help you to think outside of the box.

Note: There are no affiliate links below. These are unbiased opinions from our own team of product managers and our community. If you'd like to purchase a book, we recommend using Bookshop to support a local book store.

The Lean Product Playbook

Author: Dan Olsen

When the Lean Startup movement began, it took the PMing world by storm. Everyone decided they wanted to implement Lean product principles.

But despite massive interest and enthusiasm, many companies struggle to apply them in practice!

The Lean Product Playbook is the perfect, handy step-by-step guide to help startups and large companies alike optimize Lean techniques.

You can find it on almost Best Of list and on the shelves of PM pros everywhere.

First, it teaches you why most new products fail. Products fail because they do not fully meet customer needs.

This failure may be due to either a subpar design, inadequate execution, or both.

Either way, the problem boils down to the absence of the all-important "product-market fit."

The book then lays out how to achieve this fit through six repeatable, easy-to-understand lessons.

It is complete with product road maps and real-world examples to intuitively illustrate how to build and iterate products that score big with their target markets.

Inspired: How to Create Tech Products That Customers Love

Author: Marty Cagan

Inspired is another titan in the realm of best books on product management.

The author, Marty Cagan, is a leading authority with an accomplished background.

He founded the Silicon Valley Product Group specifically to help other product managers. This book is a distillation of these efforts.

If you are looking for a tech-specific title, this is the one to pick up.

Cagan has worked for some of the biggest tech giants to date and he uses several of them as case studies.

The book introduces you to fundamental issues in tech product development and strategies to cope with them. It does so with real world examples from Google, Tesla, Netflix, Amazon, and others.

What do these juggernauts do that sets them apart from most tech companies? They listen to customer feedback!

They focus on answering four  key questions for every product.

  • Will our audience purchase this product?
  • Will our audience know how to use it?
  • Is it possible to build something like this?
  • Will stakeholders be on board?

Find out how to figure out if your product is a good product market fit or if it's time to go back to the drawing board.

This book will inspire product managers to create extraordinary products customers will love.

Silicon Valley Product Group also has their own recommended reading list for product leaders in addition to their own books.

The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager

Authors: Josh Anon and Carlos González de Villaumbrosia

Whether you are new to the job or a mid-career professional looking to boost your skills and firm up your fundamentals, The Product Book is a classic every product manager should read.

It covers the A-to-Z basics of everything about being a product manager and leading a great product team.

Written by a former Pixar PM and Product School CEO, this book functions like a masterclass. It shows you how to build and launch incredible products.

It is not just a product management book; it is a product management interview book.

It coaches you to structure better teams, cooperate effectively with other departments, and wow your audience during job interviews.

The book's authors based it on the preexisting curriculum of the renowned Product School. It is full of practical lessons, expert tips, and advice on best practices.

It answers the question, "What does a product manager do?" Any PM who is not a student of this text is doing themselves a disservice.

Just like the Lean Product Playbook, The Product Book isn't afraid of getting into the details.

The Lean Startup

Author: Eric Ries

The Lean Startup is a cornerstone product management book for startups. Even if you work for a large business, it still contains valuable insights that you could apply to your work.

Sometimes credited with starting a revolution in product development, this text is a modern manual specifically designed to assist today's entrepreneurs/founders/startup CEOs.

It provides a thorough treatment of building, planning, and scaling startups. And product management is at the heart of all of it.

The book emphasizes and guides you to discover what customers actually want, not just what you think they want.

This concentration on customer truth will help center any product development strategy and give it the best chance for success.

Like others that appear on lists of best product management books, The Lean Startup follows the stories of famous startups, their founders, and how they became prosperous.

By exploring the missteps and innovations of the leaders who came before, any product manager who reads this book will master the arts of scaling effectively and iterating rapidly.  

Crossing the Chasm

Author: Geoffrey A. Moore

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore outlines an illuminating framework for understanding how products go from ideation to becoming commonplace.

It starts with early adopters, aka those willing to take the risk to try out the products.

After the early adopters, product managers want to get to "early majority."

After that, your market can only expand further into the hands of the "late majority" and "laggards."

The issue is that the early majority crowd is skeptical and waiting around for a product to be tried and true before they take a chance on it.

Crossing that gap (between the early adopters and the majority) is one of the biggest challenges facing product managers.

This gap is the "chasm" referred to in the book's title. It's the difference between good products and successful products.

Sometimes it's hard to determine product market fit when you're in the midst of the chasm. But crossing the Chasm seeks to advise PMs on all the ways they can manage this transition.

Furthermore, the text pays special attention to disruption. It educates readers about how they can repeatedly disrupt markets with new products and multiple iterations of existing products.

Even though Moore wrote it before the digital revolution, Crossing the Chasm still contains a lot of timeless, indispensable wisdom. It's a product management book we always keep on hand.

Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value

Author: Melissa Perri

Escaping the Build Trap is another fantastic work that hammers home the need for customer-centric company cultures.

According to author Melissa Perri, many companies and modern product managers are at risk of falling into what she calls the "Build Trap."

It is a situation where because producers place so much emphasis on output, they lose sight of whether the product is still meeting customer needs and creating value.

Sometimes, companies waste a tremendous amount of time and resources trying to polish product details. In reality, they should be listening to their target customers.

And unfortunately, many businesses fail because their strategy never changes.

Instead, Perri argues, PMs and others should focus primarily on outcomes.

This helps to keep the product always headed in the right direction. It reduces wasted time and energy and forces you to understand how the product fits into the market.

This salient message should make product managers everywhere take heed.

There's a reason Escaping the Build Trap shows up again and again in user recommendations.

It also hammers home key concepts that frequently show up in product manager interviews.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers

Author: Ben Horowitz

If you are looking for a pragmatic book that pulls no punches about the nitty-gritty, everyday workings of product management, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is it.

Author Ben Horowitz is one of the most seasoned and revered entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley. His writing is chock-full of practical wisdom about creating and running a product startup.

As the title suggests, this book does not shy away from the harsh realities of starting a business, which is significant because we only ever hear it romanticized.

Ben Horowitz's dry sense of humor shines as he imparts all the lessons learned from his extensive experience managing, supervising, and developing tech companies.

In essence, this book will help you run a lean startup. It's an honest look at the realities of building and growing a business.

This book is essential reading for anyone building a startup. It's not only packed with insight, it's also an engaging and fun read!

Sprint: Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Author: Jake Knapp

Need to get things moving quickly?

Sprint offers a compelling model for tackling big problems, questions, or ideas and swiftly navigating decision-making processes.

Jake Knapp collaborated with two other partners from Google Ventures to create this five-day "sprint" method.

They have now tested it over 100 times while addressing needs for companies in fields as varied as healthcare, e-commerce, finance, tech, and more.

Typically, when an entrepreneur finds themselves with a big question or new idea, the path from point A to B is rarely such a straight line.

Meetings, discussions, knowing where to place your effort, or even how to start can be extremely time-consuming and keep you running in circles.

The 5-day sprint helps anyone, from startups to big corporations, cut through the indecision phase and make progress happen - fast!

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Author: Nir Eyal

We all understand on some level that certain technologies and products capitalize on human psychology by design.

They push on the pleasure centers in our brain and keep us coming back for more.

Habit-forming products do a lot of the work of selling themselves.

But how exactly these products work is a mystery for even some product managers!

Why do some products ensnare our senses to the point of addiction, while others we toss aside?

Nir Eyal pulls back the veil on this question by revealing a four-step process many companies subtly employ when designing products.

In Hooked, you'll learn the steps you can take to create products that consumers naturally love.

Leverage human nature to amplify your work.

Free: When Coffee & Kale Compete

Author: Alan Klement

The jobs to be done framework is ubiquitous. It's focused on the customer.

What job is the customer trying to do that your product solves? Simple.

Klement reexamines the JTBD framework though in a brad new light. He explains that customers don't just have specific jobs or needs that drive them.

Ultimately, customers are part larger systems and their decisions reflect that. Customers want to make progress in whatever system they're part of.

The best part of Coffee and Kale is that it's free! Klement's insights will help you to both sell more products and feel more fulfilled in your PM role.

Bonus: The Making of a Manager—What to Do When Everyone Looks to You

Author: Julie Zhuo

Building habit forming products has just as much to do with being a strategic thinker as it does being a great manager.

Julie Zhuo's The Making of a Manager is a field guide for management.

Zhuo does a great job of simplifying all the parts of being a manager. From the awkward conversations with team members to strategizing for growth.

It calms you down when you feel like you don't have any idea what you're doing.

Management's heavy hitters, including the co-founders of Lyft and Twitter, turn to Zhuo for management wisdom.

You can buy The Making of a Manager directly from the author's website.

Bonus: Cracking the PM Career

Authors: Jackie Bavaro and Gayle Laakmann McDowell

This one gets an honorable mention. The career of a product manager can be long and winding.

Cracking the PM career goes a step beyond sharing anecdotes of people who transitioned into the career.

Instead, this book feels more like a hands-on guide for learning about interview frameworks and answers. It tells stories of actual interviewees and how they reacted under pressure.

Jens-Fabian Goetzmann, Product Director, said on LinkedIn, Cracking the PM Career is a complete toolbox of methods and actionable advice.

If you're currently applying to product management jobs, this one is worth a look.

Bonus: GtiHub's Open Product Management List

There's a wonderful GitHub repo that covers some of the more senior books on product management.

If you're already familiar with developing products and are looking for more strategy and planning help, this is the list for you.

The list is well maintained and also contains a list of some of some other valuable PM resources.

Other Great Book Lists

Every great manager leads a little differently. That's why we don't think our book list should be the last place you stop on your reading journey!

The folks below know a thing or two about building great products. We've included some links to their personal PM book lists to help you get a fresh perspective.

Summary

What do all of these books for product managers have in common? They're all focused on the customer.

Tech products' customers aren't a monolith. Every person has a unique story to tell.

When you build a product team to solve problems, it's important to be a good listener.

If you're interviewing for a job, you'll probably hear some of these concepts come up in your product manager interview questions as well!

We hope our favorite resources fill your head with practical advice and new ideas you can implement.

Product Manager Interview Prep

Want to become a product manager or upgrade your career? Check out all of the product management courses and resources Exponent has:

💬 Review more commonly asked sample PM interview questions.

📖 Read through our company-specific Product Manager interview guides

👯‍♂️ Practice your behavioral and leadership skills with our mock interview practice tool.

👨‍🎓 Take our complete Product Management interview course.

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Nick

Nick is the Growth Marketing Manager at Exponent. He's passionate about music and helping people achieve their career goals.

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