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Books on Developing Products The Users Actually Want
Malte CEO of airfocus
Updated on
June 30 2020
8 mins read

The Essential Reading List for Product Managers. Updated for 2020

Being a product manager is a lot like being a circus ringmaster. While the engineers are performing acrobatics, and the designers are walking the tightrope – it is a product manager’s job to link all the acts together, to guide the audience through the show, and to ultimately deliver an exciting and cohesive piece. 

Much like a circus ringmaster, it is important for product managers to really know their stuff. And although your outfits may never be quite as exciting as those in the circus, the knowledge from this reading list will teach you how to create products that are just as awe-inspiring as “The Greatest Show”. 

From books on product development to data analysis, the below reading list will equip any aspiring, or already-established, product manager with the right skills and insight to master the perfect strategy for any product launch. 

Ready? Let’s dive in! 

2020 Update

A lot of things have changed in 2020. Well apart from the obvious pandemic, the way we work has changed dramatically.

The markets have changed and the product managers have to adapt quickly in order to cope with the volatile changes.

The 2020 product manager now has challenges that he might've not had in 2019. In this 2020 update, we want to share with you some of the books that are now more relevant than ever.

Remote: Office Not Required

If it's not obvious by now, the remote is the future of work. More and more companies including tech giants like Facebook are embracing a full or partial remote culture.

You've probably tried remote work during the lockdown so you've learned quite a bit about how challenging that can be.

In this book, the founders of Basecamp are providing a complete overview of remote work’s challenges and how to overcome them.

A Complete and Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-Up, Never-Weres & Total Flops

This is by far one of our favorite ones. In a time where things are crumbling down to the ground, it's sometimes good to embrace failure and make something positive of it.

Neil Steinberg explores the many fascinating facets of failure, from pointless failure (a brief history of several very dumb attempts to climb Mount Everest) to product failure (Reddi-Bacon, smokeless cigarettes, and Baby Jesus dolls)

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritization - An airfocus eBook

In this eBook, the airfocus team covers topics like how to source insights, how to choose the right prioritization framework, and how to put your prioritization results in action. You can also learn more about the 7 best prioritization frameworks and how to use them. If you are new to the prioritization world or maybe you want to get a better understanding of prioritization, this eBook is a must!

Read This Before Our Next Meeting: How We Can Get More Done

The average American office worker spends eleven hours in meetings every week. Now that all those meetings are happening over video chat, the way we do meetings has to change dramatically. In this book, you can learn more about the Modern Meeting Standard. By following its eight simple but radical principles you may never have to attend a useless meeting again.

There are some really awesome ideas for product managers, on how to find other means to communicate important updates effectively.

This concludes the 2020 update! If you have any cool books or eBooks that you want to add to this list, reach out on twitter and let us know why we should add it to the list.

Books on Developing Products The Users Actually Want

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days – (Jake Knapp, 2016) 

‘Sprint’ outlines the framework used by companies like Google to quickly move from idea to prototype, to real-world feedback. The emphasis is on using agile product management techniques to save countless hours and pounds. The book also contains a wealth of additional resources and product management tools that will prove invaluable to any product manager.

UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want – (Jaime Levy, 2015) 

This straightforward guide offers the essential agile product management tools and techniques needed to move from idea to validation. It's a manual for UX and product strategy concepts, as well as a step-by-step guide for effectively implementing UX strategy.

The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses – (Eric Ries, 2011)

Written by an experienced start-up founder – this New York Times Best Seller explains how the fault of many start-up companies is in failing to understand what their customers actually want. To put this right, ‘The Lean Startup’ suggests that you strip it all back to a simple MVP, based directly on customer feedback – and scale from there. 

Books on User Psychology

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products – (Nir Eyal, 2013) 

Why do some products become the next big thing that users just can't stop using? What is it that makes products habit-forming? ‘Hooked’ answers these questions by laying out the “hook cycle” – a four-stage process that subtly prompts user behavior over and over. Behavioral design concepts are explained using examples from companies like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. 

Contagious: Why Things Catch On – (Jonah Berger, 2013)

Creating a ‘viral’ product is no easy feat. How do you get thousands, or even millions, of people to pay attention to your brand? ‘Contagious’ will show you exactly how to grab the attention of the masses, and how to encourage them to excitedly share your product. The book describes how to use things like emotional arousal, social currency, and storytelling to make your products catch on.

The Design of Everyday Things – (Dan Norman, 1988)

This best-selling book by a cognitive scientist, Donald Norman, is a must-read for entrepreneurs and project managers alike. Discussing the psychology of everyday things, the book addresses how simplicity is key. If a product clearly communicates what it is, and how it’s meant to be used – customers will psychologically be more inclined to use it. It’s all about intuitive guidance… and that should be the goal of any product manager. 

Books on Marketing Strategy

Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen – (Donald Miller, 2017) 

If you want people to care about your product, you have to give them a good reason. This book covers how to get people's attention while creating the simplest, most effective message for any media-type. It outlines seven “universal story points” that people respond to, and how to use them for better marketing. 

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – (Chip & Dan Heath, 2006)

Why do some ideas gain traction, while others simply don't? This book explains what makes ideas sticky, and how to make yours stickier. It highlights tricks such as creating curiosity gaps and using the Velcro Theory of Memory. It also includes stories of people who used the underlying principles for making things stick to achieve great success. 

Books on Data Analysis

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, & the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs – (John Doerr, 2017)

What are OKRs? Objectives that matter to your company, and Key Results that show whether or not you met those objectives. It sounds simple, but don't be fooled. The author shares how this product management tool is used at companies like Intel and Google to tackle ambitious goals more effectively.

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data – (Charles Wheelan, 2012)

If ice cream sales and homicide rates both increase during summer, does that mean ice cream consumption causes violence? Of course not. But it's easy to misunderstand what your data is really saying. While statistical concepts like correlation and regression analysis have traditionally bored most people to tears, this book delves into them in a way that's both interesting and accessible.

Books on Productivity

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change – (Stephen Covey, 1989)

A classic best-seller and an essential product management tool. The seven habits include gems like “begin with the end in mind” and “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The book has sold over 25 million copies – so it must be good!

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – (Greg McKeown, 2011)

The modern world of business is all about more, more, more. But this book shows that getting the right things done is better than getting more things done. The goal is to discover what's essential in our lives, then eliminate everything else. With examples from some of the most successful people in history, the author highlights why essentialism is the ultimate task management tool.

Do The Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way – (Steven Pressfield, 2001)

A quick read that provides excellent strategies for setting priorities and improving productivity. One of the most useful sections is on “The Resistance” – a way of using research to stall when you're afraid of moving ahead with development. The book will help you identify your resistance and help you move past it to keep driving your product forward.

Books on Communication

Getting to Yes: How To Negotiate Agreement Without Giving In – (Roger Fisher & William Ury, 2011)

This classic book teaches a step-by-step negotiation process that focuses on getting to a mutually acceptable outcome in any negotiation. The author uses interesting examples to emphasize his methods for helping everyone “win”.

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery – (Garr Reynolds, 2007)

How many product managers have been called into an important meeting, only to suffer from death by PowerPoint? Worse, how many product managers have been deadly presenter? This book provides the advice and product management tools needed to create and deliver effective, memorable presentations. 

Books on Leadership

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers – (Ben Horowitz, 2014) 

No product has been released without a few bumps along the way. This book provides a great overview of modern product development, and how to approach the changes and setbacks you're bound to encounter. It offers actionable guidance on how to move past failure and lead your team to success. 

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – (Chip & Dan Heath, 2010) 

One of the most actionable books on this list, ‘Switch’ delves into why it's so difficult to create lasting change. The problem is the conflict between our rational mind and our emotional mind. The authors show how we can work to unite both minds and bring about successful change.

It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy – (Michael Abrashoff, 2002) 

While your product probably isn't a Navy ship, the lessons taught in this book will help you become a better captain to your team and your company. Some of the keys to success include listening aggressively, building up your people, and focusing on a purpose. Improving your team's quality of life builds trust and dedication, which ultimately leads to greater success for your ship.

Books on Technology

Swipe to Unlock: The Primer on Technology and Business Strategy – (Parth Detroja, Aditya Agashe, Neel Mehta, 2017) 

This is the ultimate guide to the essential concepts of technology and business. It's one of the few product management tools that help product managers expand their horizons and recognize emerging opportunities. The book covers the rationale behind major tech acquisitions to help broaden your perspective and teaches you how to spot the next big opportunity. 

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail – (Clayton M. Christensen, 1997) 

The business world is filled with companies that fail because they stick with the status quo, rather than investing in new technologies. This book will force you to accept that your product is never truly finished, whilst motivating you to continually adapt new product management tools in order to remain nimble and innovative.

Now… Get Reading!

And that’s it for what we think any product manager should be reading. This essential reading list is sure to develop both your existing management skills and build new ones too. 

Remember, product management is about being strategic, focused, and prepared. And being prepared is about knowledge. So, give these books a read and watch your management skills flourish. 

To learn more about being a successful product manager, check out the eight skills we think are worth mastering.

Malte CEO of airfocus
Updated on
June 30 2020
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