The end of 2020 is upon us and we are all thinking about gifts for our friends, lovers, and colleagues. Alternatively, you may be difficult to buy for and your family is asking for ideas. In this spirit, I want to lend a helping hand.
While learning by doing is really the best way to deeply understand things in a meaningful way. It is clear we have limited capacity in our lives to be in many places, experiencing hundreds of different things on a daily basis. Why? Physics.
Personally, I have found that reading and learning from the experience of others is a sure fire way to learn way more at a higher scale than you could ever do on your own. Given this, it really pays to spend some of your scarce time reading. While I have many books I like to recommend, I am going to keep my list short and to those works that have been published in the last year (or so).
Without further ado….
5 Product Management Books as Gifts for 2020
By Ben Foster & Rajesh Nerlikar
From two long-time Product Management consultants at Prodify, this book lays out a very modern and practical approach to product management. You need to start with a vision and all else can fall inline from there. Their concept is “Vision-Led Product Management”.
They share 10 prototypical dysfunctions in PM, explain the benefits of being a product-driven company, and provide super helpful tools for improving your practices. Core to their approach is crafting a future vision of your customer journey and then building a strategy to go after it.
I already wrote about their concept of Maximizing Customer Value, but there is so much more great content to unpack. This is really a great book that came out late in 2020.
By April Dunford
This book was published well over a year ago but in the last year I am so happy to see April Dunford get lots of recognition for the thinking she puts forth in this book. I know that product positioning is not what every product manager is thinking about daily but Dunford provides some critical insights both into the importance of positioning AND some simple steps to nail it.
As a consultant I have already taken advantage of some of dead simple thinking that she presents. Simple tools like — your competition is who your target customers would consider if you did not exist. Having been in some rapidly emerging categories I can attest to mistakenly thinking customers actually know about all the market options that I do. They don’t. They are too busy dealing with their own problems.
If you are a Product Manager that doesn’t spend much time with Marketing or Product Marketing, then this is a great book to expand your thinking. A critical takeaway is that focusing on your best current customers is a powerful way to best position yourself for growth.
By Joshua Seiden
Throughout my 2020 this is a book I have frequently recommended to product leaders in mature software organizations. Too often, the entire organization gets stuck building what they view is a predictable way to budget their product development capacity while totally ignoring why they exist.
Outcomes are the behavior change you seek to create from your customers. Focusing on these outcomes leads to better business results.
Many organizations spend their time counting features, looking at burn down charts, a relentlessly trying to keep to 12-18 month product roadmaps without ever validating that they are achieving the intended results along the way. How are you measuring the value of the features you ship?
For the busy executive, this is the perfect gift. All the Sense & Respond Press books are concise reads that drive home key points. This one even comes with a cute little note page to expedite gift giving to that one key exec that keeps insisting on seeing a certain number of features released ever quarter.
By Matthew Skelton & Manuel Pais
There is not much said directly about product management in this book by Skelton and Pais. That is the one fault I find in it. Beyond that, anyone that is thinking about designing an organization that will be empowered and successful must read this book.
They provide some excellent terminology and concepts as a blueprint for anyone engaged in product organization design. This includes the four core types of team topologies: stream-aligned teams, enabling teams, complicated sub-system teams, and platform teams.
From Conway’s Law to the traits of what make an effective team, this book provides some great examples and deeper philosophical rationale for the team designs they recommend. One of the most practical sections for me was a discussion of “fracture planes”, the best places to look at when growing teams need to be split up.
By Marty Cagan & Chris Jones
For many in the software industry and product management, specifically, Marty Cagan is a bit of an icon. His book Inspired is required reading and near the top of any product management book list. That book is fantastic because it takes the dogma out of building great products and replaces it with core concepts and practical advice for everything from product/market-fit to developing a healthy organization.
Inspired is a bible for many product managers much the way Lean Startup is to startup founders.
Cagan’s successor book, Empowered, is the written form a some of his talks going back to at least 2018. It is about empowered product teams – what they are, their benefits, and how to build your own.
This book is so new, I have yet to read it. This will be on my gift list (if anyone is asking). Building great teams is at the heart of creating great products and businesses. If it is half the book Inspired is, it no doubt become another must-read.