These are my favorite resources on product management, which I’ve used to form the foundation of my product management knowledge. If you want to learn how I apply all of these resources to product management at NewsCred, check out my online course – Building Software Products At Startups.
Steal Like An Artist – No one is completely original; we all learn from our predecessors. This book explains why it’s so important to read and learn from the best to create your unique style. Like the greatest artists, the only way to truly be great at something is to steal from the ideas of people that preceded you and then synthesize those into your own style. In fact, by reading all of the great posts and books listed here, I’m stealing like an artist. I’ve read from all of these great minds, synthesized my own thoughts on product management, and continue to learn from the best. One of my favorite quotes in the book from Kobe Bryant – “I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them.”
What Is Product Management?
• Product Manager’s Job – The key responsibility of a product manager is to create a viable business model. You’re the mini CEO of a company, and your stakeholders are customers, engineers, and your business. Balancing these three stakeholders and creating a product that customers love is what makes product management the best job on earth.
• We Are Product Managers – Product managers are the CEOs of products. You lead a team of designers and engineers without authority with a singular focus on delivering value to your customers. While delivering value, you’re always cognizant of the business model of your product. You’re the market expert at your company, and you provide context to sales, marketing, engineering, design, and any other colleague.
• What Distinguishes Great Product Managers – Nine things that Ian McAllister from Amazon believes makes a 1% product manager. Most importantly from his list, you communicate, listen, and solve the most difficult problems at your company.
• Recruiting Product Managers – Silicon Valley Product Group outlines approximately 15 important skills and personal traits that great product managers tend to possess. At the end of the post, I believe they correctly identify the best source of talent for product management – people who demonstrate all of the 15 skills and traits who already work at your company.
• Good Product Manager Bad Product Manager – Ben Horrowitz’s classic article about product managers written in the early 2000s. He starts the post warning that many of the lessons in the article may not apply anymore, but I think most of it rings true today.
Using Psychology To Build Products People Love
• Hooked – The Habit Loop is one of my favorite concepts in product development. I really enjoy trying to understand human psychology and applying those lessons to building great products. Nir Eyal outlines the value of creating a Habit Loop in software products that can hook customers on the technology. He demonstrates how some of the most valuable companies in the world have accidentally or purposefully employed the Habit Loop to drive repeat usage.
• The Power Of Habit – Consumer habits can be created through simple techniques that provide small rewards that customers become dependent on. For instance, in the early 1900s, a toothpaste company was trying to encourage Americans to brush their teeth every day. At the time, a marketer decided to take advantage of a common habit and and associate that with a need to brush one’s teeth. This wasn’t the only secret that resulted in a significant majority of Americans using Pepsodent everyday. In fact, it was an inactive ingredient in the toothpaste that reinforced the habit in people’s minds: mint left a fresh feeling that felt like a reward for a job well done. This is just one of many examples that the author uses to reinforce the power of habits in decision making.
• Predictably Irrational – Understanding the irrational decisions of humans can help a product manager build better experiences and take advantage of those decision processes. Things like pricing techniques and rewards can be better understood when you realize the irrational choices people make every day.
• How To Manufacture Desire – A blog post explaining the main thesis of Hooked. It helps you understand the key concepts of the Habit Loop (trigger, action, reward, and investment). If you can create a Habit Loop that consistently triggers your customers, your product’s growth can be exponential.
• 4 Ways To Use Psychology To Win Users – Once you understand the Habit Loop, you can use it to steal customers from your competition. Identify your true competition with the value proposition canvas, and make faster hooks, better rewards, higher frequency triggers, and easier investments to overcome your competitive products.
Learning And Iterating To Build Products People Love
• Agile Manifesto – Agile values learning and iteration over documentation and waterfall development. It all started with this extremely concise and valuable declaration written in 2001. It has become the core philosophy behind iterative development at almost every software startup in the US.
• The Lean Startup – This book popularized the Minimum Viable Product and discusses the iterative approach to building a product. Like the scientific method, the focus is on testing assumptions, learning, drawing conclusions, and running new experiments to quickly iterate toward product market fit.
• The Inmates Are Running the Asylum – The book explains what corporate America gets wrong with innovative technology, and how we need to understand that it’s possible to create products that people love while positively impacting the business. The author uses his experiences to outline best practices and lessons learned in product development.
• Inspired – Written by product management expert Marty Cagan, this book outlines many of the fundamental principles of customer empathy, iterative development, and using that to create products customers will love. He also runs Silicon Valley Product Group, which has an excellent blog I recommend you check out.
• Essential Scrum – A crash course on the most common agile development process in startups. When done correctly, Scrum can help you build iteratively, learn from customers, and correct course quickly. Product managers joining tech companies should definitely take a look at this for a better understanding of the processes that they’ll likely use at the company.
• User Stories Applied – A reference for the most common way to communicate customer needs to a scrum team. I actually prefer the jobs-to-be-done stories, but this is a much more common technique and definitely something a majority of technology teams are using.
• Replacing The User Story – When you’re building product, you should consider the context, needs, and desires of your customers. Jobs to be done stories communicate these way better than traditional user stories, which tend to focus on demographics, rather than goals.
• Focus On The Job – Focusing on the job or goals of your customer can help product managers, designers, and engineers avoid the pitfalls of standard personas. You’ll also get the benefit of understanding what the true competition for your product offering is, so you can focus on stealing customers from that competitive solution.
• Designing Features Using Jobs To Be Done – Intercom has switched to (in my opinion) a more effective way of communicating customer needs than the traditional user story. They find that it helps their team identify and understand the context of challenge that the engineers and designers are trying to solve.
• Use Jobs-To-Be-Done To Build The Right Product – Large corporate innovation teams typically fail to compete with entrepreneurial ventures because they don’t understand the jobs that the startup is helping customers get done. If you work for a larger company or your own startup, the lesson here is to focus on your customers’ objectives to deploy a competitive new entrant in the marketplace.
Starting A New Product Or Business
• Do Things That Don’t Scale – One of Paul Graham’s best essays and specifically valuable to the product person at a startup or a large company. Whenever you’re testing new ideas, whether they’re features on an existing product or a new startup, you MUST do things that don’t scale. It’s the fastest way to test your assumptions and avoid costly engineering mistakes.
• Business Model Canvas Explained – The Business Model Canvas is an essential tool for any product manager. Your number one responsibility is aligning business value with customer needs. Rather than wasting time writing a business plan, which is stale the moment you stop writing it, focus on quickly jotting down your business model and collect feedback. Quick iterations on the business model help you apply what you’re learning during customer conversations to a viable business model. If you don’t have a viable business model, you’re not creating a company, you’re working on a hobby.
• Zero To One – Peter Thiel explains the difficulty of building something truly innovative and how to identify those opportunities. Not many of the world’s companies have truly incremented from zero to one, but those that do, change the world and are generally rewarded for it.
• Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz is not only a founding partner at Andreesen Horowitz, but was also an early product manager at Netscape and the founder and CEO of Opsware, which he sold to HP. He takes the time to outline how to handle the most difficult situations technology startups, which seem to happen a lot. I’ve witnessed some of these in my days at NewsCred; thankfully, I’m not the one dealing with those stresses! His stories and advice are essential to anyone who wants to understand the difficult, but required decisions startup founders have to make.
• The Startup Owner’s Manual – This is the playbook for startups from Steven Blank. He helps founders understand the importance of Customer Development as part of the product development process. This is an extremely detailed textbook on iterative startup development. In my opinion, the Customer Discovery phase of a startup applies to both new ventures and any new product. Customer Development was the foundational principles for the Lean Startup.
• Product Market Fit – An interview with Sean Ellis, who has worked on or consulted to many of the largest startups of the recent era. He walks through how he defines product-market fit and when you’re ready to step on the gas. Unfortunately, it looks like this video is no longer available, but the interview transcript is at the bottom of the article along with links to an accompanying Slideshare.
Product Managers Have To Lead Without Authority
• Give And Take – Not necessarily related to product management, but there are a couple of anecdotes in Adam Grant’s excellent book that can help product managers lead without authority. One of my favorites is a story about how a simple experiment demonstrates that when you reiterate who and how you’re helping someone to a team of people, it increases productivity significantly. I use this tactic over and over in my job. When we were launching the NewsRoom (our freelance marketplace), I constantly reiterated how much money we were driving to the freelancer ecosystem. I don’t think I could have accomplished half of what we did without the help and favors of my co-workers. This books pairs really well with Start with This books pairs really well with Start with Why.
• Start With Why – As a product manager, you need to lead without authority. The way to do this is motivate your team and those around you to accomplish the seemingly impossible. This book explains the psychology of motivation and leadership and how you can use those to motivate yourself, your team, and your customers.
• Storytelling – Tom Tunguz has one of the best blogs on the web for SaaS product managers. His data analysis of public and private companies is an amazing source of information to SaaS product managers. This article, however, focuses on a different subject, but one I think is extremely valuable to product people – storytelling. As a great product manager, you need to dedicate time to telling a great story about the products you’re building. A great story can be a motivating guiding light to engineers and designers, help your sales team close more deals, and give the marketing team a head start on their collateral. Product managers need to lead without authority, and the best way to do so is with a great story.
• Team Of Teams – Leadership today requires teams that can react quickly and independently from the hierarchy of traditional management. Stanley McChrystal outlines how he reorganized the special forces to defeat Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Team of Teams puts the power of decision making into the hands of the people closest to the details. At NewsCred, we implemented something similar to this strategy, giving our engineers and designers the flexibility to make decisions independently of significant input from the leadership of the company. These changes have had a substantial impact on our team’s productivity and our ability to react to a constantly changing environment.
Using Design Processes To Empathize With Your Customers
• Good Value Proposition Design – A fantastic reference for using the design process to build a product that solves your customers’ biggest pains, delivers the benefits they want, and helps them achieve their goals. The book has a series of simple exercises to help you understand and discover the value you can create with your products.
• Value Proposition Canvas Explained – The value proposition canvas outlines a simple and powerful way to align your customers goals (jobs), needs (pains), and desires (gains) from a product. You then examine if your products and services,pain relievers, and gain creators satisfy the most important jobs, pains, and gains of your customer segment.
• Well Designed – Developing customer empathy and employing processes used by experience designers can help product managers and engineers design and build products that customers will actually value. Without empathy for your customers, you will underwhelm them with slick features that actually don’t help them achieve their goals and solve their problems.
• Design Thinking – Design thinking brings an executive approach to explaining the value of the iterative learning process. The author explains how an executive can employ a customer centric approach to decision making and planning across an organization.
• Design For Action – Tim Brown and Roger Martin discuss how traditional design methodologies have transitioned from physical product design, customer experience design, to process design. Large organizations are designing their processes around customer centricity and thinking how they can use user experience design to manage more effectively.
• Story Mapping – David Hussman walks through an effective way to outline the journey your customers will take through your product. You can identify similar paths across customer segments and prioritize the key paths that your customers need to achieve their goals in your product.
Scaling Your Product Strategy And Internal Communication
• The Power Of Saying No In Product Strategy – The power of saying “No” in product strategy creates more value than trying to build everything that your team wants. Des is the CEO and founder of Intercom. This hour long video is an awesome run-down of managing competing interests and focusing on building the right things for your product.
• How Spotify Builds Products – Spotify develops products across three continents with close to 1,000 employees to serve its 60 million users. Their engineering and product culture is considered one of the best in the world, and they’re rigorous in their processes around building the right software and investing resources effectively. The Slideshare outlines how they think about what products they should deploy to all of their users and what processes they have to manage what ideas make it into the mobile, web, and desktop applications.
• Be A Great Product Leader – Adam Nash, the CEO of Wealthfront, outlines the responsibilities of product leaders. In his opinion, the leader of a product team’s number one responsibility is determining “what game are we playing and how do we keep score?”
• Amazon Press Release – The Amazon Press Release methodology for communicating a product vision is an excellent template for selling the vision of your new feature. I use this for every release to see if I can build consensus amongst the squad working on the product and the business owners. If you cannot sell the vision of your product before you start, you definitely won’t be able to sell the first iteration. It helps you set an achievable goal and imagine the value you’ll create for your customers.
• Lessons Learned From Scaling Product At Intercom – A clear outline from the Intercom team explaining how they make product decisions at scale. Really valuable for product leaders to understand how one company is able to scale their decision processes across many product managers.
• Product Prioritization Process At Pandora – One of my favorite product articles. At NewsCred we’ve implemented a very similar process to increase transparency and trust in our product decisions. Start with this and then read the next two blog posts that I wrote about what we’ve learned from using this technique twice at NewsCred. I suggest all product leaders struggling with communication and trust in their decisions read this post.
• Auction Product Planning, Increasing Transparency In Product Decisions – This is a two part series examining what we’ve learned from increasing transparency in our product planning process across the organization at NewsCred. I believe this is having a tremendous impact on decision making, confidence, and trust throughout the organization. If you work in a vacuum, it can be difficult for an organization to understand the decisions being made. When you include everyone, people realize the tradeoffs and feel that they’re helping to make those decisions.