Book Review: The Phenomenal Product Manager

I bought a copy of “The Phenomenal Product Manager” in 2009 or so on a lark. I was changing jobs, and had some time to read/hone my skills, and see what I could be missing.

Written by Brian Lawley, the top man at the 280Group, a consultancy, and training organization with deep product management and product marketing skills and reputations, I was at first put off by how thin the book was. I had expected there to be more “meat” to the book, judging by how much material was available publicly at their website, I was just disappointed that something that could be expected to be read in a couple hours could be helpful.

The Phenomenal Product Manager

My first pass through the book seemed to bear this out. The advice to “buy the fastest computer, and biggest screen to help with your productivity” seemed to be pretty condescending. Sure, that is important, and useful, but I hardly needed a book to tell me that.

So, in 2009, I skimmed through it and dismissed it, instead spending more time reading Rich Mironov’s “The Art of Product Management”.

Turns out that was a bad choice. Not that Rich’s book wasn’t a good use of my time, but the fact that there are some nuggets of truth in Brian’s tome.

In particular, he is quite explicit in how to master email, and use Microsoft Outlook to maximum effect (advice to keep one task list, and avoid temptations to have multiple lists, to schedule time to do thought related work, to turn off notifications, for example). Having considered myself a “power user” of Outlook, I took away some new strategies.

It turns out that this thin book is chocked full of practical, easy to digest advice, with something for every product manager or product marketer, regardless of where they are in their career.

  • How to deal with recruiters and head hunters – if you aren’t interested quickly dispatch them. If you are interested, then give them full attention, no in between.
  • How to identify when you are getting stale, and to look for a new job before you become too negative. Very important advice that I wish I had learned much earlier in my career.
  • How to not be “Debbie Downer”, and keep a positive attitude, because the product manager is the most visible gauge on the health of the product, and if they are disgruntled, it cascades through the organization.
  • And much more.

While the book is now $20 (I seem to recall it being $9.95 when I bought it, perhaps it was a special), and it feels lightweight, it is however, quite useful. I recommend that every product manager, or product marketer have a copy, and re-read it every couple of years. It will help your effectiveness.

Brian’s writing style is colloquial, and somewhat informal. That can be hard to read if you aren’t used to it, but if you can put that aside, you will extract nuggets of gold that can greatly improve your outlook, and effectiveness.

Author image
Product Manager, physics educated, avid cyclist, dog rescuer, guitar noodler.
San Jose, Callifornia Website
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