Two decades in the field of product management, marketing, and product marketing have been accompanied by an eclectic list of reading material. This is a list of what is on my book shelf, what has been important to my progression in the field, and what I think every practitioner of product management would benefit by.
It is by no means a complete list, but what I have repeatedly fallen back on throughout my career. I will break them up by general topic of product management, marketing, and with some specificity, pricing.
Early in my career, there was a dearth of material to help. The most directly relevant books were more about the Proctor and Gamble vision of product management, centered around consumer-packaged goods, brand management, and what we currently call B2C marketing. Fortunately, the landscape has changed, and there are some excellent books that should be part of your standard kit.
The Art of Product Management by Rich Mironov. A repackaging of his outstanding blog posts (rewritten to be more chapter friendly), Rich captures the essence of the role, the challenges, and experiences from his years both in the trenches as well as his consulting.
Topics ranging from the initial “falling into” the profession into how to organize a product function in a company, and even into pricing, Rich provides concise, crisp advice, in a conversational and relatable manner. No, you don’t get detailed project plans, and perfect recipes, but you do get a flavor for what might work in your scenario.
Highly recommended, and available in paperback, or in eBook format, you will find yourself re-reading portions of this over and over again. A lot of goodness in 177 pages.
The Product Manager’s Desk Reference by Steven Haines. A gigantic tome, packed to the gills with outstanding, very detailed, and extremely useful information. I have a copy as an eBook, and I often go searching for something specific (my iPad makes this easy to accomplish), but a printed copy would be equally useful.
I will admit that I haven’t read it cover to cover (I do remember the Cranky PM doing this), as it is very detail oriented. But if you need to work on a requirements definition, or any one of a myriad common product manager tasks, this is a great place to go to.
Steven has a couple more books, one in particular on “Managing Product Managers”, and he remains a titan in the Product Management community.
Product Management Toolkit – Gabriel Steinhardt. A modest hardback in a bright orange cover, this is the book that goes with the Product Manager’s Toolkit, a collection of templates and files that can be used as a foundation for the various artifacts and documents that a product manager creates, owns and curates. I bought the package of the toolkit way back from 280Group, and the book later as a reference. However, the book and the toolkit form the foundation of Steinhardt’s “Blackblot PMTK” methodology for product management.
I have often gone back to the well with the PMTK, and even been an occasional contributor to their forums, where the discussions are excellent and on target. I count on the PMTK as a solid foundation that a motivated individual can pick and choose what works for them, and mold the templates to work for their scenarios.
However, as time has gone on, I find that I am not as often diving into the PMTK package, and instead reusing forms and adaptations from that. Yet, for a new, or early stage product manager, I highly recommend the PMTK template packages, and the book to back them up. I really wish these existed back in 1998 when I began this journey.
There are a few more books I have on product management, but these three are exemplary, and quite useful. One other trend I have seen is the self publishing of shorter, topical books. Luminaries like Steve Johnson, Jennifer Doctor, and Brian Lawley are quite prolific writers, and many/most of their books are available inexpensively or free from their blogs or official pages. Yet, I keep coming back to these as a foundation to work from.
Product Management is inextricably intertwined with marketing. No, not the fluffy messaging and promotion (although that is important), but the hard, technical side of marketing. Understanding your buyers, users, and customers is important, and segmenting them to improve your targeting of development and usability of your product is key to success. Whether or not you consider yourself “marketing” you must have more than a passing familiarity with the concepts and mechanics. There are several books that help you gain the insight you need, even if you aren’t technically responsible for the technical or strategic marketing function.
The Marketing Imagination – Theodore Levitt. Last updated in 1986, one would be excused for thinking that it has lost its relevance. Alas, it is more relevant today than ever. While the case study examples used are old, the lessons remain timeless, and it is easy to see the lessons Ted dishes out being applied today, in this era long beyond his horizons of 1986.
Ted captures in this book several core concepts that we take for granted, such as Whole Product, Industrialization of Services, the importance of marketing, and how reducing barriers to globalization creates true global enterprises, where developing markets are no longer treated like children with hand me downs. There is much praise for this book, and a reason why it is on most ever marketer’s shelf.
Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey Moore. This is the bible of technology marketing. Originally written in 1991, and revised slightly since, it captured the phenomenon that is Technology Marketing. Virtually every book since refers to it, and many, if not most marketing consultants preach it, for good reason, as it is the best fitting hypothesis that explains success (and also failures) in the marketing of disruptive products and technologies. Buy it. Read it. Re-read it frequently. Enough said.
Customer Visits – Edward McQuarrie. If Crossing the Chasm is the bible of marketing disruptive products, “Customer Visits” is the dead sea scrolls for doing effective validation of the market via structured customer visits. More than just “Best Practices”, Customer Visits outlines a system for cross functional, highly focused, and extremely productive customer surveys. It is something that when I first experienced the methodology it was a major aha moment, and awakened a desire to repeat this often.
The Market Research Toolkit – Edward McQuarrie. As a product manager, you may not be directly responsible for direct market research, but you are likely involved at some level. This book, the second in my “must have” by McQuarrie, is a high level overview of the key research techniques, and provided enough detail that you can participate in the discussion, and even assist with aspects. Not intended to be a deep dive, it is a valuable resource in a thin paperback.
Influencer Marketing – Brown and Hayes. This is a more modern book, but id captures the value of using influencers, or very influential customers to assist in the messaging. It is told from a more Sales focus, and that can be off-putting to marketers (product managers might also find some glee in the early tone of the book), but swallow your pride, and read the words. The power of influence has grown in the modern web based world, where independent voices singing praise are orders of magnitude more powerful than any internal messaging you can come up with. This book explains how to harness and hopefully manage that messaging for your benefit.
Consider this a must read, if only that you as a product manager are uniquely poised to help identify, and curate the power of this channel of communications, with much more gravitas than the traditional marketing group.
This is a short list of marketing books, and indeed I have many, many more on my shelves, but I find myself going back to these frequently enough (and loaning them out to colleagues who then never return them prompting me to re-buy) that they form the core of my skills.
Pricing is a unique challenge. It requires some fiscal rectitude and experience, some analytical skills, a supreme command of the market and competition, as well as some instinct. While you can’t learn the instinct, there are a couple of books that I go back to over and over again for the financial and practical aspects of pricing.
Pricing Strategy – Tim Smith. Written more like a text book, with enough math and appendices to make the physicist within me gleeful, this is a very practical treatment to pricing. Tim Smith also has a degree in physics, but clearly his passion is pricing, and unravelling the mysteries behind it. From early in this book, you get treated to clear topics, well presented, and with math that is eminently do-able. I mean, there is even a chapter that warms my heart on Discount Management that accurately captures the pressures within the organization around the suitability of discounting.
Even if you are in an organization large enough to have a dedicated pricing group, I recommend this book highly to guide your interactions with them, as the SME, you (the product manager) will have an important role.
I bought this book shortly after taking a Pricing course at the CalTech Industrial Relations Center lead by Tim Smith. In 3 days, he delivered a lot of valuable insight, and knowledge that I use to this day. His book was a great extension of his course, and of great value. I do like that he is unafraid to offer extended treatments that require more familiarity with calculus in appendices to the chapter. Additionally, each chapter has a set of exercises to let the motivated reader practice the lessons of the text.
The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing – Thomas Nagle, et. al. This is considered the gold standard, and for good reason. It covers a wide swath of the theory, and practice of pricing, arming the reader to either lead the process, or participate intelligently. It covers both basic concepts in value based pricing, as well as detailed reasoning behind when to use it versus cost-plus pricing, and how to identify and optimize pricing curves. It does a good job of explaining the market research you can do to uncover sensitivities in pricing, as well as how to use that information to optimize your profits via effective pricing.
The chapter on financial analysis is a deep, yet complete recipe set for the pricer to use. It is a chapter I refer back to often, both because it was originally quite a challenge to conquer, but also because it provides concrete tools to follow for many common scenarios we face in setting price.
I do have several other books on pricing, including a HBR anthology of pricing articles that are useful, but I find myself returning to these two, over and over. Alas, they are both expensive books (Last check was that “The Strategy and Tactics…” was over $100 on Amazon, yet, I assure you it is worth every penny.
This is a small sample of books I find essential for product managers to have in their library. There are many more that I can recommend, and will expand on in later posts. These books have demonstrated lasting value and staying power, following me through many career stops, remaining relevant and topical.