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  • Writer's pictureJason Costa

10 Books for Aspiring PMs

Updated: Feb 14

I’m often asked about books I found valuable in my journey as a Product Manager, and there are a few key texts that I’ve found particularly inspiring, useful, and actionable. These are the books I’d recommend to anyone early in their PM journey - this set will help to provide a valuable foundation as one grows into a product career.

Don’t wait for a manager or a mentor to bestow insights, and don’t take time to learn these things the hard way on the job. Take your learning into your own hands: books are a great avenue to do just that. These are the ten books that shaped and impacted me most as a PM.

Shipping Greatness- I read this book when I was at Twitter, and found it to be enormously insightful. It talks about starting first with the user need and working outwards from there. It covers important topics like defining a mission and vision statement for your team, writing a press release to flesh out the concept Amazon style, having a launch checklist, and a whole lot more. This book is a solid product management 101 offering.

Lean Analytics - This book was a bible for me when I started developing my data chops more. There are a ton of nuggets in here, particularly around “one metric that matters” rather than peanut butter spreading around eight different key metrics. It also discusses how to focus the team around measurable outcomes rather than outputs. It nicely frames up effective ways to think about how your team can better leverage data to gain insights and make better decisions.

Naked Statistics - you gotta know some things about statistics in this day & age if you’re going to run successful experiments. It’s so critical to know how to correctly set up an experiment, what data you’re looking for, and most important: how to interpret the data. If you’re not yet familiar with concepts like statistically significant or p-values, this is your book. It’s so well written that it makes learning stats fun.

Wall Street Guide to Information Graphics - Telling stories is a critical part of the Product Management function. Being able to tell stories with data is a superpower and one that’s worth developing. Crafting visual data with clarity, in a way that tells the story by itself, will make a PM’s job far smoother. It’s easy to create complex charts that don’t tell a clear narrative; it’s hard to create simple charts that bring great clarity. This book will differentiate between the two and show one how to pursue the latter path.

Hooked - This book helped expand my thinking around behavioral frameworks as they apply to consumer software. I really enjoyed the trigger -> action -> reward -> investment model, and believe that conceptually it’s still very much relevant today. The author digs into an array of these, like variable rewards and the friction vs motivation dimensions associated with an activity or behavior. That kind of structured thinking will help any PM along any point in their journey.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things - getting involved with earlier stage companies, particularly ones going through a hypergrowth phase, is really hard. The environment can take a toll on people who aren’t prepared to ride the wave. I’ve seen a lot of normal folks get absolutely jaded or worse yet toxic because of the system they were operating in. You have to be prepared for this and you won’t find better anecdotes to prepare for that type of operating environment than in this book. It’s great, and a fun reminder that every earlier stage company is a rodeo.

Understanding Michael Porter - when people say they want a job in strategy, I don’t know what that means. I often interpret that as mere navel gazing. If one wants to understand what strategy means in the context of product management, this is the book to purchase. It really helped me see the importance of being unique & differentiated in market.

How to Win Friends & Influence People - so much of PM work is about building great cross-functional relationships, being able to spend personal currency to drive influence, and otherwise to deploy & manage momentum across the org (often outside of the purview where you have direct authority). This is a critical book for developing the EQ side of PM’ing.

The Making of a Manager - from a former Design Manager at Facebook. As you grow into your career, you’ll likely start managing people. No one explains to you how hard that is, and the responsibilities that come along with it. It’s a serious task, and you owe it to the careers of those folks who report to you to be the best manager you can be. This book will help with inevitable blind spots when you get your first few reports. Well worth the read.

Creativity Inc - You have to be proactive about how you craft the culture within your team, else the culture can drive itself off a cliff. This book contains so many powerful anecdotes on establishing a team / company identity, being candid with commentary & feedback, adapting to change, and getting in front of catastrophes.

Bonus Reference

Data Analysis Using SQL & Excel - When I was starting out as a PM, I carried this tome around in my backpack every day. It was so useful for being able to pull data, interpret the data, and ultimately build my own models to make informed decisions. One can do so much by understanding how to craft the right questions via SQL, and then transform the data in Excel to glean insights. This guide helped me leverage two key tools that were instrumental in my growth as a data informed product manager.

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