July 23, 2020
5 min
Frank Lagendijk

17 books every product leader should read in 2020

Product is hard. If you’re a product-oriented founder, product manager, or head of product, you know that. But why? Mostly because it’s not as one-dimensional as a lot of other professions tend to be. Being a great product leader requires you to have a decent understanding of a diverse set of skills.

If you’d ask me, I’d say the best product managers are T-shaped. They understand all of the required skills in a diverse set of areas well enough, but are great at one. Mostly the craft they started their career in before entering product management roles, like data, design, or engineering. Depending on the area one does excel in, certain (tech) companies or startup types fit someone better than others.

Most of us have a lot to learn though. Mostly to up-skill that all-encompassing foundation we all need. That’s why I've created an up-to-date list of 17 amazing books that might help you. It's split up in a few important areas.

It's a combination of classics, and a few books that are less familiar – some hidden gems. This list is compiled through our own reading experiences, preferences, and some recommendations by authorities in the field such as Theresa Torres, Des Traynor, Sean Ellis, and other amazing product-minded founders that are on Mustread. Let's get to it!


1. Rework

Although leaning towards a book being for entrepreneurs, this book covers a couple things that are useful even if you're a product manager. Why endless plans aren't useful, why it's better to ingnore the competition, and why you shouldn't waste time on paperwork and meetings.

Blue Ocean Strategy
2. Blue Ocean

A blue ocean shift, as explained by authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, moves businesses from red oceans crowded with competition to blue oceans of uncontested market space. Blue Ocean is one of the most popular product management books in the market. Using tools from this book, leaders can learn how to create new markets rather than competing in existing ones.

3. Zero to One

This book is all about innovation. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them. It’s easier to copy a model than to make something new: doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar.

Management & Leadership

Radical Candor
4. Radical Candor

Radical Candor is the sweet spot between managers who are obnoxiously aggressive on the one side and ruinously empathetic on the other. It is about providing guidance, which involves a mix of praise as well as criticism, delivered to produce better results and help employees develop their skills and boundaries of success

The Making of A
5. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You

Most Product Managers focus too much on all the product elements and work less on 'management'. That’s where Julie Zhuo is helping out. Having spent 11+ years as VP of Product Design at Facebook, she is a renown product design leader. In this bestseller, she reveals her tactics for being the best manager possible, and getting the most our of your teams. Learn how to lead, and how to inspire.

Managing Humans
6. Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager

Managing Humans is a selection of the best essays from Michael Lopp's web site, Rands in Repose. Drawing on Lopp's management experiences at Apple, Netscape, Symantec, and Borland, this book is full of stories based on companies in the Silicon Valley.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
7. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team presents the notion that teams are inherently dysfunctional, so deliberate steps must be taken to facilitate great teamwork. A knowledgeable team leader can do a great deal to make his or her team effective, and the book outlines practical tools for achieving this.

Design & Psychology

8. Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love

Inspired describes the best practices of creating successful software products and explains the most common pitfalls and how to avoid them. The lessons are applicable in a range of product environments, from fledgling start-ups to large corporations.

Product Mindset
9. Product Mindset: How to Get Inside Your Customer’s Mind

Building products that people love, means understanding their lives, and the intricacies of their state of mind. Learn how Spotify won over artists, how Netflix tamed AI, and the psychological mechanism that your smartphone shares with a slot machine. Advice and thought leadership from PMs at companies like Intercom, Pandora, Jet.com, and more.

Don't Make Me Think
10. Don't Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Don’t Make Me Think describes the basic principles governing behavior online and explains how you can build a digital product that delivers a great user experience.

Product research & discovery

Thinking in Bets
11. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts

In any situation, the best decision isn’t guaranteed to work out, and even terrible decisions can sometimes turn out to be the right ones. So when things go wrong, who do we blame and why? In this book, poker champion, author and consultant Annie Duke shows how our addiction to outcomes leads to irrational thinking and the confusion of luck with skill.

12. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Delivering Happiness tells the story of Tony Hsieh and his company Zappos, demonstrating how thinking long-term and following your passions can not only lead to profits but also a happy life for employees, customers, and yourself. The book describes an approach to corporate culture that focuses on the simple concept of making people around you happy, and by doing so increasing your own happiness.

The Mom Test
13. The Mom Test: How to talk to customers

Talking to customers or users always remains important for most founders and product managers. The Mom Test offers hands-on advice on nailing the information you really need from these meetings, and ensuring the business has the best possible foundation for success.


14. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Eyal’s aim with this book, was to create the guide he wished he’d had at the start of his career in products. This comprehensive guide explains how to create products that become your customer’s habit, always bringing them back for more.

Game Thinking
15. Game Thinking: Innovate smarter & drive deep engagement with design techniques from hit games

Amy Jo Kim spills the secrets behind her success while working on The Sims, Rock Band, and Ultima Online. What keeps people glued to the screen? What’s turned gaming into a $130 Billion industry? More importantly, what does this have to do with your products?

Growth Hacker Marketing
16. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising

This book charts a major departure from traditional marketing practices, relying heavily on the use of user data and smart product design. It illustrates how today’s top technology companies, such as Dropbox and Instagram, have used this strategy to gain millions of users.

Hacking Growth
17. Hacking Growth: How Today's Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success

Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown give readers a step-by-step guide through a dynamic and endlessly repeatable process that will spark growth and transform any sluggish business into a vibrant, growing enterprise teeming with loyal customers.

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