Summer Reading List

A compiled list of excellent books recommended by the members of our Product Leader Peer Group.

As part of a recent Product Leader Peer Group meeting, we asked our members to share a recent book they've read that inspired them in their productization journey! 

We are eager to share the list with you - we encourage reading all year round, but summer is always a perfect time to dive into a good book and gear up for the months to come. 

You'll find the list of books mentioned, along with the key takeaways from our discussion.   Enjoy!  


The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

  • A selection of blog posts that have been made into a book form.
  • Understanding the perspective of someone who cares about a software business.
  • Thought of PMs as mini-CEOs leads to misconceptions about the role.
  • What matters is that you need to really care about a lot of aspects of the business as a product manager.
  • Takeaways:
    • Build a good company: treat people first, product second, and then worry about profit. 
    • What makes a great product manager
    • How do you treat people with dignity?
  • Who should read:
    • Any PM in software as a career, or a PM in a position with a lot of pressure to build things very fast.
    • Important to take lessons from one environment and apply it to your environment. 
  • Takeaway: what makes someone good in one role, may not make them good in other roles, and some people may thrive in a particular environment, but not in others.

Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

  • Explains how you can use some of the heuristics that are available in championship poker and apply it in your everyday decision-making, especially when you don't have all the information.
  • Who should read:
    • Every single person who has to make decisions where they have incomplete information and they have incomplete control over all the environment and the events (i.e. every single product manager, every single business leader)
  • Takeaway:
    • Process: thinking in terms of your decision-making is built into a process 
    • Always make decisions based on a set of rules and heuristics that you can apply and then adjust those rules and heuristics over time. 
    • You cannot judge the quality of your decision-making purely based on the outcome.
    • Evaluate your decision-making process and take into account the information that you have at the time which you made those decisions.
    • How can you improve your decision-making process rather than focus on making sure you have the optimal outcome every single time?
  • In poker, you can't win every single hand. It's about winning more hands and winning more of the right hands so that you can keep all the money.
  • Not about being right and wrong, but rather the likelihood of events.
    • Understand the different probabilities so that you can think about them rationally.
    • Sometimes being right doesn't mean that you're always going to be right, it just means you happen to sometimes get lucky.
  • Know when to cut your losses.

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffery Moore

  • Talks about how to launch successful products, specifically how you get a product to go from that early adopter phase when it's valuable to a segment of the market, a small segment of the market, to the mainstream, and finding a way to get it over the chasm. 
  • Takeaways:
    • Many products fail cause you’re trying to fit to everyone.
    • Pick a piece of the market that is homogeneous in their needs so that you can really nail it.
    • Narrow your target market. 
    • The benefit of helping you get to market faster with your MVP because you need to build out fewer features and functionality because all of your customers have a similar need.
    • Get the product into the market and actually do that iterative learning faster, which then gets you across the chasm, you get adoption, you find success, you generate profit, you generate momentum and excitement in your sales team, and then you pick the next adjacent market.
  • Who should read:
    • Everyone in product, also felt helpful in talking to sales partners about segments and building products.
    • Helped narrow in Sales territories, doing win-loss analyses.
  • Takeaway: Really liked the book, if you couple the idea with Lean Canva's understanding of who your early adopters are, as well as knowing your buyers and user persona and kind of segmenting them correctly, there are two things you can do with it:
    • Highlight and isolate what you want to work on to suit. Preserve your target audience and be able to block those out.
    • Look at your personas, even the ones that you're not going to tackle. You can start to see where the overlaps are and as part of your product development, if there are opportunities and synergies where you can build things that will satisfy both groups or you can prove quality on sets of features that the next set of segments are interested in, that can help to build that bridge so that you don't have to make that hurdle.


Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg PhD 

  • Not product-specific, instead it is people-based.
  • How to identify your emotions, and separate your reaction from someone else's behavior or action.
  • Conflict management.
  • Takeaways:
    • Within the US culture, we haven't been taught how to identify our emotions or how to connect our needs to someone's behavior and set appropriate boundaries.
  • Offers a framework of how to identify your emotions and lots of examples to practice.
  • 60% listening, 20% explaining, 10% planning, and then 10% experimenting.


The Landmark Forum - Personal Development Class

  • Worldwide organization improving your self-awareness and communication skills.
  • Takeaways:
    • Pick it up, if you want to play, if you want to communicate, if you want to participate, if you want to be a player.
    • The moment you start to feel that you, in terms of self-awareness, are actually not in your right frame of mind, put that tennis racket down.
    • The limelight is not always the light to seek, and that is not always the light that will get you where you want to be.
    • Being in the back end, they're just as valuable, just as contributing, and just as important as anyone seeking that limelight.
    • How are you portraying yourself?
    • Half the time, what we say and portray is not what we actually believe or want to communicate.
    • If you pick up the racket, then you'll play tennis.
    • There is always another perspective.


Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller

  • Talks about how you message your product or service.
  • Takeaways:
    • Can we as a company take what we do sort of as individual contributors and change roles?
    • Framework: all stories have seven key elements
    • There’s a character with there's a problem, who meets a guide, who gives them a plan that calls them to action and helps them avoid failure and then they end in success.
    • When moving up the productization ladder, we have to change who we are and the way we talk.
    • Our job is to be the Yoda, not the Luke Skywalker.
    • All about how we position ourselves and what we do, teach the capability.
  • Helps you to focus on what your product or service is even trying to do and the problem it is trying to solve. 


Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making by Tony FadellPodcast Episode with Lex Fridman

  • Talks about how he worked with Steve Jobs and about the intersection of design with product development.
  • Tells stories of how they created the original iPod - selecting the materials and aesthetic design.
  • Talks about his time at Nest designing the product using the same techniques he learned at Apple.
  • Ran into a massive distribution problem where people never thought about getting their own thermostat.
  • A holistic view of product development
    • Good read for college graduates - someone junior on the team or new in product management.


Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda 

  • Entertaining book
  • An inside look at Apple’s design process and shares Ken’s stories about the original keyboard on iPhone that would autocorrect.
  • Discusses decisions the team had to make and iterations.
  • The design and thought process was insightful and interesting.


How to Lead in Product Management: Practices to Align Stakeholders, Guide Development Teams, and Create Value Together by Roman Pichler

  • Examination of leadership principles and concepts as applied to product management.
  • Not revolutionary, general freshers on juicy, basic leadership concepts.
  • When you have a large, diverse team, lead in a delegative way -  give them the tools they need and they will be successful. 
  • Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders by L. David Marquet  -- Another great leadership book with principles around outcomes, directions, and guardrails. 


Lean Customer Development (Hardcover version): Building Products Your Customers Will Buy by Cindy Alvarez 

  • Super actionable from building hypotheses and learning to prioritize.
  • A problem with PMs knowing stuff; we are constantly challenged to think like beginners.
  • This recommendation brought to mind another “Lean” book… The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen
    • I found it very useful as a team development tool.
    • We did "Lunch and Learns" with our whole team every month going chapter by chapter. Folks on my team always found an idea they could apply to a project they were working on and the book is great as it has frameworks you can rip off and use immediately and good examples.


Time's Up!: The Subscription Business Model for Professional Firms by Paul Dunn 

  • Helps you answer the question - should we go product, stay as service, or more tech-enable services? 
  • Dives into subscription pricing models - the world is moving that way
  • In 5-10 years, everything will  be based on a subscription service.
  • What is the value in the minds of the customer? How to really get that across and keep that the center of your journey. 
  • It's not just about revenue and the customer, but really also how to manage your cost balance. 


Fearless: How to Transform a Services Culture and Successfully Productize by Eisha Tierney Armstrong, Jaime Drennan, Molly Tipps

  • The first book, Productize, was about designing products in a way that keeps the customer at the center of the journey. What we found was organizations found it harder to create sustainable product-friendly culture, than they had anticipated – It’s a transformation. 
  • You need to be successful in innovation, you need to be good at digital transformation, and you need to be good at business model change.
  • 3 flavors of fear when transforming into a product-friendly organization: financial, reputational, and routine. 
  • This book dives into six levers to pull in order to build a product-friendly culture. 



Interested in becoming a member of our product leader peer group for more valuable discussions around product innovation and your organization? Send us a message to learn more