Working in Product? Here’s some recommended reading

I recently put together a list of articles, videos and books I think people moving into a product role should read to get a good grasp of the fundamentals.

These are just a starting point to help new Product Managers / Owners / Humans think about problem-solving in the internet age and give them mental models. If that’s you, you’ll need to know that they’re not recipes but, in time, they can help you create your own. In the end, building things people care about is hard work, and it’s all on you. Good luck!

Articles / Essays

We don’t Sell Saddles Here

Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s CEO, wrote this brilliant memo 2 weeks before Slack launched. It’s about the meaning of what you’re building. That matters a whole lot more than what the product says on the tin: https://medium.com/@stewart/we-dont-sell-saddles-here-4c59524d650d#.ldajcg1ds

Thinking Exponentially — 10x not 10%

Ken Norton, now a partner at Google Ventures, explains why Product Managers should always be the strongest advocates for disruption: https://www.kennorton.com/essays/10x-not-10-percent.html

What makes a great Product Manager

Piero Sierra, VP of Product Management at Skyscanner and formerly a Director of Product at Skype, has a look at the key traits of a great PM: https://medium.com/@pierosierra/builders-make-the-best-product-people-22fdb8d75dfe#.jdjcefyf0

Solving the right problems

Melissa Perri, one of the leading thinkers in Product, asks us to escape the very common trap where companies think they’re making progress by keeping people busy. Here’s how to focus on making sure we’re solving real problems for people: https://www.mindtheproduct.com/2017/07/escaping-build-trap-melissa-perri/

Speed of iteration beats quality of iteration

This one took me a while to fully absorb. I wholeheartedly disagreed with it at first, but then slowly came around to loving this. Jeff Atwood, creator of StackOverflow, builds on John Boyd’s airplane fighting teachings and explains that learning fast, starting small and iterating constantly is the way to survive: https://blog.codinghorror.com/boyds-law-of-iteration/

Do things that don’t scale

Premature optimisation kills great ideas. To get to Product-market fit, you need traction. To get traction you need to do things that allow you to learn about your customers faster than the competition before you run out of your scarce resource (often money). This, by Paul Graham, is a classic: http://paulgraham.com/ds.html

Finding Product Market Fit

Marc Andreessen at A16Z is next with another future-proof essay about how finding product market fit is all that matters when building something new: http://pmarchive.com/guide_to_startups_part4.html

How to start a startup

The whole How to Start a Startup series, organised by Sam Altman at Y Combinator, is full of gems from great speakers. Great content like this wasn’t free 10 years ago: http://startupclass.samaltman.com/

What do you actually do?

Great products don’t happen by accident, by Jon Lax, a Director of Product Design at Facebook has influenced me heavily. Now, when faced with a new situation, I try to think of the tools at my disposal. If I don’t have one that works, I try to find one or create it. A good playbook is essential for Product Managers: https://medium.com/great-products-dont-happen-by-accident/great-products-dont-happen-by-accident-f46323d8ad94#.pj1236nkd

Working Backwards

If you want to build great products, start with the end goal. Amazon’s technique is now super well-known and if you want your team to fully understand the problem, even before writing a single line of code, it’s worth giving it a shot: https://medium.com/bluesoft-labs/try-an-internal-press-release-before-starting-new-products-867703682934#.734z4kt4w

Should you really build that?

Sean Rose, Product Manager at Slack, once tweeted this quote from Neil Hunt (CPO at Netflix) and it just perfectly summarised what I felt about getting stuff in front of user. Removing complexity is key to building great products.

Where does your product stand?

When people talk about Unique Value Propositions or Unique Selling Points, they often mean this. Ryan Singer is a brilliant thinker and his “Position, Position, Position” essay makes a great argument about establishing yourself clearly through trade-offs. If you do X, instead of equally defensible Y, you’re immediately going to be different from anyone else doing it. If you do it across a number of dimensions, you will have found your place. Read it: https://m.signalvnoise.com/position-position-position-34b510a28ddc#.m6ggr5p3a

There’s no Process Silver Bullet

Kent Beck is one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto (very much worth reading and comprehending) and literally wrote the book on Extreme Programming. This is how we sees Agile and software development processes, 20 years later, through the lens of his 3X framework: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YX2XR73LnRY

Internet Economy 101

Ben Thompson is the business analyst you need to follow. His masterpiece is aggregation theory, a unified reference to grasp all great internet economy companies: https://stratechery.com/2015/aggregation-theory/

Follow that up with his new piece on Defining Aggregators, and just follow Stratechery.

Abundance in the internet world

Read this series by Alex Danco at Social Capital, to build on what Ben Thompson has taught us and really start grasping how the internet has changed everything. You’ll need this to understand how your customers operate.

The role of culture

Netflix’s genius culture deck is a masterpiece to understand how companies can scale, how to attract the best talent and keep them engaged. Culture eats strategy for breakfast (originally said by Peter Drucker), the Netflix version: https://jobs.netflix.com/culture

Also look at Spotify’s (and now everyone else’s) organisational design.

How Google sets goals

Rick Klau talks about setting goals and tells you all about OKRs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJB83EZtAjc

Pair (pun intended) Rick’s video with this on paired metrics and how single metric blindness can kill you: https://mattyford.com/blog/2014/6/11/paired-metrics

Books

The Lean Startup (obviously)

Let’s get it out of the way. Read the Lean Startup. It’ll help you understand everything else about product development.

Thinking Fast and Slow

If you want to understand how users think, you need this intro to Kahneman and Tversky’s work. It’s fascinating.

Influence

The six principles of persuasion laid out by Cialdini will help you look at your most beloved products in a completely different lens. Read it and see them everywhere.

The Design of Everyday Things

You’ll need to talk to designers. You’ll need great references about how people interact with the world around them. You need deep sensibility about product design and attention to detail. Don Norman is your guy for every one of these.

Zero To One

Peter Thiel doesn’t think of innovation like others do. He doesn’t think of competition like others do. He thinks of starting things as either zero or one. Winner-takes-all, is actually all there is. A new mindset.

Innovator’s Dillemma

This is another classic on the nature of innovation and how making the rational management decision every time will ultimately kill your company. The Innovator’s Dillema is now (2017) 20 years old, but it is perfectly timeless.

Competing Against Luck

Understand jobs-to-be-done, why people purchase products and how to solve for their deeply rooted motivations and goals. Clay Christensen advocates that there’s a better way to build products than trying out everything and seeing what sticks.

Creativity, inc

Building a culture of creativity, candor and growth to become one of the world’s most successful animation studios ever. The story of Pixar by Ed Catmull is fantastic.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Isaacson is an brilliant storyteller and he gets Steve Jobs, the good and the bad. Don’t read this to become Steve Jobs, read this to understand how one of the most brilliant product creators of all time thought about the world. In the Company of Giants also has some amazing insights into Jobs’ incredible mind.

Sprint

Going from idea to testable prototype in 5 days from Jake Knapp. Do one and get hooked on testing ideas and failing fast.

The Mom Test

At the end of your design sprint, you’ll need to ask your customers the right questions. Read the Mom Test to understand what never to ask.

Hooked

By Nir Eyal as an intro to engagement loops.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things

Because nothing is easy about building product and Ben Horowitz knows it better than anyone. This books is an incredible account of Ben’s journey as company founder and product builder.

Rework

The guys at Basecamp (Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson) know perfectly well that everything people say “is the way it has to be” about building a company is wrong. In fact, they’ve built a great company that proves it.


Working in Product? Here’s some recommended reading was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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