10 Business and Strategy Books for Curious Product Managers
February 7, 2018

10 Business and Strategy Books for Curious Product Managers

by Melissa Hopkins

“I am just too busy to read.” This is what people usually say when I ask for book recommendations. But are you really too busy? I would argue that there are things you could probably limit or remove to make room for even 15 minutes of reading each day. One less Netflix binge? Not checking social media before bed?

To help our team at Aha! grow, we build out specialized training programs. One of my favorite things that we do as a team is read a book together twice a year. We share our thoughts in person at our offsites and fold the lessons we learned into our work.

I think that most of us are natural self-improvers — we all want to keep learning and growing.

What about you? Your knowledge of everything related to your work may run both wide and deep. But I bet you are also constantly seeking new things to learn and ways to gain skills — areas such as negotiation, tenacity, and communication.

Recently, I went looking for books focused on business strategy. I did a Google search thinking there would already be several good lists. But I was in for a surprise — I could not find one that fit the unique requirements of a product manager. So I decided to put one together, with input from our team at Aha!

Here are a few of our favorite business and strategy books:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
“This book was eye opening. It is written as a fable, so it is a much more engaging read than your typical business book. It provides some great insights into why some teams succeed and others fail, as well as lessons on building a high-performing team. As a product manager, try reading it with cross-functional co-workers and working through the exercises together. It is sure to improve the dynamic on the team and may just set you up for success.” — Austin Merritt

For the Win! by Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter
“This was the book that helped define ‘gamification.’ I was fascinated by Werbach’s take on how games work and how they can be used in business and life to drive engagement. It helped inform my work as a product manager by teaching me important lessons on what motivates people and how to design experiences that people keep coming back to.” — Tom Bailey

Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen“Based on theories backed up by empirical evidence and case study examples, this book was a fascinating and factual insight into why some companies thrive in the face of adversity while others do not fair so well. It challenges you to focus on developing skills to deal with any situation and to set a cadence for big goals so that, no matter how ambitious, you can sustain steady progress to achieve them.” — Justin Woods

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
“I dislike the word ‘viral’ because that makes something seem like a fad, when ultimately you want long-term engagement in your products. But this book makes good points about creating ‘viral loops’ that your customers want to come back to over and over again. Even if you don’t have a consumer application (or an application at all) the idea of creating interest and love with your customers so that they want to come back over and over again can be applied to any business.” — Dru Clegg

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
“When I think about the best strategic product managers, they have the uncanny ability to build great relationships with key team members and customers. They lead cross-functional business planning despite a lack of clear authority over the entire organization. In other words, it all starts with people. In the end, what is the greatest strategy in the world — if you have burned bridges and alienated those whose help you need to achieve it?” — Danny Archer

Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson
“With 27 years at the top of his profession, Sir Alex is the most successful football manager in British history and went on to lecture at Harvard Business School. He is the master of reinvention and renowned for his broad strategic oversight and attention to detail. His teams were winners, yet no one player was ever allowed to become bigger than the team. He was never reluctant to let a star player go to preserve the balance of the club. Anyone in a leadership role can learn from Sir Alex’s work.” — Steve Dagless

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
“This book focuses on the power of communication and the key elements of getting an idea to stick. As the champions and stewards of ideas, product managers should heed these authors’ lessons on why some messages take hold while others are neglected and forgotten. The book includes a wealth of success stories and examples to draw from so you can implement the learnings in your own organization.” — Ron Yang

The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
“So much of strategy and planning is about prioritization. This book is an incredible reminder about the power of focus — avoiding complexity in business and in life. Putting the ‘one thing’ that is most important first, then making sure you get it done. Our team at Aha! uses the scorecards in our own software, which allows us to prioritize features according to how well they will deliver against goals. It simplifies the decision process by lending objectivity and transparency to prioritization.” — Keith Brown

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell“We always hear heroic stories about individuals who have reached the heights of their profession, but we tend to gloss over the long road that these people have likely taken to get there. We also may be unaware of the trends and advantages in those people’s lives that gave them a higher probability to achieve that success. The book’s lessons about people help me empathize and better understand human behavior.” — Randy Ayers

Wait, What? by James E. Ryan
“This book started as a commencement speech. Due to the overwhelming praise it received for its simple message, the author decided to turn it into a book. What it teaches us is that true wisdom comes from asking the right people the right questions at the right time. In so much of what we do as product managers, showing overt curiosity can inform our decisions and point us in the right direction.” — Tahlia Sutton

Acquiring new skills and knowledge is an investment in yourself and your company.

It makes you a more valuable teammate and it can even keep your brain sharp. Each one of these books can help you bring more to your role and contribute even more to your company’s success.

Yes, most product managers are extremely busy. But I think it is still important to squeeze in a bit more time for reading and self-improvement. I trust you will find these reads worthy of the effort.

Which business strategy books do you recommend?

Melissa Hopkins

Melissa loves using technology to help people solve their problems. She is the VP of Customer Success at Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software. Melissa has more than 20 years of business and software experience. Previously, she managed teams at Citrix across consulting, education, supply chain operations, and IT.

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