PM Onboarding: Reading List

Product Management Reading List

This is part one in a two part series about our process at Return Path for Onboarding new Product Managers. Part two will cover our 90 day goals to ensure we’re setting PMs up for success.

We had a great panel last week during Boulder Startup Week where I mentioned in one of my answers that we had a rigorous on-boarding process for new Product Managers. This has sparked a surprising interest in the reading list and I thought I would share in more detail.

Here are the list of 5 books that are required reading for our Product team along with the why each book is included:


Getting Things Done by David Allen

Product Managers are always swamped with work and often have multiple different contexts to switch to throughout the day. If you cannot implement a system for managing your work and ensuring your productivity, you won’t survive. This is THE book for productivity management. It tops the list because it’s critical to hit the ground running and also it’s much easier to establish a productivity system before you’re overrun with the minutia of the day to day.

The important take away from the book is the Getting Things Done (GTD) system.  The point isn’t to get religious about the system, but rather understand the principles and implement the basic tenets of GTD in a way that will work for you. The outcome should result in inbox zero and a focus on the important, not just urgent, tasks. If you are still using your mind to remember and recall the tasks that you need to do, then you aren’t doing the system correctly! Getting your to do list out of your head and will ensure you’re much more productive.

If you’re running GMail for your corporate mail I would also highly recommend a much more robust task list system. Gmail tasks are the worst!


The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Hopefully everyone reading this post has read, or is at least aware of the book, The Lean Startup. Eric’s book covers a lot of ground.  It sets out the language and concepts to incorporate Lean thinking throughout the Product organization. He does a great job of walking through many different concepts and and establishes frameworks we use throughout both our Product and Engineering teams.

The key concepts including: experimentation, a build/measure/learn feedback loop, continuous deployment, KPIs/metrics, minimal viable product (MVP), pivots, and more.  All of these tools are critical to understand as early as possible, when joining our organization. Although all Product Managers will have exposure to these tools while working at our company, it’s important to learn about the theory and the why behind them before you start working within our tailored versions.


Running Lean by Ash Maurya

We use the Lean Canvas for talking through new products or business opportunities. It’s a lightweight way to capture our current assumptions and easy to share with other groups within the organization.

Running Lean provides a complete understanding of the Lean Canvas.  It covers how to implement the Lean Canvas as well as providing tactical steps to start working through the various sections of the canvas. Other organizations have aligned around the business model canvas from which Lean is adapted, but we like the Lean Canvas as it’s slightly more tailored towards product discovery and the book paired with his online videos provides a nice training for new PMs.


Inspired by Marty Cagan

We’re big fans of Marty Cagan and have brought him in to do consulting and also send new Product Managers to do the 2 day trainings he offers through his consulting practice. In addition to his books, I also highly recommend his Silicon Valley Product Group blog, which is a great resource for any Product Manager.

Marty’s book walks you through the structure and roles of the various groups that interact with Product Managers. The big takeaway, and the reasons we recommend his book, are the utilization of UX within the Product team and the triad for doing discovery. Prior to Marty we didn’t have UX as a function in the company and he was instrumental to help us establish the practice.


Escape Velocity by Geoffrey Moore

Geoffrey’s book packs a lot of information and concepts into a normal sized business book. It contains 10+ frameworks/models and recaps several others from his previous books. It’s a lot for anyone to digest, but the most valuable part for our company is understanding and establishing language for managing a portfolio of products/businesses. The Horizon’s model, its context and how to avoid the pitfalls, is the most important model within the book for our PMs and the reason we have everyone to read it. It’s critical as a Product Manager to understand if you’re managing a Horizon 1 product vs. Horizon 3 product. Each type has a different criteria for management and  success. Those differences at the high level spill into the both the strategic and tactical decisions. The Horizon model, paired with his Return on Innovation model, can really start to shape the types of features and guide the work you need to do on each product.

Overall, we don’t mandate an order for all of the books to be read in, but if you’re uncertain I have listed them in the order I would suggest tackling the books for a new Product Manager on my team. It’s absolutely the most important to get a productivity system and ramped into the Lean skills before tackling a portfolio of products.

Let me know in the comments whether you agree or disagree. What books would you add to this list?


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