Product Owners are an integral part of any product development team. They act as a proxy for the user, own and refine the product backlog, and communicate across shareholders. As a leadership position, it’s important for product owners to have the drive to learn and improve their skills. Some of the biggest names in product development have written books to help product owners do just that.
Read on to learn more about what kinds of books you should read as a product owner, and the 7 books to add to your product owner reading list today.
What should a product owner read?
Product owner is a unique position in a product development team, and the books a product owner reads should help them develop the skills they need to do their jobs.
A product owner focuses on understanding the customer or user and represents them at every stage of the product development lifecycle. This includes strategizing a product vision that meets the actual needs of users, advising product planning to ensure that the team is meeting user needs, and refining the product backlog according to user priorities.
A product owner has to be in communication with various stakeholders to ensure that the product is meeting the needs of users and the company, and they also work closely with the product manager to ensure that the team is prioritizing user needs.
This role requires communications skills and high-level, innovative decision-making to define the vision of the product. To be a great product owner, you should therefore read books that help you develop these leadership skills. These 7 recommended books for product owners do just that.
What are the best books to learn product owner skills?
Here are 7 must-read books for product owners, both new and experienced.
Because we usually find product owners on agile teams, most of these books assume the implementation of some sort of agile methodology. These books can also be useful to any product manager working in the waterfall framework, to adopt some perspectives of agile and scrum frameworks.
1. User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development, by Mike Cohn
When you’re thick in the weeds of iterative product development and troubleshooting, it can be easy to lose sight of the customer. User Stories Applied by Mike Cohn gives a simple solution for how a product owner can remain connected to the user’s needs and wants, so they can integrate them seamlessly into product development.
In case you’re not familiar with the author, Mike Cohn contributed to the development of scrum and is the founder of the Scrum Alliance. He is also the founder of Mountain Goat Software, a project management consulting and training firm. His book, Agile Estimating and Planning, is also a great resource for product owners.
In User Stories Applied, Mike Cohn defines “user stories” as clear and simple descriptions of functionality that can be valuable to real users. Cohn advocates for integrating these user stories into product development. User Stories Applied gives easy-to-follow instructions for how to write user stories, how to present them to stakeholders, and how to integrate them into the product development lifecycle. Product owners can use user story mapping to stay connected to the user, and help translate the needs of the user to the product development team.
User Stories Applied is a great book to keep coming back to. Every chapter provides practice questions and exercises, making it a great resource to keep on hand.
2. Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want, by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Barnarda, and Alan Smith
If you’ve ever sat in frustrating meetings where product managers are pitching ideas but never following through with them, then this book is for you.
Value Proposition Design comes from the same team that wrote Business Model Generation, an invaluable tool for startups and corporations alike. Like Business Model Generation, this book employs easy-to-understand language along with colorful charts and graphs to display information in a smart way.
Product owners can use the book’s central tool, the Value Proposition Canvas to design, test, create, and manage products that customers want. The book advocates for putting the customer at the center of idea generation. It also provides a simple and low-cost way to test ideas, so your team isn’t sinking resources into a product that isn’t viable.
This book is a great resource for helping product owners understand what makes a great value proposition and how to lead their team to making the right product.
3. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice The Work in Half The Time, by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland
You’ve likely already read the foundational book The Scrum Guide by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland, and if you haven’t, then consider The Scrum Guide an honorary mention on our list. While The Scrum Guide lays out the basics of scrum, Jeff Sutherland’s newer book with his son, J.J. Sutherland, shows you real-world examples of scrum implementation.
As the co-creator of the scrum framework, anything that Jeff Sutherland writes is a great resource for any scrum master.
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice The Work in Half The Time takes you to the “front lines” to see how leaders are applying scrum beyond product development teams to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. From bringing the FBI into the 21st century to helping transform NPR, the book makes lofty claims about what scrum can do.
While Scrum sometimes reads like a Jeff Sutherland biography, it’s definitely an inspiration. When your backlog seems impossibly long and problems seem near unsolvable, Scrum is a great resource to remind you that as a scrum product owner, you can always move forward by going back to the fundamental principles of Scrum.
Sprints are a key part of a scrum team, and so is ensuring that your team has enough uninterrupted time Focus Time. Clockwise automates you and your team’s calendar so you can make progress on your backlog.
4. The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
The Lean Startup is a great resource for product owners at any level of organization, not just those working at startups. This book is all about how to make a big impact by using less resources.
Eric Ries has been in startups since 2001, so he knows what it takes to create a product that users want.
The main framework of the book is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. The idea is to build an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) that customers can test. This should be the smallest possible product that allows you to test an idea in front of live users. Then measure the outcomes of the user testing using clear metrics. Were users interested in your product? Did people use it the way you thought they would? The next step is to learn from your measurements to consider the next step in improving upon the product according to user specification. The loop then goes back to creating the next minimal viable improvement to test again.
This book is invaluable in reminding product owners that the question isn’t, Can this product be built? Instead, product owners should ask questions like: Should we build this? Can we build a sustainable business around this product? The Lean Startup gives product owners a low-investment methodology for creating a successful product.
5. Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact With Software Products and Projects, by Gojko Adžić
One of the main goals in creating any product is to make an impact — whether we measure that impact monetarily or by its ability to disrupt or transform. Impact Mapping by Gojko Adžić provides a roadmap for product owners to define their product’s impact and communicate that impact with stakeholders.
Gojko Adžić is a software delivery consultant and co-founder of MindMup, an online mind-mapping app.
This book is a treasure trove of practical advice for product owners to facilitate collaborative strategic planning, and to advocate for the impact of the product at every stage of development. Adžić advocates for creating a product roadmap that ensures an alignment of business goals and product development, from the very beginning. The book guides readers through how to communicate impact and assumptions more effectively to development teams, how to engage their teams to make better strategic decisions, and how to manage the product backlog with the bigger picture in mind.
The methods in this book fit nicely into agile product management and complement the tools explored in some of the other books on this list, like the Lean Startup.
Having difficulty getting everyone into the same room for strategic planning? Flexible Meetings by Clockwise automatically chooses the best time for everyone’s schedule to set a meeting. If anyone’s schedule changes, Clockwise updates the time of the meeting, so you can spend more time pitching your ideas, instead of fielding scheduling emails.
6. Strategize: Product Strategy and Product Roadmap Practices for the Digital Age, by Roman Pichler
Does it feel like no matter how many sprints you do, your product backlog keeps getting bigger? So big that you don’t even know what to prioritize anymore? Then Strategize, by Roman Pichler is the book for you.
Roman Pichler is a leader in the world of project management consulting, specializing in agile methods and digital products.
Strategize is a great introduction to product management and ownership, which makes it a must-read for new product owners. The first part covers product strategy and vision and how to set KPIs. The second part of the book is all about creating a solid product roadmap.
Strategize is also a great resource for more seasoned product owners who need to get their relationship between their product backlog and roadmap right again.
7. Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan
Inspired is the kind of book that product owners can keep coming back to for a healthy dose of inspiration, and to spark some more creative big-picture thinking. Marty Cagan is the leader of the Silicon Valley Product Group and has over 20 years of experience in product ownership with successful businesses like eBay, AOL, Netscape Communications, and Hewlett-Packard.
In this book, Marty Cagan maps out how exactly some of the biggest names in tech — Amazon, Facebook, Google — create products that billions of people love and use. In addition to inspiring stories from the tech world, Inspired talks about how to strategize your own product roadmap. What sets this book apart from the others on this list is the focus on how to structure and staff your product team. As a product owner, you are a team leader, and Marty Cagan’s book gives useful information about how to find the right kind of talent for your team, as well as how to lead your team effectively.
Reading books from industry leaders is a great way for product owners to continue to evolve their skills. These 7 books are some of the best books for product owners to keep on their shelves and refer back to. Did you know that you can put your reading list on LinkedIn? Having any of these books on your reading list signals to employers that you are serious about developing your product owner skills.
Being a product owner is a dynamic job that requires communication with multiple stakeholders, team management skills, and creative thinking. Clockwise helps to automate your schedule and protect your Focus Time, so you can spend more time on your product backlog, and less time on scheduling.
Are you interested in how Clockwise can improve productivity for you and your team? Get started for free today.