Book Review: The Product Manager’s Desk Reference

OK, here is a long overdue review on The Product Manager’s Desk Reference by Stephen Haines.

Quick Summary

This 704 page tome is huge and not exactly a thrilling read.  The Cranky Product Manager highly doubts there is a bidding war on for the movie rights.  But nonetheless it is an excellent reference that  has something for everyone, from the novice product manager to the VP of Products with 20 years of product experience.

It covers the entire spectrum of product management activities, and provides excellent ideas, approaches, and ways of thinking for each activity.  Over a 3-month period, the CPM found herself reaching for this book often — more than any other book in her product management library.  The Cranky Product Manager strongly recommends The Product Manager’s Desk Reference.

Caveats and Mild Criticisms: This book is industry neutral, and thus applies to industries ranging from software to financial products to automobiles.  As such, coverage of software-specific topics (working with Agile development teams, Beta testing, …)  was limited or non-existent.  It is also biased toward large companies with lots of resources, management layers, and processes, although there is good stuff in here for startup PMs too — ESPECIALLY THE STUFF ON PRODUCT STRATEGY.

To make this book a bit more exciting and to help the information “stick”, the book might have benefited from examples and case studies.  But maybe the author will follow up with this in a future book (?).

Get the Kindle version (if you have a Kindle , that is). In the Cranky Product Manager’s mind, this book is the perfect application for a Kindle.   As a PM, you might very well want access to this book’s valuable content while on the road, but your arms will snap off if you have to carry it through an airport (although it might come in handy as a weapon).

More Detailed Review

Seems like The Product Manager’s Desk Reference contains pretty much everything the author knows about product management – and he knows a LOT – all in one 704-page book. It is the most comprehensive tome book on product management that the Cranky Product Manager has ever encountered.

At first, the Cranky Product Manager tried to read this book cover-to-cover.  Two months later, she gave up.  She then tested the book by using it as a REFERENCE for the tasks she was doing at work – to get new ideas, make sure she was covering all the bases, etc.  And SHOCKINGLY the book worked much better as a reference than as a novel.

(You’d think the Cranky PM would have realized this months earlier given the book’s title, but no one ever accused the CPM of being WICKED SMAAHHT or anything.)

The Product Manager’s Desk Reference gave great ideas and advice for the following activities that the Cranky PM did between November ’08 and February ’09:

  1. Win-Loss analysis – OK coverage.
  2. Product strategy - This is the meat of the book, spanning several chapters, so the coverage is excellent.  The PMDR  is probably the best resource for product strategy and product portfolio strategy out there.
  3. Competitive analysis – Excellent coverage (chapter 7)
  4. Product requirements - Excellent coverage (chapter 13)
  5. Market segmentation, targeting and positioning - Excellent coverage. Chapter 8 covers it in detail.
  6. Forecasting - Excellent coverage – probably the best discussion of forecasting for product managers out there.  Chapter 9 is all about this.
  7. Working with teams that use agile development methodologies – no coverage
  8. Using social networking technologies to improve product management – no coverage
  9. Product Evaluation guides – no coverage
  10. Beta testing - some coverage, but more of the “you should have a Beta test” variety without any specifics.


  1. Beth Robinson

    I’m not a Product Manager yet, although I’m trying to become one, and I learned a great deal about what would be expected of me and ways I could improve my skills while in my current position by reading this book. And, yes, I did read it cover to cover, although I don’t recommend that approach. It’s not that it’s difficult to read, all the info is very well presented, there’s just so much of it!

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>