April 19, 2020

Management Reading List

Many of us have more free time than we expected right now. As a result, I’ve gotten a number of requests for my management reading list, since I’m known to read a lot of books on management — I will effectively buy any management book someone recommends to see if there’s any value to glean from it.

What follows is a list of all the management books I’ve read, broken into some rough sections.

I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jacob Kaplan-Moss, not just for his continued guidance and support, but for his reading list for new engineering managers, which was the starting point for this list.

Essentials

If you have not read these, go buy them right now and read them. They are part of my essential toolkit as a manager.

High Output Management by Andy Grove

This is the book I recommend to every new manager, or everyone who wants to become a manager. Andy Grove nailed most of modern management in a concise volume two decades ago. I like this book so much I wrote a post on touring the breakfast factory.

The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman

A fantastic nuts-and-bolts reference on what it’s actually like to be a modern manager of knowledge workers. I don’t agree with every opinion, but the amazing thing about this book is that you could follow it word-for-word and be better than 70% of managers.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

This book changed my thinking on what it means to be a manager, and helped reset my thoughts on who my peers are as a manager. Spoiler: Your peers are now the other managers at your level, and how you handle that can make or break your company.

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox

I normally hate business fiction”, because I would prefer real stories. The Goal is that rarest of business fiction tales that crosses into being a good parable. The message: What actually controls your business’ output is constraints, and you need some concrete theories on getting a handle on them.

Mind-openers

These are books I thoroughly enjoyed, and which have changed my thinking on how to be a better manager. Although they’re not as critical as the Essentials, they’re worth reading.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

This is a classic for a reason. The GTD system is useful for dealing with the deluge that comes at you as a manager, and the more you can exhibit the system in your own life the more productive you’ll be. The nicest part for me is that even half-adopting it makes you more productive.

The Checklist Manifesto bt Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto pairs nicely with GTD. Both books are trying to convince you that your brain is meant for having ideas, not holding them. By the end of this, you’re hopefully convinced that all the rituals you go through with your team on a regular basis ought to be repeatable checklists, and that you’ll be faster as a result.

Powerful by Patty McCord

This is the infamous Netflix Culture Deck” in book form, and it changed my thinking on how to hire, fire, and evaluate team members for high-performing teams. I went into the book with one idea about the Netflix philosophy and came out appreciating it more.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

The Basecamp founders have been writing about their work practices for years, and this is the latest iteration of their work practices. Each chapter is full of ideas that made me reconsider my beliefs on the optimal environment and motivation for people to do their best work.

The Practicals

This set of books is worth reading, especially after you’ve gone through the first two sets. The first three of these are solid works that will help engineering managers especially, and the last is an approach to leadership that I found fascinating.

An Elegant Puzzle by Will Larson

I had the great fortune of working with Will at Stripe. In An Elegant Puzzle, he brings his thoughtfulness and growth mindset to the problem of managing engineers, and provides a playbook on how to build good engineering teams.

The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier

If you’re just starting on the path of moving from engineer to manager, or trying to decide if that path is right for you, read this book. It lays out the entire managment career path from IC to CTO, and does a great job explaining how the role changes along the way.

Managing Humans by Michael Lopp

Rands, yes that rands, from rands in repose, wrote a book on management! This is that book. The first half of the book is full of excellent stories about practicing the craft of being an Engineering Manager. The second half of the book is full of less-excellent stories on the same topic.

The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Dethmer, Chapman, and Klemp

There are some truly fantastic ideas in this book, all centered around one core idea: As you go through your day as a leader, are you above the line or below the line? The first two-thirds of this book dive deep into this management philosophy in way that really resonated with me. That last third went in a power of positive thinking” direction that didn’t land with me as well.

Et Al.

These books are fine and entertaining books to read if you have the time, but they didn’t make a big impact on me or my management style.

Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury, and Patton

Getting to Yes is a classic for negotiators and those who regularly have to ngeotiate, like managers. I found the ideas useful to help me reframe negotiations around a shared goal. I would have rather read this book as a long blog post or whitepaper.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie

This book was a very fun read, but I can’t say I really learned anything. Ostensibly, it’s a guide to staying creative in the face of corporate domination. I found it to be more of a manager’s memoir, and in that light it’s fabulous.

Ask a Manager by Allison Green

Allison Green runs a very popular blog by the same name. This book is effectively a copy of the best posts from that blog, with some extra footnotes and thoughts. If you read her blog and are hungry for more, this book is for you.


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Maker <-> Puzzler Every engineer I’ve met falls somewhere on this spectrum: One side is Maker, the people who like engineering because they like building things.