The role of program manager at Microsoft is unique. I say that because very few external candidates who interview at Microsoft have done the job of a PM and quite a few have never heard of it before. I also say this because if you ask ten different PMs at Microsoft to define what it is a PM does, you will likely get ten different answers (and they are all right). My favorite definition goes something like this: there are three classic roles at Microsoft that do product development. You have the developers who write the code. You have the testers who ensure that code is correct. And you have PMs who don't write code or test it. Seriously though, I can provide some basic statement that PMs formulate plans and execute them but that just isn't a satisfying answer for many.
You can imagine then how difficult it can be to train PMs or learn to become one yourself. I haven't found anything more effective than try, fail, learn, repeat. But you can arm yourself with some basic knowledge to make the failures softer and the learning more productive. I thought I would share my favorite reading material that I consider essential for any PM. This started as an e-mail I was going to send my team internally but then I thought why not share this with the world ;-)
The Art of Project Management, by Scott Berkun
This one is a no brainer. Written by a former and very successful Microsoft program manager, it's the PM 101 primer. I don't agree 100% with everything in it, but there is more to learn than to discount in this book. I actually hand most new PMs a copy of this to start. Thank you Mr. Berkun.
A Whole New Mind, by Dan Pink
nosce te ipsum. There are a whole class of books out there that fit this mould and this is just a great example of the genre. Know Thyself. Self-awareness is a critical skill for any PM and this book does a great job revealing a whole different side of us. Also check out Blink
The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Thomas Kelley
IDEO wrote the book (literally) on innovation. I enjoy all of his books, but this is the most directly actionable one that I have read so far. Ideas are easy; innovation is tough. We like to go big at Microsoft and this book has some great tips for going beyond the ordinary.
Presentation Zen, by Garr Reynolds
As a PM, you do a lot of PowerPoint presentations, most of them poorly. Read the book to understand why.
The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman
Bad design is easy, commonplace, and unnecessary. This is a very quick introduction to a rich and complex topic, but hopefully it puts you in the right frame of mind at least.
Rebel Without a Crew, by Robert Rodriguez
Some people use the word "passion" almost casually. To be successful at anything (including a PM), you should have an appreciation for what passion is really about. This book is as good an explanation as I have found.