The Jimmy book club!

Background reading to help you be BAwesome™️

If Jimmy ran a book club, this would be the reading list!

The books I’ve included are those that have influenced, inspired, and/or challenged my BA work the most. It’s a varied list, which makes sense because the business analyst role is itself varied.

It is also a work in progress. My to-read list is long. I hope I’ll find new books to add, and further that there will be books that drop off the list over time. Please let me know what I’ve missed, and what books I should read next because you think that they belong here!

After all, the easiest way to keep learning is to keep reading

Book list updated 12/01/2024
It has been more than 6 months since I published this article and I wanted to make sure the list was still awesome (spoiler: it is!) so I’ve reviewed and updated it! This update includes shuffling around the list, a book removal, a book addition, and tweaking the text for clarity!

The full list:

Product books
User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton
Demand Side Sales by Bob Moesta

Business books
Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Good to Great by Jim Collins

Books about people!
Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath
Liberating Structures by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless
Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed
Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Books about Thinking
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Upstream by Dan Heath
Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

Personal development books
Mindset by Carol Dwyek
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Business analysis specific
Software Requirements Essentials by Karl Wiegers and Candase Hokanson
Business Analyst: A Profession and a Mindset by Julia Kosarenko

Product books

I really enjoy the product and delivery end of the business analysis spectrum. And happily, there’s a great many books in this space (and many on the to-read list), but I only want to highlight two of them here.

Both these books have shaped how I approach my work in a really fundamental way.

Product books for the Jimmy book list including User story mapping by Jeff Patton, and 
Demand side sales by Bob Moesta

User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton

I’m a self-confessed Jeff Patton fan. And I recently re-read his flagship book: User Story Mapping. You know … just to check that it was as good as I remembered. 😉

And I can confirm that it is as good as I remembered. And more.

This book is pretty foundational to how I work.

How do I tackle a gig? Honestly, I essentially do as much of the approach outlined in this book that I can get away with: from collaborative decomposition to workshops to opportunity canvases. This book started it all for me. I do like to think that I add some emoji-littered ⚡️sprinkles⚡️ to Jeff’s approach … but that’s probably debatable.

This book will, of course, teach you the story mapping method (a collaborative backlog decomposition approach that Jeff created). But it will do much more: it will help you to reframe your business analysis in service of a shared understanding from business to development.

I’m not overstating it when I say that this book rocked my world! Really. Also, it cracked me up regularly. Jeff Patton is a funny guy.

Get User Story Mapping here (not free) or read lots of great thinking on Jeff’s website (totally free 👏).

Demand Side Sales by Bob Moesta

Even if you feel like you know all about jobs-to-be-done – you have watched all the interviews, read all the articles, and feel like you get it – you still have plenty of reasons to read this book!

It is surprisingly easy and fun to read with lots of stories that make the content easy to understand.

In short, Demand Side Sales is about reframing how customers interact with your product, from business-centric perspective on the customer (supply-side) to focusing on how your product helps your customers make progress.

But the best part isn’t the stories or the tone (Bob maintains an easy conversational tone throughout), it’s the underlying framework of jobs-to-be-done. The customer buying journey is easy to understand, yet powerful. And the framework around the buyer’s struggling moment is deceptively simple, yet hugely illustrative!

So, if you were operating under the mistaken assumption that you had read so much about jobs-to-be-done that reading Demand Side Sales isn’t necessary … You are wrong! Just as I was!

Ground yourself in your customer’s journey by reading this.

Get Demand-Side Sales here

Business books

It feels like a business analysis book list should have more than just two books! 😳

I know, I know, there are many books that I could have included here!

But honestly I hate most business books. I find them surprisingly unhelpful at most things, including, not least, management! But to avoid sidetracking us into a long article about all the over-hyped business books that are just plain terrible, let’s introduce our two good business books:

Business books for the Jimmy book list include Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and Good to great by Jim Collins.

Lean Startup by Eric Ries

This is the original startup book.

It is a tad dated—there certainly was no chatGPT when this was written—but there are still good lessons to learn.

And learning is what the lean startup is all about. Learning about your customers, learning what they want, and learning what they’ll pay for and whether they’ll buy your idea. Oh, and learning which of your assumptions are wrong AF.

It isn’t just for those working in start-ups! Some of the techniques are fully applicable for those of us working in established ventures and without a massive capital fund to burn through.

I must admit that while re-reading it, I was somewhat irritated at the use of MVP to represent a unit of learning (boy, is this the most overused concept of all time???), but, if that’s the only thing that I can complain about, then I think that we can keep the book on the Jimmy reading list!

Lean Startup set me on the path to understanding product management. I also credit it with kicking off the process of reframing my thinking about value from org-centric to customer-centric.

Get Lean Startup here

Good to Great by Jim Collins

“Business” is baked into the name of the business analyst role. So it makes sense that we should understand what good business looks like.

The truth is, most of what you believe about what makes good business is bullshit. And Jim Collins did the research to back that statement up!

He reviewed the performance of more than a thousand companies and identified eleven companies that became great. Then he dug into what makes those companies successful. The results challenge everything we’ve been sold about success stories and big egos.

If you’re working in the private sector, or want to, this is a good primer. It is a little dated now, but even so, it is still a great read. At bare minimum, it made me more suspicious of the hero CEO schtick, which is reason enough to include it here.

You can read a summary of Good to Great here. Or get the full Good to Great book here.

Books about people

Business analysts spend much, if not most, of their time eliciting information from, communicating information to, and building understanding with people! So if there is any expertise worth seeking on the quest to become a better BA, how people work is it!

The following four books helped me to understand and work with people better.

Books about people for the Jimmy book list include Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath, Liberating Structures by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless, Rebel ideas by Matthew Syed, and Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath

Until reading this book, I honestly hadn’t realised how much of what I do is all about making decisions: decisions about functionality, decisions about priority, decisions about next steps, decisions about approach.

And because I’m a contractor, decisions about what role to take next!

ALL business analysts front into their decisions. This book was the most helpful overview—with detail—of how to make good decisions.

Immediately after reading this book, I found myself suggesting “let’s put some trip-wires in place for this”, and “do you think we need to widen our options here?” more often than I expected.

In short, if you’re human, and therefore have to make decisions, read this book. And if you’re a BA, who helps facilitate decisions: READ THIS BOOK. [Note: I am not saying that BA’s are not human.]

The WRAP decision-making framework is summarised in this free PDF.

But that doesn’t really give enough detail to action it in the wild properly IMHO. So, get the Decisive book here.

Liberating Structures by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless

Ever done a requirements review workshop and faced a sea of blank faces? Ever ended up reading a document line by line in an effort to get endorsement from stakeholders?

We all have. It’s bloody awful. And hard work.

There are so many things that we do as BAs that are more about facilitation and information sharing than anything else. Liberating structures is one of those books that have a cult following. And for good reason! It has simple concepts and instructions that help you to think about facilitation in an entirely new way.

Now, there is plenty in the book that I’m not likely ever to use unless I throw in the BA towel and become a full time facilitator or coach of some kind, but the few things that I have taken from this book have helped me to create both better engagement and better outcomes.

My recommendation: Read User Story Mapping first (see the product section), then bother with this book only if you’re doing facilitation regularly, or if facilitation is a skill that you want to improve!

Note: This isn’t really a book that you read from cover to cover, but more a book that you’ll reference when needed.

Get Liberating structures here.

Also great: Training from the back of the room. Consider getting this book if you are doing a lot of training in your role, or if teaching is of interest. There’s also a ton of courses and articles on this method so do an internet hunt before committing to the book!

Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed

Many books about innovation feel like really long pamphlets on how awesome the author is.

Thankfully, Rebel Ideas does not.

This is a book about how diverse teams make better decisions, are more innovative, and perform better. It covers topics such as collective blindness, constructive dissent, and how innovation actually works. It’s an informative and enjoyable read that will make you think hard about your team and how they work together.

It challenged (and changed) my thinking about stakeholders for the better through dire predictions and “black hat” thinking. I also suspect that it might have made me an all round better human being. But that’s slightly harder to prove. Yeah … I’m gonna go with it anyway.

I especially recommend it if you flinch from negative feedback. If you want to be great at business analysis (hell, any job), you must be able to cope with healthy debate. This book will help!

Get Rebel Ideas here or at most book sellers.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

I was once asked in an interview about my leadership approach and how I would manage a team of business analysts. I answered: “You know the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott? Yeah … I’d do what she says.”

I wasn’t being facetious at all.

Reading this book was a revelation to me. It articulated all the things that I look for in a boss and all the things that I aspire to be to the people that I’m managing or supporting.

I don’t manage people full time, so I have never been able to implement her systems completely. But elements of her approach have influenced how I mentor, manage stakeholders, and operate in a team. She avoids the “leadership” label, but at heart, that’s what this book is about. And you don’t need to be a “boss” to be a leader.

Get Radical Candor here.

(Note: there is a bit too much name dropping in the book for me, which is slightly eye-roll-inducing but comes with the management territory, I guess!)

Thinking books

Things interact in interesting ways, sometimes annoyingly so. Often, our job is to pick them apart, and then work out what happened.

In other words, the ability to think is pretty critical!

Here are three books that have helped me think:

Thinking books for the Jimmy book list including Upstream by Dan Heath,
Thinking in systems: a primer by Donella Meadows, and Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Thinking Fast and Slow is a popular book on psychology. Emphasis on the word popular. This book is so popular that including it here feels a bit cringey. It’s like the head cheerleader being crowned prom queen: totally expected (and therefore a bit lame).

The problem is this: the book really is that good!

In this bestseller, Daniel digs through cognitive biases, how we make choices, and how we humans experience life! And he will help you to see that we humans are rarely as rational as we like to think that we are!

I don’t want to belabour this description because there are already a million glowing reviews out there, but let me just say that the content of this book makes regular appearances in my mulling commentary. Such as when I’m reflecting on how something played out, or trying to puzzle out people’s responses to something. When I do, I look for applicable patterns from this book. Like a small Hannah-sounding-like-Daniel-Kahneman in my brain wondering if the issue has truly been framed correctly.

The reviews are right. You should read this book.

Get Thinking Fast and Slow here.

Upstream by Dan Heath

I enjoyed this book so much that within a day of finishing it I had already started one of his other books (Decisive—see the Being Human section above).

There is a reason that so many people rave about this book. It is a very easy-to-read, entertaining introduction to systems thinking, teeming with relatable examples and anecdotes!

It provides a happy balance between teaching you approaches to help you fix problems—rather than just addressing symptoms—and making the learning fun with amusing personal anecdotes.

It was entertaining enough to avoid feeling like learning, if that makes sense. 🛟

And the questions this book asks about impact and how to make sure that we’re doing things correctly are right up the alley of any serious business analyst.

Get Upstream here.

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows

This is a recent addition to my library, but a goodie.

Donella finished the first draft of this book in 1993, but died before it was published. I’m including this fact because reading this book feels like you’re listening to your smart-as-a-whip aunt who is helping you to understand how the world works.

And I mean that in the best possible way.

Littered with stories, great quotes, and diagrams with taps, and told in a matter-of-fact tone, Thinking in Systems made me mull. A lot. Like A LOT a lot. And trust me, I’m an obsessive muller, so that’s really saying something.

I haven’t entirely worked out how to apply systems thinking to my work (as you might have noticed), but I am convinced that systems thinking—and lots of reading on the topic—has made me more considered in my approach to business analysis.

Get Thinking in Systems: A Primer here.

Books for personal development

Excellence comes from growth.

And to set yourself up for growth, you need understand how you are holding yourself back.

These two books helped me:

Personal development books for the Jimmy bookclub include Mindset by Carol Dwyek, and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

Mindset by Carol Dwyek

Have you heard of the concepts of “fixed” and “growth” mindsets? Well, this book is where those concepts originated.

You are probably familiar with them. and you probably already know that you want a growth mindset.

Mindset is a necessary foundation to good business analysis. As a business analyst you are expected to be able to operate in situations where you often don’t know what’s happening (yet).

To cope, you need a healthy mindset. You need a growth mindset.

Even if you’re familiar with the concepts, I recommend that you read Mindset. I would have sworn that I had a growth mindset prior to reading Carol’s book, but her book challenged that belief. It helped me to build a much more nuanced view of my own mindset, which meant that I was able to chip away at the parts of my mindset that were holding me back (a work in progress I’ll admit!).

Get Mindset here.

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Every night before we go to sleep, my partner and I share 3 good things from that day that we’re grateful for.

We call the practice “Three things.”

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most mental-health benefiting activities I do regularly. And Shawn Achor is who gave me the original idea!

Shawn is a Happiness Researcher and his book “The Happiness Advantage” is based on the research he did on happiness while at Harvard University.

He explains that the commonly held formula for success is broken: success does not make us happy. In fact the opposite is true: happiness makes us successful!

But there is more! Shawn identified seven things – a gratefulness practice being one of them – that have a proven impact on your happiness! All delivered in an easy-to-read, actionable, no-nonsense way. 💪

Or at least watch Shawn’s TedX talk on his happiness research which is what convinced me to buy the book in the first place. Fair warning though, he delivers it at such high speed that you’ll get out of breath watching him 😳, but it’s an absolute blast 😆.

Get The Happiness Advantage here.

Business analysis

Important note: I one hundred percent know that this part of the list will change. I’m actively reading a stack of BA books, and it would be madness to think that none of them will make this list.

So, even more so than the previous sections, think of this section as a work in progress to which I fully intend to append! Until then, here are two business analysis books that I highly recommend.

Business analysis books for the Jimmy book club list including Software
requirements essentials by Karl Wiegers and Candase Hokanson, and Business
Analyst: A profession and a Mindset by Julia Kosarenko.

Software Requirements Essentials by Karl Wiegers and Candase Hokanson

The most recent addition to this list!

I don’t think that there is a better, more succinct summary of all things requirements and business analysis. Karl and Candase condense the essentials down to twenty that they’ve identified as the core practices for successful business analysis … which is perhaps the driest description of a book on this list.

The fun part is that Software Requirements Essentials is anything but dry. Karl and Candase have a sneaky wit and charm that makes the book not just informative, but fun. It is obvious that they really do love this stuff and do it well.

The book is fun to read and truly captures the essentials that you will need to create requirements well.

So, if you want to work in IT development, I cannot recommend the book too highly. And at one hundred and fifty-six pages (not counting appendices and the index), it is a remarkably easy read given the weightiness of their advice.

Get Software Requirements Essentials here.

Business Analyst: A Profession and a Mindset by Julia Kosarenko

A special recommendation for those just starting their BA careers!

I suspect that I learned all the lessons in this book the hard way—an approach I absolutely do not recommend. Do not do what I did! Instead, read this book.

It’s the first book I’ve read that captures the true scope of the BA role and the delicate balance that the role requires between analytical skills and people skills. By the end of the book, you’ll have a better handle on your role, you’ll have some great tips, and you’ll probably be excited about diagrams—as is only right!!!!

Get Business Analyst: A Profession and a Mindset on Amazon.

Closing remarks

And that’s the current Jimmy book club list! I know I’m missing some amazing books so please do hit me up on Linkedin or by email with your reading suggestions!

And, if you have any feedback! I’d love to know what you think of this article! 🙌