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 …
Delivery & Product books
⮑ User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton
⮑ When Coffee and Kale Compete by Alan Klement
⮑ Lean Startup by Eric Ries
⮑ Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed
⮑ Good to Great by Jim Collins
⮑ Radical Candor by Kim Scott
Books about people!
⮑ Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
⮑ Mindset by Carol Dwyek
⮑ Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath
Books about Systems Thinking
⮑ Upstream by Dan Heath
⮑ Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows
Business analysis specific books
⮑ Software Requirements Essentials by Karl Wiegers and Candase Hokanson
⮑ Business Analyst: A Profession and a Mindset by Julia Kosarenko
I really enjoy the product and delivery end of the business analysis spectrum. And happily, there’s a great many books in this space, but only four (so far) that have shaped how I approach my work.
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 👏).
When Coffee and Kale Compete is a book about the Jobs-To-Be-Done approach. In it, Alan proposes a theory for why customers buy products and how you can harness that thinking in your own work. The tagline for the book is “Become Great at Making Products People Will Buy.”
While the book doesn’t include details on how to apply this approach (although Alan has written extensively elsewhere about application of the techniques, most helpfully by creating the ”job story” format for requirements), it is descriptive enough to help shape how you think about customers and their needs. Klement has significantly influenced my analysis approach and how I structure and decompose requirements.
There are elements of both jobs-to-be-done and story mapping in every project I do. They are, by far, the most helpful framings I’ve found for conceptualising who is using a product or system and why.
Side note: There are a couple of competing applications of the phrase “Jobs-To-Be-Done” out there and this is Alan Klement’s version of it. Alan actually addresses the controversy about the phase and how it is used in the appendix of his book.
Download When Coffee and Kale Compete here (for free 👏) or buy When Coffee and Kale Compete on Amazon (not free 😭).
This is the original startup book.
It is a bit dated now—certainly 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 (not free 😭)
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.
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! Start With Why by Simon Sinek was the one that missed the cut by a mere fraction!—although it is on the re-read list, so maybe I’ll change my mind and update this article to include it.
But honestly I hate most management books. I find them surprisingly unhelpful at most things, including, ironically, 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 management books:
“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.
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!)
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 (other than requirement writing), how best to work with people is it!
The following four books helped me to understand people better, and therefore to be a better BA.
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.
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.
Get Mindset here.
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.
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. Training from the Back of the Room is one of those books that agile coaches and trainers get all gooey over on LinkedIn. And for good reason! It has simple concepts and instructions that help you to think about facilitation in a 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 trainer 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, 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 Training from the Back of the Room here.
Things interact in interesting ways, sometimes annoyingly so. Often, our job is to pick them apart, and then work out what happened. Systems thinking can help!
Want to know more? Then read these:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙌