My top 10 books

· March 14, 2018

I often give out a lot of books tips in lectures and workshops, so instead of me typing and find links everywhere, I thought I’d put together a list of them here.

There are only 10, so if one is added another one needs to leave. That said - they are in no particular order.

For each, I’ve given a short little review and comment on why I like the book.

Toyota Kata - this book by Mike Rother is very interesting and useful. It describes how Toyota, inventors of Toyota Production System (that later became Lean) and the Toyota Way thinks. Because many organizations have tried to copy Toyota and failed - this book goes beyond the how and looks to the thinking, philosophy that makes the continuous improvement work.

Amazingly the book manages to do this in a very practical way and gives the reader many tools to implement and practice so that the kaizen mindset can be given room in your organization.

This is lean - I use diagrams from this book weekly if not daily. The book by Niclas Modig and Per Åhlström is by far the simplest explanation to what lean is all about I’ve read. The text was first written over a summer, as a quick research project for the Swedish government that needs to get a grasp of lean and its implications. Short after the publication in Swedish, it became obvious that the book needed spreading across the globe. Well worth a read - and to have a spare copy to give away.

A seat at the table - this is a gem I recently found. It’s written by Mark Schwartz and I’m going to cut from my previous review of it.

The book talks a lot about how the CIO role changes as lean and agile practices are adopted. Practices like DevOps, autonomous squads or automated testing all come with a change in mindset and culture and this, of course, needs to be adjusted for in how IT leaders lead their organizations. I particularly liked the part that made analogies with the open source culture and that of a modern, agile IT organization.

Creativity Inc. is a beautiful, honest and heartwarming description of how Pixar and their strong company culture works. It’s written, of course, by their founder Ed Catmull. The book walks us through the history of the company and how the culture and values were discovered as they went.

I think this book is important for IT folks to read, as we are also in a creative business, and hence need to lead in ways that allow for creativity to flow and spread. I especially love the parts where the author reflects on what didn’t work and how they improved it.

And the stories about my favourite characters and how they were brought to life.

The Goal - a process of ongoing improvement - this has to be the book I recommend the most out of all on this list. It’s a novel that teaches us the Theory of constraint. We came for the theory but stayed for the gripping story about Alex Rogo, his factory plant, his marriage that is breaking apart, his son and how he got out of it. A mysterious teacher, Jonah, comes in from time to time to teach Alex (and us) how to optimize flow with a few simple, yet powerful principles.

It’s the business novel that so many people have aspired to write, but few (no-one, really) ever could repeat. There’s also a comic book version now if you rather read that.

Switch, How to make a change when change is hard. After I read this book I almost felt like I was cheating. Because now I knew. I understood how to talk, and inform and educate in a way that made any change I’m proposing much more likely to stay.

I have blogged several times about this book and I cannot recommend it enough. Ted and Dan Heath have written easy to read, science-grounded, fun and story-packed book that anyone doing any change would be happy to have in their hands.

Corps Business, 30 management principles of US Marines. This is a little gem that not that many people has read. If you have Airforce, Army, and Navy - why would you need anything more? Well, US Marines has chaos and unpredictability as their normality.

This book describes how they work with values and culture to build small autonomous teams that still can cooperate with a larger unit to achieve amazing things where others fail. I’ve found the book highly inspiring and although I read it for the first time over 12 years ago, I still come back to it frequently.

Principles of product development flow. This is a must-read. But when you do you have to commit to reading it. Because it’s tough and dense. Don’t take my word for it, the author Dr Reinertseen, warns the reader about this in the foreword. A perfect book-club book.

But for those who dare - this is an absolute gem of a book. When I read it I saw many of the things that I just took as good practice and ideas explained and laid out in a new light. There are SO (175 principles I think) good things in this book that it’s hard to take in, really. But it’s well explained.

Read it slow and thoughtful and you will be rewarded with a much deeper understanding of what makes agile, lean and flow work. As well as being able to speak with your business in terms that they understand and relate to.

When will it be done is a marvellous book by Daniel Vacanti on process metrics. I was a fan from page 1. Maybe 2. What I particularly love about this book is that 1) he talks about prognosis from real data, rather than estimated value and 2) he lays down the way to track this data and plot the graphs as something very very simple.

Track start and stop date per item, calculate 50 and the 85 percentiles, create a histogram and a scatter chart and you are half-way there to the best process data you ever saw.

Turn the ship around is the amazing and lovely story about how Captain David L. Marquet completely turned the way a nuclear submarine worked upside down. From giving orders to giving intent and in doing so creating new leaders rather than mindless executors.

The book is packed with nuggets (nudges?) of management gold like “Move the authority to where the information is”, for example. I keep coming back to this inspiring story over and over again. Sadly I lost my copy, but it lives in my mind forever. This

Moved out

In this section, I’ve moved the near misses as I moved them out. These books are still awesome but don’t fit my list due to the awesomeness of other books.

Sense and respond by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, could be described as the lighter version of Dr Reinertsens Principles of Product development flow. It is very approachable and is packed with stories of both success and failure, on how to structure your work and organization to support an experimental mindset that is needed to win in the current world.

What I particularly love about this book is that you could basically give it to anyone in your organization and know that they would read it (!), get it and be inspired by it. No particular prerequisite knowledge is required. This ranks very high on my recommendation hit list.

My books

Yes, of course, I need to get this out of the way. I’ve written two books and I’m immensely proud of them both, but they are not on the list.

Kanban In Action is a very practical oriented introduction to kanban as process improvement, flow-focused approach to software development. Although I’m one of the authors I can honestly say that it is really useful and contains a lot of hands-on experience.

The Bungsu Story is an adventure description on how we used lean, agile and kanban to save a Salvation Army hospital from ruin (literally and financially). This book is great for inspiration and getting an overview, and also contains a lot of practical examples and hands-on tips.


That was my list. What are your favourite books? Please share in the comments and I’m happy to update this list as soon as I find books worth to quality onto the list.

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