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An Alternative to Book Recommendations

Ben Maynard and I (Steph Ashmore) were recently asked to recommend some books on #productdevelopment and #agile

At The Product Agility Podcast, these are frequent topics we discuss as you can imagine. 

I was trawling my bookshelf, trying to figure out what to recommend until I decided, that actually I wouldn’t. 

I love a book. Mostly non-fiction. And I’m a bugger for adding to my never-ending reading backlog before I’m even able to get halfway through a chapter on my latest purchase. With so many industry thought leaders publishing great (and let’s face it, some not-so-great) content, it can be overwhelming to know where to focus your energy.

But ultimately; What works for you, isn’t necessarily going to work for anyone else.

Rather than telling someone, here are the books that I like, with authors that I resonate with and content that speaks to me, help your friend/colleague/mentee / fellow bus passenger, to find the content that is going to give them what they need.

An image of twins working on two laptops

Here's how I would advise someone:


  1. Search for a few top lists. Where ever you like to get your information, will be a trusted source for you. Go there and find a list of the books on your chosen topic.


Miro has a great list here – In their article ’11 must-read books for developing and shipping better products’

If you’re a LinkedIn Scroller you’ll find experts in your field have compiled their top lists – like this one from 🎯🪓 Chris Stone 🪓🎯19 Books that will help develop an agile mindset

2. Of the titles you find from lists and searching, gather maybe 10 – 15 and list them out in your preference of what jumps out at you. There really isn’t a better way to sort at this point, you pretty much are going to have to judge the book by it’s cover. (breaking all the rules today!)

Yes of course I have an actual spreadsheet. I don't know what you were expecting?

Time To Focus

@stefanbc on Unsplash

3. Start at the top of your list and search Google for a synopsis. I have actually moved some books down the list after reading the synopses, because it’s not quite the information I need right now. Doesn’t mean it won’t come in handy at some point though. Google Books or an Amazon description tend to work a treat.

4. Now you’ve reordered your list, based on a bit more information, what do you actually need to know right now? Are you completely new to the topic? Now this is something you could really apply to any genre, but we’re talking about Product Agility so, do you need to expand your knowledge or hone in on a specific area?  

The next steps are probably interchangeable but I’d start by;

5. Listening to the Product Agility Podcast Reading Hacks: How To Read More Books, Faster with Noel Warnell

On Apple Podcasts on Spotify or where ever you get your podcasts!

The tips on this episode from Noel Warnell made a huge difference to how I read and approach reading! I won’t spoil the episode for you 🙂

6. Check to see if there is a preview available, on Amazon or google books. It’ll look like this, and I find it really useful to skim the Chapter titles and get a bit more of a breakdown of what the book is going to cover

Did anything catch your attention?? Are you like me and already ordered everything anyway!? If you have more restraint than me, reorder your list based on what you discovered.

7. Now, you could check out Blinkist and Headway and read or listen to the overviews, if you’re still not sure if the content or messaging is right for you.

This is a great way to get an overview, but I wouldn’t rely on either of these to get you the full jist of a book (not a good book anyway)

8. However at this point I’d probably, personally, be looking at whether the tone of voice (or actual voice if I’m intending to listen to the book) is a fit for me.

Always listen to the audio sample before hand if you can.

I have, on many occasions, been very excited to start listening to an audio book, only to discover that the narrators voice does not sit right with me and I can’t stick with it. Life’s too short. Just get the paperback.

If you are planning to listen to an audio version of a book, that has lots of charts or reference images, make sure it has an accompanying PDF!

Not all audio books provide one. Which is another thing I have been caught out with in the past.

Some fantastic audio books that do:

Brené Browns Atlas of the heart

Anodea Judiths Easter Body Western Mind

Two excellent book for upping your self awareness and EQ. 


From the Audio book version of Atlas of the Heart - Brene Brown

Reorder your list again.

My actual favourite step

9. Go to your high street bookstore. Pick it up, flip through the sections, check the contents pages and read a couple pages. Now you can read the back too which you probably haven’t done yet.

My favourite book shop has little chairs scattered around so I tend to get comfy and try it out. They wouldn’t put the chairs there if they didn’t want you to do that.

If you’re still loving the book at this point you should probably give it a home on your bookshelf.

I’ll finish with a note, that most of the time, I don’t finish a whole book, and I have a collection of favourites that I sometimes just like to flip through and read a few sections on. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is one of those books for me that is just full of little pieces of gold!

In order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order.

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Head of Project & Agile Delivery Practise - Steph Ashmore

Steph is an experienced project delivery professional with nearly 10 years of diverse industry experience from design and marketing to UX and development and operations. 

Steph has collaborated with a diverse array of businesses, spanning from large UK retailers and international banks to small local agencies. This exposure to different cultures and industries has honed her ability to navigate complex projects effectively. She adeptly tailors her project delivery approach to address the unique challenges and dynamics within each organization, fostering successful outcomes across diverse environments.

A self-confessed agile nerd, Steph’s project delivery ethos experiment, learn, adapt. Her experience in building high-performing squads and unifying remote teams across the globe to achieve common goals is driven from a focus on continuous improvement, strong self reflection and team dynamics. Building trust first and foremost.

Ben Maynard, Product Agility, Agile and LeSS Expert

Sheev Founder – Ben Maynard

Since 2009 Ben, has been passionate about organisational culture and design that enables the creation of value both for an organisation’s customers and its’s people I always want to know are we building the right Product and are we building it in the right way.

In recent years he has experimented with ways to balance an organisations desire for control, collaboration and innovation through educating, coaching and leading organisational transformations to get more with Large Scale Scrum (LeSS).

The catalyst to all of this has been his obsessional focus on the growth of people at all levels of an organisation so that they can be effective and successful in achieving the organisations and their own personal goals.