The Agilist’s Bookshelf

books-book-pages-read-literature-159866Highsmith, James A. Agile Software Development Ecosystems. Addison-Wesley, 2006.

Agile Software Development Ecosystems is divided into four sections: “Problems and Solutions,” “Principles and People,” “Agile Software Development Ecosystems,” and “Developing an ASDE.” Sections I and II discuss the problems facing the software development world, and delve into how the basic principles of Agile can solve them. Case studies illustrate the concepts, and Section II also presents interviews with the creators of each of the six Agile systems described elsewhere in the book. These interviews shed light on why and how each system was developed.

Section III presents thorough descriptions of the major systems at the time the book was written: Scrum, Dynamic Systems Development Method, Crystal Methods, Feature-Driven Development, Lean Development, Extreme Programming, and Adaptive Software Development. Though Scrum (leavened by XP) has come to dominate the Agile landscape in the intervening decade, it’s important to remember that there are other options and what environments they serve best. Plus, it is interesting to know the history of ASDE development.

Section IV covers “Developing an ASDE.” These chapters are aimed more at enterprise organizations for which scaling issues complicate the adoption of team-level Agile systems. In “Articulating Your Ecosystem,” Highsmith discusses how to determine the key elements of an organization’s culture, and match that culture to the right Agile system. The final chapter, “Designing Your Agile Methodology,” provides in-depth guidance for adapting an existing methodology, or designing one from the ground up.

Every Agile practitioner should read Agile Software Development Ecosystems, from team-level coaches and developers, to managers and executives in organizations trying to adopt—and adapt—Agile.

 

The Agilist’s Bookshelf

books-book-pages-read-literature-159866

Appelo, Jurgen. Managing for Happiness: Games, Tools, and Practices to Motivate Any Team. New York, NY, John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Management, Jurgen Appelo writes, is too important to be left to managers. In Managing for Happiness, Appelo provides a dozen principles and practices that (almost) anyone can implement at work to create a happier workplace.

Some practices are harder than others for non-managers to implement. For example, the chapter, “Merit Money” discusses compensation strategies that non-executives would find nearly impossible to put into effect. Non-managerial leaders might implement delegation boards and delegation poker with some difficulty. But other most of the techniques, like value stories, culture books, feedback wraps, and personal maps, could be introduced by anyone in an organization.

Each chapter does double duty, introducing not only a practice, but the principle behind that practice. Readers will come away from the book not only knowing what they want to do, but why they want to do it. The end of each chapter provides suggested variations on each practice to spur the reader’s imagination.

The book’s form factor is its only drawback. The physical book is printed in landscape format, with each page being 9.5” wide. That makes it a little unwieldy to hold at times. Even hardcore fans of hard copy might prefer to get it in an electronic format.

Agile leaders, regardless of their job title and role, will find most of the games and tools in this book to be useful in their Agile practices. The “Moving Motivators” game, for example, will illuminate team dynamics so that the coach can better identify not only what motivates individuals, but the team itself. The “Learning Grid” is a great retrospective technique (Appelo even includes commentary from a Scrum Master to that effect). And the “Happiness Door” combines two common Agile practices to gather feedback and identify team happiness in one exercise. Managing for Happiness adds practical tools to the Agile leader’s toolkit.

 

 

 

The Agilist’s Bookshelf

Patterson, Kerry, et al. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High. New York, McGraw-Hill, 2012.

The authors identify “crucial conversations” as emotionally-laden, high-stakes differences of opinion. Noting that most people lack the skill to deal with such topics, the authors write, “We often back away from them because we fear we’ll make matters worse.” Avoiding these conversations can mean a strategy of silence (any kind of retreat from the conversation), or of violence (verbal attacks on the opposing party). The book contains a quiz that allows readers to identify their own “Style Under Stress,” so that they can determine the best strategy for improving their communication skills.

A flaw of many self-help books is that examples seem contrived, but each chapter of this book provides well-written scenarios that feel true-to-life. In some chapters, the authors present examples that they invite readers to think about before they continue reading, providing an element of role-play practice. A summary at the end of each chapter lists key points to remember and provides an easy way for readers to revisit the material from time to time as they work to incorporate the various techniques into their repertoire. 

Agile practitioners will find Crucial Conversations very valuable not only as a personal guide to better communication, but as a way to recognize the danger signs of broken communication on Agile teams, and mitigate against them. Agile practices require innumerable conversations around contentious topics where stakes are high. Handling these conversations safely and respectfully is key to delivering high-value solutions in happy, healthy working environments.

The Agilist’s Bookshelf

Langer, Ellen J., Mindfulness, 25th Anniversary Edition. Da Capo Press, 2014.

In the preface to the 25th anniversary edition of Mindfulness, Ellen Langer writes, “Mindlessness is pervasive. In fact I believe virtually all our problems…either directly or indirectly stem from mindlessness.” If that is true, this book offers insight into both the source of our problems and the potential to overcome them.

In Part One, Langer defines and examines “mindlessness”— a state of rigid over-reliance on outdated, incomplete, and therefore false mental models. She identifies multiple sources of mindless behavior, including erroneous beliefs in constraints, an education system that values outcome over process, and the power of context to determine our behavior and expectations. Mindlessness leads to narrow self-image, inability to adapt, and stunts our potential.

Part Two defines mindfulness as a life-affirming practice that contributes to good mental and physical health. Mindfulness means the ability to create new mental categories and adjust old categorizations, openness to new information and multiple points of view, and having a process orientation rather than a results-oriented outlook. Chapters cover mindful aging, creativity, mindfulness on the job, decreasing prejudice, and the confluence of mindfulness and physical health.

Agile Coaches may find its insights valuable to deepen their understanding of why Agile principles and practices work. Although Langer cites dozens of academic resources and studies, Mindfulness is written for the layperson. Summaries of experiments are clear and concise, and where data are inconclusive, Langer identifies the shortcomings and possible alternative interpretations. However, it is not a recipe book for mindfulness. The reader will find no instructions on how to be more mindful here; and will have to take a mindful approach to applying its lessons.