Agile Reading List – Recommendations for Beginners and Progressives

Colleagues and friends know me to have read quite a bit about agile. About methods, backgrounds, best practices and the like. There had always been requests for agile book recommendations. Since I’m self-employed and freelancing even more people than before have been asking for my agile reading list. The questions always were along the lines of:

[8.3.2018] If you were to give someone completely new to the topic 2-3 book recommendations on agile, which would it be?

[24.4.2018] I just want to do something for my professional education. And ideally that would be something that fits my current challenges on the job.

Basically they all fit the pattern “If you wanted to read about Scrum, where to start?”

Time and time again I’m recommending the same books. Every time I’m copy+pasting Amazon- or Goodreads-Links, so the people asking have an easier time finding the right books. That’s very effective, but not very efficient for a task that has become repetitive. So here’s the effective and efficient blog post on my personal agile reading list.

You’ll find my Goodreads-shelf at the bottom of the article. But first things first, here are the books ordered by importance for people who really want to get closer to the topic of agile.

Robert’s Top 10 agile book recommendations (bonus: Scrum and Leadership)

#1 Agile Project Management with Scrum- Schwaber, Ken

In the first Scrum book I ever read, Ken Schwaber writes about examples from his professional career and how Scrum practices work. This way one learns quite naturally and also very entertaining about the advantages of this framework. From today’s point of view the examples are of course massively outdated – software projects are so fundamentally different now compared to 20 years ago. Nevertheless many of the problems can be traced back to the very same root causes, which makes this book timeless with regards to the suggested solutions.

#2 Scrum – agiles Projektmanagement erfolgreich einsetzen – Pichler, Roman

After the light fare of Ken Schwaber, here the (in my opinion) very best book on Scrum. Published in 2008, so a bit aged by now, this book is still the most comprehensive Scrum book. Mainly because it doesn’t only explain Scrum practices, but also shows why they are so effective. Also it doesn’t just list recommendations, but shows where these are advantageous over other implementations.

Perfectly justified this book is the reference in the realm of German-speakers (unfortunately it’s only available in German). Only nine years after reading it and being incredibly inspired, I managed to see a Roman Pichler presentation at the Scrum Gathering Dublin 2017 and I was equally impressed.

#3 Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Pink, Daniel H.

To be honest I never completely read this book. I love to point colleagues and friends to the excellent RSA Animate video, in which one gets a 10-minute summary. For most people that’s enough to internalize the 3 aspects of motivation (Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose) whilst creating / staffing a project team or during other tasks in project management.

#4 Lean from the Trenches – Kniberg, Henrik

Henrik Kniberg manages to not only explain methods, but to justify it’s usage. This justification is fundamentally important for the consciously applied method to become routine. Only once all of us and everyone on the team realizes why we follow a best practice can the best practice prevail.

Equally recommended: Scrum and XP from the Trenches.

#5 Scrum Mastery: From Good To Great Servant-Leadership – Watts, Geoff

Books #1 – #4 provide and excellent intro to the topic: Scrum, Lean, Kanban are understood and one can draw conclusions on human motivation. With all this, beginners can start and should be okay to work very well within the context of one project.

Who wants to engage in the ScrumMaster “career path”, who wants to be better than the competition and who really wants to drive teams for the better and support their growth, should definitely read Scrum Mastery. Vivid examples show the difference between a good and a great ScrumMaster. A humbling experience, for me too.

#6 Rework – Fried, Jason

Rework has become a management classic since the day it’s been published. Who already has internalized agile values, will nod a lot whilst reading this book. For everyone else the book explains short and concise ways of management and ways of working, which help teams and organizations to focus on the important things and to finish things.

#7 Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great – Derby, Esther & Larsen, Diana

How does a good team become a great team? With time and continuous improvement. This book justifies the use of Retrospectives and supports the improvement process with moderation methods and several valuable hints on conflict resolution.

#8 The Peter Principle – Peter, Laurence J.

Take it, change it or leave it!
— 21st Century Business Wisdom

People deal differently with problems. One can take them, (try to) change them or one can leave them (and the company) behind.

What are the skills of your manager? Which abilities helped your manager reach the current position? Which qualities are missing now in order to still be “competent”? Sometimes the agile change process depends on single individuals. To understand their (lack of) motivation, the Peter Principle really helps.

#9 Servant Leadership: A Journey Into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness – Greenleaf, Robert K.

Servant Leadership means the principle of leading by supporting people and teams. I facilitate following my lead, I’m making it as easy as possible to follow, by serving the team. Servant Leadership is what a ScrumMaster expresses on a daily basis (or at least should). This book gets to the bottom of this principle (and it’s doing so for 30+ years already):

#10 The Big Five for Life – Strelecky, John P.

How do you imagine your future career?

a manager had asked me some years ago. I didn’t have an answer. Work is a big part of life. And in order to know where to drive the career, where to go professionally, one first has to know where life itself should go. Unfortunately this question is even bigger and more difficult. The Big Five for Life helps finding an answer. This book doesn’t have much to do with agile, but even more deals with leadership and integrity.

Even more recommendations around agility in professional institutions

Managers, programmers, product folks, ScrumMasters: The Top 10 books above are relevant for anybody interested in agile, no matter which role one has on the job. However there are some more specific books for each role which I don’t want to leave unmentioned here:

For Software Developers

Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship – Robert C. Martin

Beyond that I have no further recommendations for Software Developers. Obviously all of the above books in this post are equally relevant! Robert C. Martins “Bible” also suffices for the start. But who wants to know more about why “Agile” is first and foremost a software developers responsibility, please watch this session:

For Product Owners and Product Managers

 

 

 

  1. Agile Product Management with Scrum: Creating Products that Customers Love – Roman Pichler
  2. User Stories Applied – Mike Cohn
  3. Scrum mit User Stories – Ralf Wirdemann

For (C-Level-) Managers

 

 

 

  1. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time – Jeff Sutherland
  2. The Power of Scrum – Jeffrey Sutherland, Rini Van Solingen, Eelco Rustenberg
  3. A Seat at the Table – Mark Schwartz

Last but not least: The Goodreads List

Do you have more agile book recommendations? Let me know! I’m happy about suggestions for the reading lists on Goodreads or right here in the comments section.

Quotes on Agile, Leadership and Communication

I like to live a life based on my own set of values. This includes ideas big and small, as well as the ones I just throw in for the fun of it. Every now and then I stumble upon something someone says, said or wrote somewhere that expresses these values in words, like I’ve never seen better. Thus here’s the most expressive quotes on agile.

Furthermore I want to communicate well. There definitely are patterns in my (probably all of our) language that in hindsight I don’t like, but can’t prevent me from still using. Again sometimes people say phrases that stick with me so well, they influence the way I speak. It’s sentences that trigger once I use the disliked pattern, so I can catch myself before (best case) or latest immediately after (normal case) I miscommunicate. These, too, I want to share with you here.


I have used this quote so many times. In every company, every team I bring it up. Sometimes it sticks. When it sticks, team members get:

  • more focused because before starting a 2nd task, they finish the 1st
  • more collaborative because before starting a new (1st) task, they try to help others finish something
  • more goal oriented because when they find new work, they ask themselves “Is this really required for this story?” (See also YAGNI)

Researching when and where this originates took some time. It wasn’t around beginning of the 2000s, but only appeared in 2009. By now this mantra of the Agile community is omnipresent at least in the realm of Agile practitioners.


CEO of GameDuell used to say this, the first company I worked for. Of course the quote is debatable: Sometimes, some things need to be perfect. The point is not that this is a 100% correct. The point is that we should ask ourselves 100% of the times: “Am I being a perfectionist right now, or do I really need this to drive the business forward?”

To me and to this day this quote is the short, more concise version of

“It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.” — Antoine de Saint Exupéry


The original (German) quote was: “Hoffnung macht die Realität nur noch grausamer.” Googling this I found an original phrase that is well spread over the web (banners, pics, t-shirt slogans):

“It’s better to feel the short pain of truth, than feeling the permanent pain of false hope.”

The effect of this quote is very simple: Do we or our leaders hope for things in your professional life? Doesn’t this mean, we are not in full control of our destiny? Whenever this memory gets triggered, I’m asking myself: “What (other than hoping) can I do to make this happen?” Hope is not the means to an end. Hope doesn’t change things. Action does.


The second quote on this list, that I haven’t heard by someone in person. Technology being the product of the culture building it, most certainly is a bit of a generalization of Conway’s Law:

“organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

Still I like the quote for its brevity and exactly the higher context: Culture goes much deeper than organizational structure. If you have great culture, a temporarily bad restructuring might well be overcome. Yet in an unfit organizational structure no good culture can emerge from a bad one. (See also: “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.”)

Bottom line: When looking at transforming a company’s technology, we have to transform that company’s culture. We all try to leave personal stuff at home, but eventually it’s personal connections that shape a company’s culture. How can we create strong personal connections without becoming personal?


This was the line that inspired the idea of sharing these quotes. We were talking about automation and how it could be that for some components of our system it was easier to manually deploy them, bypassing Jenkins and the most basic tests and without other people knowing. So we restricted this way with the above rationale.


That’s it. No more throwing things over the fence. No more finger pointing on who is responsible. Everybody is. And pretty much no shorter way to say it.


Here’s another one on communication: Just like with “hope” now “assume” triggers me to be more attentive. Instead of ASSuming nowadays I just ask a question. If the assumption was right, the question is quickly answered, causing only a very short interruption. But if the assumption was (would have been) wrong, by asking the question instead I’m not hurting the relationship.


What are your favorite quotes on agile? Reply on Twitter or just mention them right here in the comments.

SGDUB17 Closing Keynote: Lyssa Adkins – We Are the Leaders We Have Been Waiting For

Closing Keynote: Lyssa Adkins – We Are the Leaders We Have Been Waiting For

Lyssa Adkins closing keynote of the already excellent Global Scrum Gathering in Dublin in 2017 is still sending shivers down my spine.e.

First of all, I was impressed with her speech building patterns: Starting very very personal, grabbing our attention, not letting it go again, she focused on a trip to Peru and the very visible disastrous changes to our environment humanity is causing.

Addressing our inability as a species to take on big global challenges, she spanned the arc to people working together in organizations (at least that’s how a month later I reconstruct it).

She asks:

If individuals and interactions are so important,
Why do tools and processes often run the show?

Lyssa Adkins - We are the Leaders we have been waiting for sgdub17Illustrations by Steve Silbert

Secondly she taught about Integral Theory, we then focused on the We quadrant (see image above) and dove deeper into relationships. Why are there sometimes difficulties in human relationships? This is when I learned about the Third Entity:

The next step took us to Spiral Dynamics (for which there is only a German Wikipedia article). This psychological approach means to “understand worldviews or systems of thinking held by individuals, organizations and societies” and I believe it is an inspiring and generally optimistic look into the future of mankind:

Read more about it here: http://www.cruxcatalyst.com/2013/09/26/spiral-dynamics-a-way-of-understanding-human-nature/

But how does all of this relate to us? To you and me? What does it mean? It means everything!

Lyssa Adkins - We are the Leaders we have been waiting for sgdub17Everyone has the potential (!) to change the world for the better. Power might be different, capabilities might be different, but this is just a reference frame. Eventually it comes to a single question:

Do you want to make the world a better place?

Lyssa Adkins gracefully narrowed the scope from this high level concept to the group of several hundred Agile Coaches, ScrumMasters, Software Developers in the room asking:

What are you applying Agile to that’s worthy of you?

Then we used https://pollev.com/ to do a live survey, creating a word cloud of what the audience would apply Agile for. It looked something like this:

Lyssa Adkins Agile Leaders Keynote Wordcloud sgdub17Even before, I was determined to use Agile in non-software-development environments. The CPO of one of my clients connected me to Christian Breternitz, who already talks to schools and universities regarding EduScrum in Germany and Berlin especially. But Lyssa Adkins’ talk highlighted even more the importance of improving the world around us and not just the place we call work.