Agile is a great learning journey and as I love books, I have read a lot of agile books and learnt a lot from them. In my daily life, I do a lot of agile training classes and work on agile transformations. Naturally, I love to recommend books, to help people go on their own learning journey. Finally, I have put together a (short) list of some essential books that are great assets to help you learn and develop yourself in your agile ways of working. I’ve picked these books because they have different focus whilst talking about the same overall thing and so they give a broad view all around the subject. I highly recommend them all!
So, without further ado and in no particular order, here we go…
1. The War of Art: Break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles, by Stephen Pressfield
Stephen Pressfield is a writer. As jobs go, writer scores pretty high on the creativity scale. You start with a blank piece of paper and it’s all up to you. This book examines creativity, picks it apart and answers the most important question: How can I be creative? It’s a book about individual creativity, but it is totally applicable for teams and teams of teams. A great book on creativity and the kind of behavior that drives creativity.
2.Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, by L. David Marquet
A fantastic real life story about how to decentralize decision making and create a team of leaders. David Marquet’s story of his time as Captain of the Nuclear Submarine USS Santa Fe, will inspire you and give you great insight in how to behave as a leader if you want a team of thinking, initiative taking, happy people.
Message: If a submarine captain can go from command and control to “agile” leadership, so can you.
3. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal
Talking about complex undertakings, General McChrystal took responsibility of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2004, with the mission to beat Al Qaeda. What they found out was that the rigid structure of the military was totally inept at fighting a decentralized network. The solution was to break down the silos of the Army, Navy, CIA, FBI and replace them with a team of teams, that could act faster than the opponent.
Message: If your environment is getting complex, you need to change accordingly or face extinction.
4. The Phoenix Project: A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford
Bill has just been promoted to head of IT Operations. It’s a job he didn’t want and a job he seems likely to fail at. But, as everything is hopeless, he might as well try something radical, so he starts implementing bits of lean thinking that works well in the company’s production plants and to his great surprise it actually works and before he knows it, they have achieved DevOps.
Message: Create actual value by using the lean principles to guide people working together.
5. Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business, by David J. Andersen
This book marks the invention of Kanban and it’s still a great asset to this day. David J. Andersen goes through, using examples from his implementations at Microsoft and other companies, how to apply lean thinking to software development. Done right, Kanban is the greatest asset a team of knowledge workers could hope to have: a way of constantly improving and adapting.
Message: Kanban is a method for continuous improvement.
6. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff Sutherland and JJ Sutherland
Jeff Sutherland invented Scrum toghether with Ken Schwaber back in the 1990s. This book takes you on a tour de force of why it was invented, the principles that makes it work, how it works and where it can be put to use. There are rich examples from many different settings. This is a book that wants to motivate as much as it wants to educate. And it does a good job at both.
Message: Use Scrum for everything.
7. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries
Running a startup is a risky business. Eric Ries has been there and done that. He has made all the mistakes but he has learned from them along the way. The Lean Startup is a wonderful package of lean thinking coupled with the scientific method, which makes the perfect combination for a cash strapped startup that tries to do something no one has done before. Lean Startup teaches you that a business case is nothing but a hypothesis and even if it scares you, you must test that hypothesis as soon as possible. The one thing you know you will get as a result, the only certain, is learning.
Message: Use the scientific method.
8. DRiVE; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink
Dan Pink has been looking at science. The science of what motivates us. The findings are rather surprising, seen in the light of what organizations do to motivate people. It turns out that money isn’t a great motivator. What really drives people is the intrinsic motivation of autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Message: What actually works is the opposite of what you do.
9. This is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox, by Niklas Modig and Pär Ahlstrom
If you are wondering what lean is (and you should be, because there isn’t really a recognized definition), this is the book that will give you a great introduction to what lean is and how it can help you. It will challenge many of your beliefs, like what efficiency really is. It will also help you see to what extent you are stuck in one mindset, when you think about performance, productivity and value. At least, that’s what it did for me.
Message: Customer focus and efficiency is the same thing (but not what you think it is).
10. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, Jeff Cox
This is an absolute classic within lean thinking. Both because of the content and the format of explaining really complicated stuff as a novel. I for one would have had a hard time getting through this, if it hadn’t been a novel. The protagonist of our story, Bill Peach, is a plant manager stuck in an evil circle. With the help of an elusive mentor he manages to turn it all around by using lean principles or what Goldratt calls “Theory of Constraints”. Bill starts thinking about the plant as a flow of value that is constrained by bottlenecks and by identifying and doing something about those bottlenecks, the flow of value keeps increasing. This is a great book and even if it focuses more on production than development it represents the shoulders that Kanban and DevOps stand on.
Message: Focus! (On the bottlenecks, stupid, because it makes economic sense.)
11. Tribal Unity: Getting from Teams to Tribes by Creating a One Team Culture, by Em Campbell-Pretty, Gene Kim
This is an easy read about how to implement the people part of a SAFe Agile Release Train. Em Campbell-Pretty is a business person who ended up a Release Train Engineer and she uses her personal story and ample examples to give you a great idea of how a team of teams or as she likes to call it, a tribe works. The book tells you how to get ready, how to implement and how to sustain the team of teams which is an Agile Release Train. And it does it well.
Message: Nothing beats an agile team, except a team of agile teams.
That was the list. If you have read them, please let me know what you think and what you got out of it! And if you haven’t yet, I do hope I managed to nudge you towards grabbing one in the near future!
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Skrevet af Jonas Högstrand
Jonas er underviser, agile coach, seniorrådgiver i projektledelse og lead trainer for SAFe®-kurserne i Metier. Han er certificeret underviser i PRINCE2®, PRINCE2 Agile® og SAFe®, certificeret P3M3® Assessor og har været reviewer på den officielle PRINCE2 Agile®-manual.