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Gojko Adzic (London)
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Creating Great Teams: How Self-Selection Lets People Excel
Creating Great Teams: How Self-Selection Lets People Excel
Price: £10.81

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic resource for anyone scaling agile at a large organisation, 4 Jan. 2016
A few years ago I worked with a large financial institution, where a group of several hundred software delivery people moved to Scrum. One of the most surprising lessons for me was how much everyone, from the group leadership to people on the front lines, valued the fact that people could choose who they work with and on what. Autonomy and purpose are two out of three key pillars of motivation for knowledge workers put forward by Daniel Pink in Drive, and allowing teams to autonomously form provided a much needed boost to everyone at that company. I didn’t know it under that name at the time, but that process is exactly what Sandy and David write about in this book as self-selection. Instead of just five or six people reporting to the same person, teams became groups that could genuinely work together to deliver great results.

Creating Great Teams is a much needed resource for anyone embarking on improving software delivery at a large organisation. At its core is how to make team self-selection work, with plenty of evidence why it’s important, practical tips on how to get started, and valuable guidance for making it stick.

Sandy and David use a nice case-study throughout the book, so readers won’t be drowning in theory. The closing chapters of the book provide a nice insight into long-term effects and insights that you’ll be able to use to motivate people up and down the hierarchy to start with the change.

In short, I’d recommend this book to everyone thinking about scaling up agile delivery at a large organisation, especially the people who need to lead the charge.


Fifty Quick Ideas To Improve Your Retrospectives
Fifty Quick Ideas To Improve Your Retrospectives
by Tom Roden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.44

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No more boring retrospectives, 1 Dec. 2015
Retrospectives are one of those practices that seem simple on paper, but are difficult to sustain over a long period. Many teams just get into a habit of running the same boring session over and over, and what was supposed to be a spark for improvement turns into bureaucracy and a chore. Tom and Ben present a ton of ideas for reinvigorating retrospective sessions that will help teams keep the focus on continual improvement.

This book seems best for people with some experience in agile software delivery, that already know the basics and are looking for additional ideas and suggestions. It will probably be most useful for those in a scrum master or team lead roles, consultants, coaches and professional facilitators. The ideas in the book vary from generally applicable to experimental, so I expect that anyone can find 3-4 interesting new topics or suggestions regardless of the level of experience.


The Cucumber for Java Book: Behaviour-Driven Development for Testers and Developers
The Cucumber for Java Book: Behaviour-Driven Development for Testers and Developers
by Seb Rose
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely guide for preventing brittle tests and bored stakeholders, 9 Mar. 2015
This is a book for you if you're a programmer working with Java and want to know how to apply Cucumber to facilitate better collaboration between stakeholders and delivery team members. People starting out with specification by example will learn good test design patterns for the given-when-then design style, people who used Cucumber on other platforms will value information about Java-version peculiarities such as table handling and organising dependency injection, and experienced Cucumber users will definitely benefit from learning about advanced syntax time savers such as transformers. In short, there's something for everyone in this book, regardless of your level of experience.

The initial part of the book is a nice overview of the Cucumber specification language Gherkin, and explains how to set up the toolkit for working with Java. For people on the JVM platform, but not working directly with Java, the last part of the book complements this with some nice hello-world-style examples in popular alternative JVM languages. The second part of the book is pure gold for anyone starting out, because it presents common ways teams fail with Cucumber and how to avoid them. The authors go into detail about making tests faster, more robust and focusing on business needs to avoid bored stakeholders. After that, the book presents a relatively detailed worked example that introduces syntax sugar such as transformers, and a ton of interesting small tricks to apply in day-to-day work. This part has a solid coverage of good test automation patterns such as running inside transactions, achieving independence and synchronising async processes. The book also contains plenty of examples of test automation ideas for popular infrastructural components in the Java ecosystem, including Spring, Tomcat and MySQL. As a result, the contents of the book should help most Java programmers hook Cucumber on to their current platform quickly.


Kanban in Action
Kanban in Action
by Marcus Hammarberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.59

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for beginners, 20 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Kanban in Action (Paperback)
This wonderful little book is a gentle introduction to Kanban by Marcus Hammarberg and Joakim Sunden. It explains the theory behind flow-based processes and provides a ton of practical implementation tips on everything from visualising work to how to properly take out a sticky note.

The first part deals with the basic principles of Kanban, using visual boards to show and manage work in progress, managing queues and bottlenecks and distributing and limiting work across team members. The second part explains how to manage continuous process improvement, how to deal with estimation and planning and how to define and implement different classes of service.

My impression is that this book will be most useful to people completely new to Kanban, who are investigating the concepts or starting to adopt this process. If you already use Kanban, you might find the chapters on managing bottlenecks and process metrics interesting.

Compared to David Anderson’s book, Kanban in Action is more approachable for beginners. Each important concept is described with lots of small, concrete examples, which will help readers new to Kanban put things into perspective, but also reinforce the message that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Anderson’s book goes in more depth to explain the theory behind the practice, and this book has more practical information and concrete advice on topics such as setting work in progress limits, managing different types of items on a visualisation board and choosing workflow metrics. If you’re researching this topic or starting to implement Kanban, it’s worth reading both books.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 9, 2014 10:49 AM BST


The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right Questions (Addison Wesley Signature Series)
The Lean Mindset: Ask the Right Questions (Addison Wesley Signature Series)
by Mary Poppendieck
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For those investigating the next step after adopting lean or agile delivery models, 26 Nov. 2013
The Lean Mindset is the latest book by two of my favourite authors, Mary and Tom Poppendieck. As expected from a continuation of their Lean series, the book tackles a topic much wider than just software delivery, but with great case studies that help put those things into a software delivery perspective.

One of the central concepts of the book is the move from process efficiency to product management and product delivery, which is probably the most important topic for organisations that have successfully adopted Scrum, Kanban or any of the related processes. Pushing software out of the door in a reliable and predictable manner is pretty much a solved problem now, and the next big improvement for many teams will have to come from somewhere else - and in my mind this is clearly by using that process effectiveness to remove bottlenecks in product management. Quoting one of the contributors to the book, "Our agile projects were consistently producing affordable, high-quality software with almost every customer priority included. [...] Stakeholders might have been satisfied with project performance, but rarely was the audience delighted, wowed, or blown away by novel innovation or creative design.". If you recognised your team or organisation in the previous sentence, then this is absolutely the book you have to read next.

The FBI case management story was particularly interesting as it shows one of the pitfalls of iterative delivery - that the pressure to show constant progress causes people to constantly select easy tasks until wicked problems requiring serious engineering surface. This is often caused by a disconnect between business objectives and technical delivery, and the authors list several tools and models that can help avoid that "Air Sandwich".

As the title suggests, this book is primarily about thinking models - or mindsets. It's no surprise then that it's packed full of references to psychology studies, especially around motivation, teamwork, expert decision making and intuition. Bob Marshall, in his review on Amazon, blasts the book for just recycling old ideas, but I see great value in this work as an overview that shows how all those ideas relate to eachother and together create a bigger picture. Readers new to those topics will find a worthy introduction to the works of Gary Klein, Dan Ariely, Chip and Dan Heath, Daniel Kahneman and get a good idea how that relates to the work of software thought leaders. Even though I was aware of all those names before, this book was useful to me as a portal full of references to lesser known works by other researchers, especially in the areas of organisation management and adaptive planning. Case studies explaining how those ideas were implemented on large scale firmware delivery in Intel, online service delivery at Spotify and Amazon and government projects at the FBI put things nicely into software delivery perspective, and will come in very handy when people in larger organisations need convincing that this isn't just for startups with no legacy software.

I'd recommend this book to all software delivery managers looking investigating the next step after adopting lean or agile delivery models. The book won't give you a detailed explanation of any of the tools you need, but it will give you a good starting point for further research into individual topics.


A Practical Approach to Large-Scale Agile Development: How HP Transformed LaserJet FutureSmart Firmware (Agile Software Development)
A Practical Approach to Large-Scale Agile Development: How HP Transformed LaserJet FutureSmart Firmware (Agile Software Development)
by Gary Gruver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting story, too much management-speak, 4 Feb. 2013
This is a strange one. A Practical Approach to Large Scale Agile Development: How HP Transformed LaserJet FutureSmart Firmware is a 170 page case study of an agile transformation at a company that's not typically associated with modern development practices, with 400 firmware developers - not exactly the typical use case for agile either. The case study is presented from a high level management perspective, and covers topics such as continuous integration at scale, overcoming cultural and organisational barriers to implement iterative planning and estimation, but also stuff rarely covered in books with the word "agile" in the title, for example cultural issues for cross-continent development between India and US.

The case study is very interesting, and I'd recommend reading through the relevant chapters to anyone trying to push agile processes to a large organisation, as it describes two aspects that I see very rarely, but think are incredibly important:

1. The process change was started with a clear business outcome in mind. Not because agile is cool, not because everyone else is doing Scrum, but because the company wanted to achieve a measurable, quantified reduction in development costs and reallocate funds to innovation. This story shows how having a clear goal and driving a process change with that can help to make the right decisions and adjust the process to a particular environment, at the same time aligning everyone in the organisation on why and how to change the process. The second chapter opens up with a great quote 'You should be agile not just to be agile, but to drive the business results' and advises that companies describe clearly what they want to achieve from an agile transformation before embarking on that journey.
2. The change was driven by principles, and practices were evaluated and widely modified to achieve the set business goals. Unlike many teams out there who slavishly follow practices but discard principles and end up with no benefits, these guys actually invented their own process driven by agile principles. As a result, they claim to have reduced the development costs by 70%.

Before really changing the process, they restructured their software to support iterative delivery, which is another great lesson. Without a way to ship things out and get feedback iteratively, in reasonably short cycles, very little other stuff from the agile toolbox works. Another interesting aspect of their transformation is how they applied process metrics, which is a common problem with large organisations. Their approach is to use metrics as a conversation starter: 'The key is not to manage by metrics, but use the metrics to understand where to have conversations about what tis not getting done'

A negative side of this book for me is a very liberal use of terminology. Although there is a lot of guilt-by-association with Scrum concepts, and the authors say it is 'quite like Scrum', my understanding from the book is that they ended up with a process that is their unique take on the topic and any links to Scrum were really pushing it. I don't mean to argue that their process was wrong - it obviously works for them and provides a lot of value, which is the only thing important - but many Scrum references just felt out of place. I felt that Scrum got equated with just running iterations, and there is a lot more to a good Scrum process. For my taste, there is just too much management speak, including 10x productivity increases, quantum leaps, and of course sprinkles of SCRUM capitalised as if it were an acronym. This is why I'll give the book only 4 stars.


Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban
Lean from the Trenches: Managing Large-Scale Projects with Kanban
Price: £13.28

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Without doubt, my favourite book of 2012, 4 Jan. 2013
I once heard the author speak at Oredev about his papers as an occasional brain-dump, kind of emptying short term memory so that he could learn new things, and this book is a great example of that. Without dogma, buzzwords or marketing, Henrik Kniberg notes lessons learned from a uniquely interesting project, where lean software delivery principles were applied to a large scale public sector effort with great success. I particularly love that there is no preaching, the author does not claim that what worked for them works universally, but tells a great story with deep insights and lets readers make their own conclusions.

I read the book in one go, without putting it down, during a five hour flight. The first part is the case study of the delivery of the Digital Investigation System for the Swedish Police Authority. The second part is a deeper dive into the techniques and tools used to set up and run the delivery process. The book is for experienced practitioners and newbies alike. People new to Kanban and Lean software delivery will benefit from a real-world warts-and-all case study, with a pretty good example of how things were set up. Examples of process metrics, bug handling, setting up a Kanban board across teams and handling technical stories will be particularly interesting to people who had some prior knowledge but haven't seen the techniques work at large. Part II will probably help newbies make a lot more sense out of Part I, so if you are completely new to the topic it might be worth reading the second part first. Practitioners will benefit from some nice insights and ideas spread across the first part of the book, for example imposing work-in-progress limits on bugs, distinguishing between buffer and WIP columns on Kanban boards and setting up a "continuous process improvement engine".

The last point is incredibly important, as continous process improvement is one of the key aspects of successful delivery in my experience. Knibeg nails it with "A great process isn't designed; it is evolved". Many other authors have written on this topic, but Kniberg's unique contribution with this book is a simple guideline that will help teams put this in place: Clarity, Communication, Data. Kniberg documents how physical boards provide visibility and clarity, how periodic process improvement workshops within a team and across teams communicate ideas and how simple metrics provide data to help a team stay on the right track. The entire chapter 10 is devoted to this topic. In addition to that chapter, my special thanks go to Kniberg for his glossary appendix, where he lists how they avoided the buzzword lingo that turns off so many people. For example, using "Process Improvement Meeting" instead of "Sprint Retrospective".

Five out of five stars, without hesitation. Drop whatever you are reading now and read this one instead.


Clean Language:Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds
Clean Language:Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds: Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds
by Wendy Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice way of improving communication and understanding other people's ideas, 3 Jan. 2013
The central idea of the book is that metaphors are a fundamental tool for organising thoughts and we use them subconciously to make sense of the world, without even being aware of it. Some typical examples of that are temperature used for affection ("They greeted me warmly."), size used for importance ("Tomorrow is a big day."), height used for quantity ("Prices are high."), and purpose represented as a physical object of desire ("I saw an opportunity for success and grabbed it."). Though such simple metaphors should be unversally understood, more complex metaphors can be easily understood by different people in different ways. The authors argue that we can get better understanding and awareness of others' and our own ideas by recognising metaphors, pushing them from subconcious processing into concious analysis, understanding the ties between a metaphor and the real situation and reverse-engineering metaphorical solutions into real ones. For example, the next time you feel stuck while working, try thinking about what kind of stuck feeling that really is and what would make you feel unstuck.

Clean Language is an approach to soliciting information and facilitating discussion that recognises this central role of metaphors, helps us spot metaphors in other people's thoughts and our own ideas and makes those connections explicit. The premise of Clean Language is that such concious analysis of metaphors helps understand other people better. One particularly eye-opening aspect of this approach for me was how much my own metaphors and assumptions can cloud my understanding of clients' issues and situation. Clean Language provides a toolkit, through a set of twelve questions, that prevents polluting communication with our own metaphors, hence the title "Clean". Instead of introducing our own metaphors into the mix, Clean Language questions help people improve active listening.

Most of the examples in the book are about psychology, and helping people with psychological issues, but I've been able to translate many of those examples easily into software consulting. Since reading the book, I became a lot more attentive to the way others use metaphors and a lot more careful about driving the conversation with my own metaphors that could be easily misunderstood. This hardly makes it a life-changing experience, but anything that improves communication will surely be a useful toolkit for many people in the software industry. Business analysts, team leaders, process improvement coaches and consultants will probably benefit from this book the most.

I give the book four out of five stars. For all the good content, there is a bit too much repetition for my taste in the book. The example discussion sessions sometimes go on forever and I found myself skipping large portions of those parts.


The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers (Robert C. Martin)
The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers (Robert C. Martin)
by Robert C. Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.79

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for junior software developers, 30 Nov. 2012
Uncle Bob Martin's eagerly awaited sequel to Clean Code, cleverly named The Clean Coder, is a powerful argument for professionalism in software development. People who'll benefit from this book the most are programmers at the start of their careers or those who are burned out and work with software and companies plagued by technical and organisational issues. The book has a lot of sound advice to offer, in particular around commitment, planning and estimation, personal ethics and collaboration, as well as an overview of techniques such as TDD, pair programming, and automated acceptance testing.

The gist of the book is, for me, captured in the following quotes:

- "You can't take pride and honor in something that you can't be held accountable for"
- "QA should find nothing"
- "The true professional knows that delivering function at the expense of structure is a fool's errand."
- "Woe to the software developer who entrusts his career to his employer."
- "Professionals speak truth to power. Professionals have the courage to say no to their managers."

Those who don't suffer that much from poor team or software will not benefit that much from The Clean Coder, but there are a few gems in for them as well. I found the argument against flow (or "The Zone") particularly interesting, as I've never looked at the topic in the way described in the book. References to probability based estimation were also interesting, as well as explanations of some more exotic time management strategies. Most importantly, through many interesting war stories, we as readers get to peek into Uncle Bob's experience and learn from his mistakes.

If I was picky and had to choose a few negative things to say, I'd probably point out the start of the book as unnecessarily off-putting and negative. It paints a picture with a clear adversarial relationship between programmers and management or clients, which doesn't really match my background or current situation. Sure there have been a few bad apples in my project basket, but the picture painted was a bit too negative for my taste. On the other hand, people who need to hear the message of this book will probably identify with that dark painting of their reality. I've also never been good at reading books with lots of invented dialogue, something in my reading circuits makes me skip invented conversations. This made it hard to follow the flow of thoughts in some parts of the book but it has more to do with my attention deficit and reading skills than the book itself.

So to conclude, this book is not going to replace the The Pragmatic Programmer as my favourite "you have to read this first" suggestion to new members of our profession, but it deserves to be on that list.


Small Giants: Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big
Small Giants: Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big
by Bo Burlingham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable for anyone working in startups or thinking of starting one, 30 Nov. 2012
If you're not working for a company that needs to worry about scaling processes to hundreds of people, and you have no wish to ever do so, then Small Giants: Companies That Choose to be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham is for you. Full of inspiring case studies ranging from two-person shops to small restaurant chains employing hundreds of people, this book analyses what makes small companies tick and how they became great without exploding and ruining the culture. 'Our biggest competition is mediocrity' is my favourite quote from this book, and it perfectly reflects the attitude that most of the case studies promote.

Burlingham identifies several patterns in the case studies, and lays out three imperatives for companies that want to make an impact and stay small:

- Articulate, demonstrate and embed a higher purpose into the company, completely integrating that purpose so that it becomes an everyday presence and not just a vision statement on a piece of paper.
- Create a culture of intimacy that continuously reminds people unexpectedly about how much the company cares about them
- Foster collegiality.

If this sounds as a kind of the place you would like to work at, grab the book and transform your organisation. Essentially, this book is 'Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't', but for organisations that do not want to go public. It's not a particularly new book, but I discovered it recently, and I think it will be valuable for anyone working in startups or thinking of starting one. The book is written in a very clear and engaging style, with lots of great stories, and gets five out of five stars from me.


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