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Posts from the ‘Books’ Category

Getting Started – Reference Material for Managers Who Wish to Understand Agile and Scrum

Image by DarlingSnailFor those of us who have been working with Agile for a while, the values, the principles, the approach, the methods and the practices are almost second nature but for those who start to enter the Agile world, the ramp up can be challenging – especially if you are looking at all of this from a management position.

After being asked by a few people “Where can I start if I would like to know more about Agile?”, I decided to put together this short list of reference material. There is also a good discussion happening on LinkedIn.

I am missing anything? Is there material you would recommend to managers?

What is Agile?

Agile software development refers to a group of software development methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

The term was coined in the year 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was formulated.

Agile methods generally promote a disciplined project management process that encourages frequent inspection and adaptation, a leadership philosophy that encourages teamwork, self-organization and accountability, a set of engineering best practices intended to allow for rapid delivery of high-quality software, and a business approach that aligns development with customer needs and company goals. (Agile software development – Wikipedia)

“Agile Development” is an umbrella term for several iterative and incremental software development methodologies. The most popular agile methodologies include Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, Crystal, Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM), Lean Development, and Feature-Driven Development (FDD).

While each of the agile methods is unique in its specific approach, they all share a common vision and core values (see the Agile Manifesto). They all fundamentally incorporate iteration and the continuous feedback that it provides to successively refine and deliver a software system. They all involve continuous planning, continuous testing, continuous integration, and other forms of continuous evolution of both the project and the software. They are all lightweight (especially compared to traditional waterfall-style processes), and inherently adaptable. As important, they all focus on empowering people to collaborate and make decisions together quickly and effectively. (Agile 101: What is Agile Development? | VersionOne)

Just what is agile software development? In 2001, a group of methodologists got together to agree on a common set of guiding principles around effective software development. Rather than summarize their agreements here, I’ll point you to their “agile manifesto”.

From a pure definition standpoint, agile is a conceptual framework generally centered on iterative and incremental delivery of working software, driven by the customer. The iterative part suggests that we are repeating, or iterating, a complete lifecycle of development over a short, fixed span of time. With each of these iterations, we ship some working subset, or increment, of features. (A Brief Introduction to Agile —

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile approach to software development. Rather than a full process or methodology, it is a framework. So instead of providing complete, detailed descriptions of how everything is to be done on the project, much is left up to the team. This is done because the team will know best how to solve its problem. (Introduction to Scrum – An Agile Process)

Scrum is an iterative, incremental framework for project management and agile software development. Although the word is not an acronym, some companies implementing the process have been known to spell it with capital letters as SCRUM. This may be due to one of Ken Schwaber’s early papers, which capitalized SCRUM in the title.

Although Scrum was intended for management of software development projects, it can be used to run software maintenance teams, or as a general project/program management approach. (Scrum (development) – Wikipedia)

Scrum is an agile framework for completing complex projects. Scrum originally was formalized for software development projects, but works well for any complex, innovative scope of work. The possibilities are endless. (Scrum Alliance -What Is Scrum?)

The Scrum Roles

Scrum has three roles: Product Owner, ScrumMaster, and Team. (Scrum Alliance -Scrum Roles)

Tips for an Agile Transition

Perhaps, but not necessarily. Pilot projects are commonly done for two reasons: To see if something will work or to learn how to make it work. By now, enough other companies—very likely including some of your competitors—are using agile approaches like Scrum that there is no longer any question of if it works. The real question most organizations face is how to make agile or Scrum work for them. One or more pilot projects can be very helpful in providing those answers. (Transitioning to Agile)

Organizational Impact of an Agile Transition

When development teams adopt agile practices, product management is often caught off guard by the amount of work added to their already overflowing plate. Agile calls for new product management skills and traditional staffing models do not typically accommodate the new product owner role. Given that most product managers are already overworked, how can they manage these new activities to derive more value from software projects and products? (InfoQ: How Product Management Must Change to Enable the Agile Enterprise)

Agile methodologies are helping software organizations stay competitive by delivering products more frequently and with significantly higher quality. Making the switch to agile development also challenges traditional notions of project management, introducing new ways of managing time, cost and scope. Learn how to successfully manage agile projects with the resources below. (Agile White Paper: The Agile Project Manager | VersionOne)

When an organization starts to explore Scrum, there’s often an uncomfortable moment early on when someone points out that the role of “manager” seems to be missing entirely. “Well I guess we’ll have to just get rid of ‘em all!” wisecracks one of the developers, and all the managers in the room shift uncomfortably in their seats. (Scrum Alliance -Manager 2.0: The Role of the Manager in Scrum)

About Agile Coaching

Agile methodologies introduce a newer role, typically called the “Agile Coach” that traditional methodologies will not focus on, or even mention. For those who have been working in an agile way for some time, it may seem like a natural complement, yet for those newer to this way of working it raises many questions like, “What’s so important about an Agile Coach: What’s wrong with a Line Manager, or a Team or Technical Lead: Why does list 54 positions with this title:” (InfoQ: The Agile Coach, from A to Z)

Market Trends

Gartner’s analysts (Thomas Murphy and David Norton) predict that by 2012 “agile development methods will be utilized in 80% of all software development projects”. The authors explain that although Scrum will continue gaining in popularity over the coming years, organizations will not be successful in their transition unless they move toward a team-focused culture (Gartner Predicts 2010: Agile and Cloud Impact Application Development Directions | Analytical-Mind)

In their recently released study “Agile Development: Mainstream Adoption Has Changed Agility“, Forrester reports that “35% of respondents stated that Agile most closely reflects their development process”. The report is based on Forrester’s/Dr. Dobbs Global Developer Technographics Survey, Q3, 2009, which surveyed 1298 application development professionals. (Forrester Reports “Agile Development: Mainstream Adoption Has Changed Agility” | Analytical-Mind)

Recommended Blogs

Recommended Books


The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Picture by topshampattiIf you work in an Agile environment or better yet, if you manage people who have embraced the Agile principles, you have certainly bought into the concept of self-organized teams. The underlying assumptions are that:

  • People are more motivated when they are self-organized;
  • People take their own commitments more seriously than the commitments made by others on their behalf;
  • Teams and individuals are more productive when they are not interrupted;
  • Teams improve when they can settle their own issues;
  • Changes in the composition of the team affect the productivity of the team members;
  • Face-to-face communication is the most productive way to share information.

Needless to say, management hasn’t changed much in a hundred years with its need to control and its chief tools remain extrinsic motivators.

Taylor believed that work consisted mainly of simple, not particularly interesting tasks and that the only way to get people to work on them was to incentivize them properly and monitor them carefully. Later on, Maslow developed the field of humanistic psychology in the 1960s (which questioned the idea that human behavior was purely ratlike seeking positive stimuli and avoiding negative stimuli) and McGregor challenged the assumption that humans are fundamentally inert (in the absence of external rewards and punishments, we wouldn’t do much).

In his most recent book (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Usaudiobook format), Daniel Pink presents many factoids taken from scientific researches to demonstrate how people can (and can’t) be motivated. Although the author brings a scientific perspective to people motivation, the book is easy to read in addition to being entertaining.

Scientists then knew that two main drivers powered behavior. The first was the biological drive (comes from within) and the second comes from without – the rewards and punishments the environment delivered for behaving in certain ways […] The third drive – performance of a task provides intrinsic reward. The joy of the task is its own reward.

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

In his book, Pink states that human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another.


The opposite of autonomy is control. Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.

Pink’s book provides valuable scientific explanations to the concept of self-organised teams. He presents the ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) concept and the Self Determination Theory (SDT) to demonstrate the relationship between autonomy and well-being. He goes further to associate autonomy with higher productivity, less burnout, and greater level of psychological well-being. More closely related to software development, the author presents the level of authority given to employees at software giant Atlassian where people decide: what they do, when they do it, how they do it, and whom they do it with.


The desire for intellectual challenge (the urge to master something new and engaging) was the best predictor of productivity.

Daniel Pink explains that people are motivated by self-development and learning of new skills or developing existing abilities. The actual challenge of mastering a discipline is often a better motivator than money can be (assuming a minimal level of income). Similar to children who easily get motivated with playing – which is a way for them to learn and master a skill – managers can leverage that ability to motivate individuals.

As such, human beings are said to have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges to extend and exercise their capacities to explore and learn – which are in themselves powerful motivators.


The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose.

The author points out that many psychologists and economists have found that the correlation between money and hapiness is weak – that is past a certain level, a larger pile of cash doesn’t bring people a higher level of satisfaction. As such, contrary to traditional motivational techniques, money does not increase happiness and performance – some research have actually demonstrated the opposite effect! It is possible to keep people highly motivated without constantly leveraging money as a motivator.

Human motivation seemed to operate by laws that run counter to what most scientists and citizens believe. When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for that activity. Rewards can deliver a short term boost but the effect wears off and worse can reduce a person’s longer-term motivation to continue the project.

In direct contravention to the core of tenets of motivation 2.0, an incentive designed to clarify thinking and sharpen creativity ends up clouding thinking and dulling creativity. Why? Rewards, by their very nature narrow our focus. That’s helpful when there’s a clear path to a solution. They help us stare ahead and race faster but “if then” motivators are terrible for challenges. The rewards narrowed people’s focus and blinkered the wide view that might have allowed them to see new uses for old objects.

Carrots and Sticks – The Seven Deadly Flaws

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. The can diminish performance
  3. The can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behavior
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  6. The can become addictive
  7. The can foster short-term thinking.

The relation to software development

Algorithmic tasks are tasks in which an individual follows a set of established instructions down in a single pathway to one conclusion. That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it.

A heuristic task is the opposite precisely because no algorithm exists for it, individuals have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution. Software development is a heuristic task.

During the twentieth century, most work was algorithmic but as McKinsey & Co. estimated that in the United States, only 30 percent of job growth now comes from algorithmic work, while 70 percent comes from heuristic work.

Researchers have found that external rewards and punishments – both carrots and sticks – can work nicely for algorithmic tasks but they can be devastating for heuristic ones.


If you need scientific explanation and useful examples to explain to people around you why a self-organized (autonomous) team with team members who are striving to develop their skills in an attempt to reach a common purpose is possibly the most impactful motivator, you may want to read this book.


Book I have Read – February 2010

Another monthly update on the books I read during the past month. For a complete a list, you can visit my virtual bookshelf.

1 Free Audio Book -

The Halo Effect: … and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers – (also available in audio book format)

My Rating:

Stumbling on Happiness

My Rating:

le manager agile: vers nouveau management affronter turbulence

My Rating:

Books I have read – January 2010

Another monthly update on the books I read during the past month. For a complete a list, you can visit my virtual bookshelf.


As part of my coaching training, I have purchased this recommended book. The book is a great introduction to what it means to be a coach. It explains how to be an effective coach and provides an approach that can be used for various types of coaching.

Coaching for Performance

My Rating

A few words on the book: This is an introductory book to coaching. It provides enough material for people managers who wish to improve their management style by using a coaching approach without getting into too much details. Although the author frequently refers to sport, many of the examples provided and suggested approach do apply to a business context. The book is easy to read and pragmatic but it isn’t enough to completely change one’s management style.


Pleased with Collins’ previous books (Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t), I decided to read the third book of the trilogy.

How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In

My Rating

A few words on the book: Contrary to the previous two books, “How the mighty fall” comes across as an hudge-pudge of simplistic conclusions derived out of the same series of data used for the previous books. Similar to his previous books, Collins introduces a 5 stages model to explain the failures. The problem I had with the book is that the conclusion do not seem to be based on lengthy analysis but on quick conclusions that are company specific – i.e. if a similar company applied the same actions, would they actually get to the same results? It seemed to me that the failures were related to many circumstances that were specific to the organizations – not at a macro level but within the organizations. In addition, the author put too much emphasis on the leader of the organizations and very little on the inner workings.


A friend of mine had told me about Deepak Chopra a few years ago and one day I stumbled upon this book. It seemed interesting …

The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence

My Rating

A few words on the book: I must admit, I didn’t finish this book. The final chapters are exercises to help improve the SynchroDestiny and that was not what I was looking for. On the other hand, I enjoyed the “scientific” explanation behind SynchroDestiny. I realize that if you are – like many – a fan of Chopra, you will probably enjoy the book. For my part, I am still trying to figure out what was the “destiny” I was supposed to achieve by purchasing this book…

You can download the audio version of these books from

Audio Books at

Books I have read – December 2009

Another monthly update on the books I read during the past month. For a complete a list, you can visit my virtual bookshelf.

Systemic Thinking

I read Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization a few times so I was looking forward to his new collaborative book.

The Necessary Revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world

My Rating

A few words on the book: This time, Senge and his collaborators propose a systemic approach to help solve the environmental and social challenges we are currently facing (Energy & Transportation, Food & Water, and Material Waste & Toxicity). He provides real life examples of people and organizations who have successfully implemented sustainable solutions by: following a systemic approach, collaborating, and inspecting & adapting their production methods.  Although at times the picture seems very bleak, seeing true solutions to some of the most complex problems our planet is facing was encouraging. Overall, a good book to read.

Servant Leadership

In the past year, I have heard references to servant leadership hundreds of time. Since I like to learn about various leadership styles and after a colleague suggested this training course, I jumped in. For more details on this training course, you may want to read my summary.

The Servant Leadership Training Course: Achieving Success Through Character, Bravery, and Influence

My Rating:

A few words on the book: A word of advice, although the beginning of this training course (audiobook) sounds like preaching by an experienced motivational speaker, the references and analogies used throughout the course are useful and eye-opening. Our organization strongly relies on servant leadership principles and getting the bigger picture will hopefully help me improve along those lines.


After releasing his audiobook The Right Use of Power, Peter Block wrote this book that provides more explanation around his philosophy of stewardship.

The Answer to How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters

My Rating

A few words on the book: In this book Block details his philosophy about life and work and breaks many of the common assumptions one makes when entering the work force. He offers new paradigms and presents why the old patriarchal type relationship between boss and employees does not work. If like me, the status quo isn’t your perspective, you will like Block’s thinking but beware implementing some of his suggestions is very demanding as society doesn’t (yet) work as Peter suggests.

People keep asking “How?” as a defense against living their life, says best-selling author Peter Block. In this witty, insightful award-winning book, Block shows that many standard solutions and improvement efforts, reinforced by most of the literature, keep people paralyzed. Here he places the “how to” craze in perspective and teaches individuals, workers, and managers ways to act on what they know. This in turn allows them to reclaim their freedom and capacity to create the kind of world they want to live in. Block’s “elements of choice” — the characteristic of a new workplace and a new world based on more positive values — include self-mentoring, investing in relationships, accepting the unpredictability of life, and realizing that the individual prospers only when the community does.

Books I’ve read – November 2009

A fair number of people who read my blog posts also end up consulting the list of books I’ve read in recent years. Based on their reaction, I’ve come to realize that the organization of my virtual bookshelf could be improved. Moving forward, I will publish a monthly post on the books I’ve read during the previous month – this is the first of such posts.

Meeting Facilitation

In preparation for our Strategic Café I read the following two books. I’m working on a post describing the process which should come out in the next few weeks.

The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter

My Rating:

A few words on this book: This is a great book if you are looking to start meaningful conversations on topics that are close to people’s heart. The book covers the requirements to organize a successful World Café.

The World Café is a flexible, easy-to-use process for fostering collaborative dialogue, sharing collective knowledge, and discovering new opportunities for action. World Café originators Juanita Brown and David Isaacs outline seven core design principles and provide practical tips and tools for convening and hosting “conversations that matter,” even with very large groups. Each chapter features actual stories of Café dialogues from business, education, government, and community organizations across the globe, demonstrating how the World Café approach can be adapted to many different settings and cultures. Based on living systems thinking, this is a proven approach for fostering authentic dialogue and creating dynamic networks of conversation around your organization or community’s real work and critical questions––improving both personal relationships and people’s capacity to shape the future together.

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future

My Rating:

A few words on this book: Margaret Wheatley wrote the foreword to the The World Cafe book and as such I assumed this book would be a good complement. Unfortunately, this book focuses much more on “restoring hope” than it does on initiating conversations. From my perspective, the book is more about the soft side and the philosophical aspect of conversations.

“I believe we can change the world if we start talking to one another again.”

With this simple declaration, Margaret Wheatley proposes that people band together with their colleagues and friends to create the solutions for real social change, both locally and globally, that are so badly needed. Such change will not come from governments or corporations, she argues, but from the ageless process of thinking together in conversation.

Leadership and Stewardship

The Right Use of Power (The Inner Art of Business Series)

My Rating:

A few words on this book: Although I listened to Peter Block’s audiobook a few months ago, I decided to invest another 3 hours to better understand the philosophical aspects behind stewardship. My friend François told me he listened to this audiobook 6 or 7 times and he has been greatly influenced by it.

The words of Peter Block convey the essence of his revolutionary message. On “The Right Use of Power,” this bestselling author and distinguished management consultant fast forwards us to the business model of the future: a self-governing, accountable organization where power is shared equally and work has meaning far beyond conventional measures. Join this business visionary as he explores:

The “community” of workers and how faith, service and communication redefine success

How to retain the best co-workers and why it has little to do with money

The “high control, low adaptive” organization and its roots in the parent-child relationship

What the philosopher-artist can teach us about pure motivation

The “controlling” boss: the surprising truth about why they do it

Spirituality in the workplace and the hidden strengths of our co-workers

Performance appraisal: obsolete artifact or necessary evil?

Breaking the cycle of “unfulfillable expectations” in the workplace through the partnership model

The “Great Questions” technique for building skillful communications and trust at work

If we redistribute power do we have to redistribute wealth, too?

Compelling real-life examples of the power of stewardship, gained from Peter Block’s years of work in both the public and private sectors

Concluding with a tough question-and-answer session with Peter Block, “The Right Use of Power” will help prepare you for the changes, challenges and rewards coming in the new era of business — an era that has already begun.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t

My Rating:

A few words on this book: I read this book in 2002 a few months after it came out. After listening to The Right Use of Power I wanted to go back to Collins’ book to find if there were any similarities between the concepts brought forward in these 2 books – and there are. I will document them further in an upcoming blog post.