Book Review: Essential Scrum by Kenny Rubin
I usually do not do book reviews. Perhaps it’s because they make me feel like I’m back in school writing a book report; or, maybe it’s because I feel that the amount of useful information found in today’s business books would be better served if its salient points were presented in a pamphlet rather than in book length.
However, on occasion I do find a book that is so useful that I feel I must evangelize its existence to the rest of the world. This is the case with Kenny Rubin’s book Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process. For the past several months, I have been helping an organization transform from traditional “waterfall” software development practices to agile practices, specifically scrum.
While the basic practices, ceremonies, and artifacts of scrum are very easy to understand they are incredibly difficult to operationalize—particularly in an organization that has built significant muscle memory around traditional methods. Decades of practice have deeply engrained behaviors and thought patterns. Entire groups have even been assembled to protect the process and enforce certain aspects of its use. Imagine the individual unease being felt by the people in these groups when a new way of doing things is introduced. It's very threatening. Until everyone understands how they will be impacted, personally, they are very unwilling to change how anything gets done (or not done as is the case in many instances).
Essential Scrum has been an immensely valuable resource to helping make this transition. Overall, you will not find anything really new here. After all, scrum as a framework is already very well-defined. What makes this resource priceless is the story it tells its readers on the many aspects and considerations about the practices of the scrum framework. To make his point, Kenny uses analogies that are accessible to any reader. My favorite example is his demonstration of how important dedicated teams are to the agile process.
The single largest obstacle I have been challenged with is how management is still enthralled with keeping people busy; myopically focusing on keeping people busy rather than focusing on the more valuable prospect of attacking idle work. The analogy he draws is that of a 4x100-meter relay team. We hired them to run so should we keep them busy, perhaps by running in place or up and down the bleachers, as they wait their turn to carry the baton for their 100-meters of the race? Obviously, the answer is “no” – that would be wasteful to the runner’s time and destructive to the end goal of winning the race. This is as it should be in agile environments also. Focus on getting the baton across the finish line and adding value, not on keeping the individuals busy. Innovation occurs during slack time, not during busy time.
Another great feature of this book is its generous use of illustrations. Pictures and diagrams are ubiquitous in this book. They are crisp, easy to understand, and reinforce the textual content and structure. If a picture is truly worth a thousand words then Essential Scrum encompasses an encyclopedic amount of information. The graphics are easy to understand but, like the text, do not come across as though the reader is being talked down to.
Essential Scrum is a valuable addition to the Addison-Wesley Mike Cohn signature series of books published by Pearson Education. That’s a great accomplishment given the many good titles offered in the series by some of the biggest names in the business. If you find yourself wanting to know more about scrum or are interested in how to more effectively help others understand agile principles and scrum practices, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of this book. It will certainly have a long shelf life and will serve you well over the long term. It is available in both paperback and electronic editions. You can view the book trailer below.