Agile Forest

Find your path to agility with Renee Troughton

When I mentioned to some community friends that I was going to be reading Steve Denning’s Radical Management book a number of them looked at me as if I had contracted some form of virus. “Why would you read a dumbed down book on Scrum?” they said.

The answer for me was simple –

  1. Agile, I feel, isn’t an easy concept for Managers to get. I wanted to check the three prominent books on the market that are there to help Managers become Agile in order to see which one I would recommend if I ever had a manager (which admittedly to date I haven’t) one of them asked me for a recommendation.
  2. Because I do feel that it is hard for Managers to get Agile I wanted to see if there were any hints to what I could do differently or on what practices are relevant for Managers.
  3. I really like Steve Denning’s HBR articles. He has a beautiful writing style which I can appreciate for its simplicity and purpose.

Within this book review I won’t be comparing this book to the other two (although I might do then when I review those), instead I want to focus on my thoughts as I read the book.

Firstly, focusing on my third point above I was not disappointed. For the most part I did continue to enjoy Steve’s writing style in this book. Most pages I felt engaged in and whilst the pages didn’t all fly by, certainly up to the end of Chapter 9 they did (from there it does drag on a little).

Secondly, for a manager that has absolutely zero understanding of Agile and has focused for most of their management tenure on traditional command and control methods, either intentionally or not, I feel that this is an excellent book… to start them on the mental journey.

Which brings me into my third point. It tries to give a practical angle of applying it but I couldn’t in all honesty give this book to a Manager and expect them to be able to do the practices effectively. In fact, in a number of instances there is no detail on how to do a practice. So what this book does really well is get Managers to begin to question what they do and how they do it, less so actually enact change. This could be perceived as quite a concern for many but I don’t think it is that big of a deal – the difficulty is in the mindset change and this book does address well why you would want to shift from being a traditional manager to a radical manager. Additionally the book is riddled with references so if you did read this book and wanted to find more than there are a huge number of useful references at the back.

Now for the negative bits (which I don’t feel outweigh the positive):

  1. Some of the examples are poor – they don’t get the message across or they are weak links to the lesson. Steve is a good storyteller, just a few of the stories are duds. The first one in Chapter 10 is an example of a dud, as is the communicating example further in the same chapter. The roles in Chapter 1 also felt disconnected.
  2. The focus is strongly on Scrum. There is little content on Lean and only a sentence or two on Kanban. It would have been nice to have a broader view of being radical aside from Jeff Sutherland’s perspective. I was aware of this prior to reading the book so maybe I was a little more conscious of it than most readers would be. That said, I actually find that non Iterative Agile is an easier concept for Managers to understand.
  3. Iterations. I’m left with a feeling that Steve doesn’t understand what an Iteration is. It seemed to hint more towards an increment rather than an iteration. The examples that he gives on iterations are poor and for a fundamental principle I think it could have been articulated further.
  4. There are some occasional inaccuracies in advice (in my humble opinion) – like the concept that Value Stream Maps would find the phantom traffic jam problem and what defines “divergence” when using Planning Poker.

So it might be early days to know what book to give to a Manager to learn Agile (even if this was not the intent of this book and it’s intent was to be wider in focus), but overall I would give it a 7/10.

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