Book Review: Agile Project Management with Scrum

Jurgen! What's your opinion on Scrum books?

For many agile practitioners, particularly the ScrumMasters among us, books by Ken Schwaber are a must-read. I can explain, using a wide range of both original and lame excuses, why I still hadn't read Agile Project Management with Scrum.

But I won't. Let me just tell you how this book compares to all those other agile books out there. There are plenty of alternatives to choose from (by Cockburn, Highsmith, Anderson, Coplien, Poppendieck, Larman, Beck, Fowler, to name just a few…) so it's interesting to see what Ken's unique contribution is to this crowded field…

  1. The book is very rich in case studies, and I think this is the best reason for reading it: there's a lot we can learn from real-life examples. Theory is always important, of course. But sometimes it's even more important to see where theory has failed in practice, and how Ken has managed to solve some problems in ways you won't find in the standard Scrum process descriptions.
  2. The book is poor in details on best practices. Ken does not elaborate much on daily stand-ups. He doesn't evaluate different types of burn charts and task boards. He doesn't explain how Scrum compares with (or differs from) XP or any of the other agile methods. But that's not the point of this book. There are plenty of other sources where you can get that information from. This book is about implementing Scrum, and it has lots of stories about the problems Ken has had to overcome. In that area the book is quite unique.
  3. Ken Schwaber makes a number of references to the science of complexity. Scrum has its roots in self-organization, emergence, and other principles of complex systems. It's my favorite subject, so I was quite pleased with the explicit mention of complexity science. (The only other author I've seen making similar connections is Jim Highsmith.) It's a pity Ken's elaborations on this subject were only superficial. But who knows… he might have left that topic for me to explore!
  4. The cover is horrible. I really don't see what a bunch of lines, circles and cubes have to do with Scrum. It's one of those rare books that looks best when only the spine is visible. I honestly hope someone was fired for delivering such a crappy cover.

If you want to know more about implementing Scrum in various organizations, read this book! But if you want lots of information about many agile practices, read something else.

Agreed? Not? Let me know!

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  • Mike

    I recently read this book as well and I had about the same feelings as you. The content was more geared to how to deal with challenges to scrum implementation than to how to implement it. I really enjoyed it and felt that it helped me capture the “spirit” of scrum better than a book simply describing the “steps” or “rules”.

  • Rich McCabe

    The only other work I have seen relating complexity/choas theory with software development is by L.B.S. Raccoon ( Unfortunately, everything downloadable is in WordPerfect. I am sorry to say it’s been so long since I read it that I can’t give you a decent synopsis, but I was struck by the linkage among the concepts, even if it didn’t lead to any particularly practical recommendations.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    @Rich: Thanks for the link. That’s very interesting stuff!

  • Olivia Jennifer

    An agile process tends to focus on iterations, and
    client feedback, to allow for the inevitability of changing requirements
    whereas a waterfall process tries to define all requirements up front, and
    tends to be inflexible to changing requirements. You can learn more about agile
    and scrum by referring to some free resources
    ( provided by scrumstudy or by attending any agile scrum certification
    courses. I would personally suggest Agile Expert Certified course or a Scrum
    Master Certification
    to you.

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