Book Review: Agile Coaching by Davies and Sedley

by Louellen Coker on June 8, 2011

Agile Coaching CoverIf you’re involved in web or software development, you’ve likely heard of the Agile approach to product development. While Wikipedia defines the project management method more fully than I do in this post, it is a fast-paced iterative approach to managing a product creation that breaks the project down into smaller chunks and, when used effectively, can expedite a project and facilitate better team communication.

I first learned of the Agile Development Process when a dear friend and colleague, Kathryn Poe, spoke at a Lone Star Community STC meeting a couple of years ago. (If you ever have opportunity to hear this Scrum Master and consultant speak, take advantage of the chance.) Since we do print and website development rather than software development, Kathryn and I have often discussed how it would benefit our processes here at Content Solutions.

I admit I was excited when I received my review copy of Agile Coaching by Rachel Davies and Liz Sedley (aff. link). Excited because several of my colleagues have been enthusiastic about how effective this approach has been on their projects and I wanted to learn more about the process and its applicability to the types of projects handled by my company. Specifically, I wanted to learn what the Agile process is, would it apply to my workload, and how to be a better manager to my team members.

This easy to read book—you can read it in the span of a cross-country flight—makes a straightforward promise: “that you’ll learn how to build a team that produces great software and has fun doing it.” (back cover) The authors deliver by sharing what has and has not worked for them over the years. They discuss possible pitfalls and provide guidance to avoid and overcome them. These recognized leaders in the Agile community share their personal and observed experiences (they consult with companies to successfully integrate the Agile process into their workflow).

If you’re learning about the Agile process or find yourself coaching an Agile team, you’ll want to get a copy. Beyond discussing the process, they hone in on how you can become an effective coach by breaking the method into logical and discrete segments starting with defining the coach’s role in the process and moving through creating your team, facilitating development with your team, keeping your projects moving, maintaining a quality product, and observing results to improve the process for the next project or iteration.

The text is organized very effectively. Each chapter offers pertinent information about possible difficulties one may encounter as well as a checklist of best practices in working with and guiding your team throughout the process. These lists transform the book from a one-time read to a resource a manager will likely consult often as they manage their projects. This focused content make the book worthy of it’s $34.95 USD cover price. (Electronic versions are also available through the publisher.)

The authors embrace their readers who have little or no knowledge about the Agile environment. They provide a clear picture of when the method is best used while addressing concerns of those who have an established team. After reading this book, project managers will have a base understanding of the process that will allow them to determine if it is the best approach to their specific projects.

Any person who leads project teams will learn a great deal. Davies and Sedley provide sound principles of effective project management and developing teams that apply in general to any project team—Agile or not. Their attention to the full scope of their audience make this a valuable book for any team member’s or manager’s bookshelf.

By the time I reached the detailed end matter of the book, I had developed a good understanding of the Agile process and if it would work for the typical project in my company. While we won’t be embracing the Agile process in its entirety, I was able to glean valuable information that I immediately integrated into existing projects and team management.  As a result, I’ve witnessed my team working together more effectively and have experienced increased productivity and quality in our projects.

Have suggestions for other books geared for Agile newbies? Let us know in the comments.

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