Category Archives: Book Reviews

A Book Review: “The Great ScrumMaster”, by Zuzana Šochová

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In Brief

Buy it! You won’t be disappointed!

In Depth

I read the book in 3 sittings.

The First Sitting

Zuzi gave her book to me in October. She was visiting Toronto at the time and we spent a few days together teaching Scrum – I was honoured that she would share a classroom with me and that I’d get a sneak peak at her new publication. Almost immediately after she gave me the book I found a few minutes to thumb through it and read the foreword and first chapters. I immediately liked what I saw.

The foreword is written by Linda Rising who frames the book nicely by reminding us of these simple principles: “successful change is built around small steps and learning”, and “the book offers a chance for reflection and evaluation”. Zuzi’s preface describes briefly her journey to become a great Scrum Master. Hers is a story about humility and studious peristence; the journey is unique and difficult for us all. I could relate! The best aspect of the early pages in the book are the photographs of Zuzi. The book exudes her character traits: a friendly and insightful expert, a colleague and advisor. Her photos, as well as her illustrations throughout the book, help the reader to understand her colourful character; her stance as a coach and mentor; and her voice as an author.

My time was limited so I didn’t get far in that first sitting though my first impressions of the book are memorable. It’s a big book – not thick, that’s not what I mean. I mean large, wide pages. Approximately 20 centimetres square. It’s the kind of book that lays open on a coffee table. This is important! I understand many people buy digital books but if you can find the book in physical format, buy it! The medium is the message, as Mcluhan said. The medium, in this case, is a lightweight book that rests easy, open-faced, on a desk or coffee table. As you pass by the table or sit for a while to enjoy a conversation, you’ll find the book open and waiting for you. You’re likely to thumb through it lazily, your mind wandering while on the phone or talking with a friend, then something will catch your eye. It’ll be a page you’ve looked at a dozen times but suddenly a sentence or illustration will stand out for you, draw your attention. Like, “…if you join a discussion with the core metaskill of curiosity it will be different than if you choose listening or teaching”. That sentence is on page 88 – that’s the one that jumped off the page for me today. I’ve read that page a few times already but this day, in this moment, that sentence resonates. Such a simple sentence on a page and sparse text and white space…but exactly the solace you will need.

The Second Sitting

I was riding a train with the book open on my lap. Through the window passed the Canadian landscape, and I’d glance at the book between sips of coffee to take in another paragraph, picture, page. (See how cool the format is??) What I’ve learned from the next chapters of the book is that I share Zuzi’s interpretation of Scrum and of the Scrum Master’s role.

Her perspective is a philosophical one, yet she effectively relates the material to practical examples. Zuzi describes a concept she calls the #ScrumMasterWay. This is an innovative model for understanding how a Scrum Master can adapt their mode of service depending on the conditions of the organization they serve. Perhaps at first, the organization they serve is ‘A Scrum Team’ – and in that mode of service a Scrum Master will facilitate Scrum and help the team to self-organize. Next, after all the easy fruit has been picked and the Scrum Team is capable of continuous and deep self-improvement, the Scrum Master’s mode of service is likely to change – the team no longer needs help with the rudiments so the Scrum Master may focus more intently upon relationships to and within the team. And finally, the 3rd level of #ScrumMasterWay is achieved when the Scrum Master is able to focus their effort toward the entire system, “bringing the Agile Mindset and Scrum values to the company level”.

The Last Sitting

Reading about Zuzi’s #ScrumMasterWay concept in the previous sitting led me to think nostalgically about my own journey. I know this book, had she written it a decade ago, may have saved me from some mistakes of my own. I’ve come to more deeply appreciate her telling of the Scrum Master role.

In the 2nd half of the book, she provides a glimpse into numerous related practices and concepts. A collection of references and teaching tools that most Scrum Masters will discover along their journey. For example, all Scrum Masters will find themselves in discussion with stakeholders about the nature of complex problems and, ta da!, like a stone tablet from a high mountain will appear Dave Snowden’s CYNEFIN framework! A simple diagram…it’s so obvious! All Scrum Masters will find themselves in a personal struggle between telling and listening: “should I coach as a teacher?” or “coach as a facilitator?” and, without fail, a fellow Scrum Master will recommend a training course with the Agile Coaching Institute to better understand the coaching stance(s).

Here’s the truth of it: if a young jazz musician wants to become a great jazz musician, there are some iconic recordings to which they must listen: Kind of Blue; anything by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong; Blue Train; Saxophone Colossus. No drummer is worth their salt without having spent a zillion hours listening to Max Roach and Jimmy Cobb. Likewise, every great Scrum Master has had to grapple with the iconic challenges of servant leadership – they’ve spent a zillion hours pondering the difference between the words “should” and “could” and they’ve praised the power of the question, “what if?”

So, to help Scrum Masters along their journey, Zuzi has compiled many of the community’s greatest hits in her book. Einstein is often quoted as saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Perhaps then, one can examine how well a person understands a concept by how simply they can explain it… right? By that measure, it’s evident that Zuzi understands her material as she’s able to distill complex topics to just a colourful drawing and a few bullet points. “Root cause analysis” is described concisely with 3 paragraphs, 4 bullet points, and a beautiful drawing of a tree. Her purpose, keep in mind, isn’t to make the reader an expert in root cause analysis – her point is as if to say, “remember…problems often run deeeeeeep in the system. They’re organic. Find the seed.” I’m hearing in my mind a wise old music teacher, telling the aspring young jazz musician, “remember Herbie Hancock…go listen to Maiden Voyage…behold the deeeeeeep groove and floating melodies. It’s organic”.

The collection of materials which complete her book include highlights of Tuckman’s “Stages of Group Development”; Lencioni’s “Five Dysfunctions of a Team”; the martial artist’s progression through “Shu Ha Ri”; a shortlist of “Powerful Questions”; and a few others. In this last sitting, as I finished reading the book, I was struck by the similarity between Zuzi’s journey and interests and my own. I too have enjoyed Lencioni’s books, Tuckman’s model, the practice of co-active coaching. While I’ve lived and practiced all these years in Canada and Zuzi has lived and practiced in Prague, how is it we have been exposed to a similar body of knowledge and wisdom? I take some comfort in that, actually.

Conclusion

I face a difficult decision now. Zuzi signed this book for me and it’s in pristine condition. However, if I’m not careful, I am certain in the coming years this book will become littered with notes and comments, dog-eared pages and sticky-notes everywhere. Shall I allow myself to ruin this pristine book? Yes. Yes, I shall 🙂

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Book Commentary

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AGILE Project Management with Scrum -A book by Ken Schwaber

Prior to the Certified ScrumMaster seminar I attended in August 2008, I read the book by Ken Schwaber called Agile Project Management with Scrum based on a recommendation from Mishkin Berteig.    After attending the seminar and becoming certified as a ScrumMaster I re-read the book.   The second reading was much more valuable than the first for I had a much better understanding of Scrum.   Here are my comments on this book.

What have I learned?

1.    The adoption of Scrum methodology is more about changing roles and behaviours than it is about embracing a new process.

It was obvious to me and to Ken that one of the greatest challenges facing those individuals when moving from a their current environment to a scrum environment was that they would need to change their behaviours.    In the former environment the team member would be directed and inspected based on what their project manager told them to do.  The PM is the boss and the team members are somewhat powerless.  In Scrum the team members take responsibility for their commitments and communicate their accomplishments on a daily basis.  The hardest change occurs when the project manager is asked to become a ScrumMaster.  The project Manager is familiar with assigning tasks and personally inspecting results. In the scrum environment they are the servants of the team, removing obstacles and facilitating the process.   As Ken states in this book some project managers have great difficulty transitioning into the ScrumMaster role.  They are unwilling to give up the power and position as a project master.   It is hard to move from the leader of the pack to become the sheep dog herding the sheep!

2.    Scrum is unforgiving for if you do not apply the fundamental principles it is likely your efforts to adopt Scrum will fail.

As I reviewed the numerous case studies Ken chronicled is was apparent that when organizations, Team members, Product Owners and ScrumMasters followed the terms, conditions and guidelines of the Scrum methodology, they tended to deliver on their commitments.   When they misunderstood, misused or deleted some portion of the methodology they tended not to accomplish their objectives.   The methodology is well thought out and works in many situations when used appropriately.

3.    Scrum enhances individual and team expertise.

I agree and totally support Ken’s opinion about the value of Scrum.   I have no doubt the individual team member is empowered and has a greater sense of achievement.    Obviously based on his case studies, Ken builds a strong case that Scrum allows the team to deliver quicker.  The process is more change adaptive, responsive to customer needs, timely and economical than traditional methods.   Greater energy and capacity is released in the team and individual team members.


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From Good to Great to Below Average

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One of my favorite books is Good to Great by Jim Collins.  One of my other favorite books is Freakanomics by Steven Levitt.  This article, From Good to Great … to Below Average, takes an interesting look at what has happened to the Good to Great companies in the intervening years.  I found the comments to be particularly valuable to read.


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Crystal Clear – A Book on Small Teams (pt. 2)

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Crystal Clear: Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams - Book Cover

I recently started writing a book review on Crystal Clear: A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams by Alistair Cockburn. Check out the first part of my review. I have read Chapter 1 entitled Explained (View from the Outside). It was a very interesting chapter that set Crystal Clear as the answerer to Alistair Cockburn. It made many aspects of the Crystal family clear in my mind. I enjoyed the questions, and the answers were insightful and helped me to put the ideas into a whole picture.

At the moment I am reading Chapter 2 entitled Applied (The Seven Properties). Frequent Delivery, Reflective Improvement, and Osmotic Communication made sense to me and aligned somewhat to my own beliefs. When I started reading the fourth property, Personal Safety, certain parts seemed fine, while others set off warning bells. I believe that the purpose of any team is to progress. This is achieved through trust, respect and unity.

Cockburn says “Once personal safety and amicability are established, a useful, playful dynamic may emerge. People may wage competition with each other. They may argue loudly, even to the verge of fighting, without taking it personally. In the case where someone does take it personally, they sort it out and set things straight again.” – page 31.

The statements above concern me. Cockburn addresses trust by saying that people will not take it personally. Respect is lost because they “… May argue loudly, even to the verge of fighting”. I would be unable to say that I respect someone if I yell at them or even raise my voice. Now unity is completely destroyed. For some reason our society and many societies around the world not only condone competition, it is seen as a way to judge attributes of excellence in an individual. This is not a good sign for our progress towards unity in human civilization.

I agree that being polite and not stating one’s opinion is harmful for trust. However, it is preferable to use consultation instead of competition. Imagine that a team is encouraged to compete with itself to achieve better results. Would there not be feelings of resentment or heightened levels of stress? Now imagine a team that is encouraged to consult and raise the team together without focusing on individual success. Would not this team feel excited to be around each other? Would they become fast friends and grow as a unit? Would family members of the team be enthusiastic to be included in picnics and socials?

Now the big question:
What is better, individual success or team unity that add value to not only the team but all who interact with them?

I will continue to read this book and post my reviews. I find it interesting that this book has helped to see the confusion that is happening all around the world in terms of progress, success, and human development.

I welcome any comments on my posts.


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Crystal Clear – A Book on Small Teams

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I have just started reading Crystal Clear: A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams by Alistair Cockburn. I was not too sure what this book would provide for me in the way of relevant learning.

I am intrigued that this work came out of years of experience by Alistair. This quote from the book “Crystal Clear does not aspire to be a “best” methodology; it aspires to be “sufficient,” in order that your team will shape it to itself and then actually use it.” gave me hope. I work on a small team and I wonder about which practices will best suit our situation. I also wonder how our team can use tools and processes then reflect on their usefulness to decide if we will continue their implementation.

I am interested in reading the whole book, but a little concerned that there will be too much techno-words used throughout. I have a background in business, marketing, and the web but not to the degree of the some of the other books that I have read.

What learning have you gained from working on small teams? Have any of you read this book? If so, did you gain any insights that would help my team to develop?


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Agile Project Management with Scrum – A Tough Read at Times

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I have been reading a book entitled “Agile Project Management with Scrum” by Ken Schwaber. It is an interesting read. The examples and stories that he shares of companies who have struggled with Scrum and those that have succeeded are fantastic. The way Schwaber breaks up the book and explains all the roles then gives example makes it a great learning tool. It is also really funny and clever.

One complaint I have with the book is that it is very technical, it seems that the reader is assumed to have many years of software development experience. It is interesting that the projects that Schwaber discusses that have the most trouble with Scrum are those that are “stuck” in their old ways of working. It’s almost as if the old saying of “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is true for Scrum implementations. “Scrum means doing things in small cycles – so I will do everything the same except in shorter cycles.” Anybody ever heard of that type of reasoning?

I definitely recommend this book for those who have considerable experience in the technology field. For those who don’t this book might be challenging at times, espcially with the computer language words that are used.

I want to continually learn for my own personal and professional growth. So I  would like to know which books do you suggest? Are there any books that share examples and stories that are not focused on software development? If you disagree which my review of the book please comment.


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“The Brain that Changes Itself” – Book Review

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It has been a long time since I read a book in a single day. Yesterday I started and finished reading “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge, MD. As an educator, father and individual interested in self improvement, I was absolutely astounded by most of what I read. As an agile methods coach, I discovered some important, directly applicable ideas. Read on for a review of this book.

Continue reading “The Brain that Changes Itself” – Book Review


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The Wisdom of Teams – Generalizing Specialists

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I’ve almost finished reading The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization. I wanted to share a couple of paragraphs that give a great example of the idea of Generalizing Specialists that is such a key part of Agile Work. Here’s the passage:

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Peformance Goals – The Wisdom of Teams

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As I continue my enthralled read through “The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization” I am moved to share another core concept that deserves to be considered essential for Agile Work:

The Performance Goal

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The Wisdom of Teams

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I’ve read a lot of books lately about agile, organizations, teams, work systems, lean, etc. This one really stands out: “The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization” by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith. Right now, there is a huge discussion on the ScrumDevelopment Yahoo! group about, among other things, the importance of Self-Organizing teams in the definition of Agile/Scrum. Without doubt, this book demonstrates over and over that Self-Organization is a critical component of high performance “real” teams. I haven’t yet finished the book, but already it is proving invaluable to me as an Agile coach, inside my family, and in my understanding about how to develop my own business. The following is an extract from the book:

Continue reading The Wisdom of Teams


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Cueing Agility – Creating a Supportive Environment for Agile Teams

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In Blink : The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, there is a chapter that describes a number of fascinating experiments. These experiments show how we can be influenced by very subtle cues in our environment. This is a very important lesson for us to apply in our work environments and in particular in our agile work.

Continue reading Cueing Agility – Creating a Supportive Environment for Agile Teams


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The Human Touch

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If you are given a problem to solve, how much does the presentation of that problem matter to your ability to solve it? Imagine that it’s a simple problem… imagine that it is presented in two different ways, both of them simple. It turns out that presentation differences can still make a huge difference. In fact, there is a way to present problems that makes them substantially easiers to solve: make them people problems.

Continue reading The Human Touch


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People are Creators – The Artist’s Way

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I have just started reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I found it interesting how affirming it is of the first of the Agile Axioms. The following are all quotations taken from the first couple of chapters of the book:

Through my own experience – and that of countless others that I have shared – I have come to believe that creativity is our true nature…


What you are doing is creating pathways in your consciousness through which the creative forces can operate. Once you agree to clearing these pathways, your creativity emerges. In a sense, your creativity is like your blood. Just as blood is a fact of your physical body and nothing you invented, creativity is a fact of your spiritual body and nothing that you must invent.


And few ideas are worse than the ones we have about art.


Why should we all use our creative power . . . ? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. (Brenda Ueland)


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