Home Book Recommendations

Here are some books we like. Click on the title for the LeanPub or Amazon page.

Agile Thought Leadership

Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability

Daniel Vacanti

When Will It Be Done

Daniel Vacanti

Both are extremely important, should be required reading for all coaches and trainers.  It is shocking that many popular Agile tools still use averages for forecasting.  Vacanti points out that this is likely due to the fact that we were all taught about the pareto principle and bell curves in school.  The problem is that software development is not “normal,” that is, completion times do not follow a bell curve.  More sophisticated statistical approaches are needed to create usable forecasts.  Worse still, software processes that are not under control (those which exhibit a very high degree of unpredictability) may require a very large amount of historical data in order to make any kind of sound prediction.  Regardless, Vacanti argues that we should consider re-forecasting whenever new data arises, ultimately leading to “continuous re-forecasting.”   We also recommend Vacanti’s forecasting software Actionable Agile.  While it is certainly not perfect, it is vastly better to the forecasting functions within the majority of software tools in wide use today.

Software for your Head: Core Protocols for Creating and Maintaining Shared Vision

Jim McCarthy (2002)

Extremely thought provoking. Years ahead of its time in my opinion. Explains what is effective but not how to get there.

Leading Change

John P. Kotter (2012)

Kotter has spent many years working with large organizations as they undergo transformational change.  Unsurprisingly, he has come to the conclusion that such change is extremely difficult.   So difficult, in fact, that such efforts rarely succeed.  Nevertheless, the need to change rapidly has never been greater.  Windows of opportunity open and close more quickly than ever, and companies that are more nimble tend to outpace their competitors.   Kotter has come up with a “recipe” for change– a set of activities that he has seen over and over again in the organizations that have been successful at undergoing big changes.  Kotter indicates that, while following the recipe does not guarantee success, skipping steps makes failure more likely.  Although methods such as Kanban generally prefer to avoid such risky and disruptive changes (via an incremental approach), it is undeniable that there are times when an organization must pivot to survive, to take advantage of a massive opportunity, or to avoid a significant risk.  Here is Kotter’s recipe: 

    1. establish a sense of urgency
    2. build a guiding coalition
    3. establish the vision and strategy
    4. communicate the change vision
    5. empower employees for change-based action
    6. generate short-term wins
    7. consolidate gains and produce more change
    8. anchor new approaches in the culture
Kanban Change Leadership

Klaus Leopold

Practical Kanban

Klaus Leopold

Rethinking Agile

Klaus Leopold

Very much enjoy Klaus’ writing, and he is clearly honing his vision and sharpening his writing skills with each book. Practical Kanban introduces the concept of Flight Levels and Rethinking Agile hones and polishes this vision.  Flight levels provide a useful conceptual model for managing the flow of work and tying strategy to execution by visualizing work at three levels: strategic, coordination, and operational.  When combined with the Systems Thinking Approach to Implementing Kanban (STATIK) and the Kanban Maturity Model (KMM), Flight Levels provides a powerful model for organizational improvement and alignment.  Companies struggling to implement SAFe would do well to look into Flight Levels and KMM.

a Seat at the Table

Mark Schwartz

Schwartz argues persuasively that IT leadership, in particular the CIO, has a critical role to play in an Agile organization.  He argues that IT needs to participate actively in devising organizational strategy, alongside sales, marketing and finance.  He stresses that IT should be evaluated not based on adherence to schedule or budget but by achieving outcomes.  Agile and DevOps can shrink cycle times to the point that business hypotheses can be formulated and tested quickly.  Schwartz advocates the “Beyond Budgeting” concept of setting guardrails, utilizing rolling wave planning and articulating assumptions and goals so they can be revisited when need be.  Technical strategies can be linked to business drivers via “Impact Mapping,” a simple brainstorming technique invented by Gojko Adzic.  Rather than tolerating change, we should welcome “as much change as results in a better outcome.”  The CIO is the steward of three important assets: the enterprise architecture, IT resources and skills, and enterprise data.  Some of my favorite quotes: “Unfortunately, we have set up IT around a control paradigm rather than a creative and enabling paradigm. This has caused business stakeholders to perceive IT as a limiter, a constraint, an impediment in achieving business objectives.”   “The transformational project occurs when the amount of debt has become too much to bear. It is a painful lump-sum payment at a time when the company has been paying so much interest that it may already be frail and tottering.”  “Transformational projects demonstrate waste in a governance process. If the governance process is unable to approve incremental changes to a system to keep it synchronized with business needs and technology trends, then that inability is costing the business money.”  and “To be agile, in a sense, means to always be transforming.”  Sobering thoughts.

Turn the Ship Around

L. David Marquet

Team of Teams

General Stanley McChristal

Some Books a Little Bit Dated But Still Valuable

Agile Management for Software Engineering

David J Anderson

Precursor, written way before LeanKanban

Lessons in Agile Management

David J Anderson

Fascinating account that explains thought process as LeanKaban was being conceived and codified. Valuable anecdotes help explain motivations and benefits of evolutionary approach.

Agile: The Good, the Hype, and the Ugly

Bertrand Meyer

Part polemic, part paean from the inventor of the Eiffel programming language and the author of “Object Oriented Software Construction” the definitive work on that topic. Focuses mostly on Scrum. Interestingly, Kanban answers most of the author’s nitpicks with “agile.” It is in our opinion important and worthwhile for all Kanban coaches and trainers to be aware of agile’s “failure modes.”

Here are a couple related articles:

Why “Agile’ and especially Scrum are terrible
Michael O. Church

The tax you are paying for using Scrum
Martin Cerruti

Specific Agile Techniques Useful for Software Teams

User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Built the Right Product

Jeff Patton

Event Storming

Alberto Brandolini (LeanPub early access)

Specification by Example

Gojko Adzic

FIT for Developing Software

Ward Cunningham, Rick Mugridge

Analysis Patterns

Martin Fowler

Product Roadmaps Relaunched

C. Todd Lombardo, Bruce McCarthy

The Phoenix Project
The Unicorn Project

Gene Kim

Lean Enterprise

Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky, Barry O’Reilly

The Flaw of Averages: Why We Underestimate Risk in the Face of Uncertainty

Sam L. Savage

Release It!

Michael Nygard

Show Me the Numbers: Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten

Stephen Few (2004)

We think his later 2009 book “Now you see it, simple visualization techniques for quantitative analysis” is even better!

Continuous Delivery

Jez Humble

Exploring the Diversity and Range of Agile Methods

Extreme Programming Explained

Kent Beck

Reading this in 1999 changed the course of our careers!

This is Lean

Modig, Niklas, Ahlstrom, Par

Very clear explanation of Lean

Coaching Agile Teams

Lyssa Adkins

Despite the general-sounding title, this is pretty scrum-specific


Corey Ladas

Showing its age; many of the recommendations or techniques have been superseded by better ones. However, we still prefer this due to the quality and clarity of the exposition over newer Scrumban books

The Goal

Eliyahu Goldratt

Lean for manufacturing and physical processes

Fixing Your Scrum

Ryan Ripley

Despite the title, this is a pretty good guide to state of the art modern Scrum.  Don’t Scrum like its 1999.   Get this book and see what you have been missing!

Forecasting and Metrics

Actionable Agile Metrics for Predictability

Daniel Vacanti

When Will It Be Done

Daniel Vacanti

Extremely important, should be required reading for all coaches and trainers.


Vasco Duarte

Fun read full of wisdom. The keynote video on his website is an absolute gem. Unfortunately it is paywalled.

Software Estimation without Guessing

George Dinwiddie

A brand new book and worthy successor to replace the venerable scrum-based estimation book by Mike Cohn Agile Estimation and Planning. George covers a lot of ground, but in my opinion misses a few important points regarding large-scale Agile efforts within the federal government space (admittedly, this is an extremely specialized environment). Nevertheless there is a great deal of excellent material to mine here.

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Copyright 2020 Ariel Partners. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2020 Ariel Partners. All rights reserved.