Book Review: Agile by Brian Wernham

When I hear someone say “agile working” my blood pressure rises and a little vein pops up on the side of my temple.  The reason is, I’ve heard so many people use that phrase totally out of context and as an excuse to not plan properly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Anti-Agile, in fact this is what i did my university thesis on back in the day,  but as with any project management method, you need to apply it carefully and appropriately… hmmm maybe it should be renamed to FrAgile.  (yes I did just make that up).

So with that in mind a book about Agile would not be on the top of my reading list.  However, I saw Brian Wernham present at the same conference I was talking at back in November and I thought he was cool.  A few weeks later I was asked to review his new book “Agile project Management for Government”, so fast forward four months and one transatlantic life move … and here we are.

Book Overview:

The book is split into three main parts, the first part is all about success stories of agile in government from both sides of the pond.  I particularly like the FBI one because it shows how a really big project got its panties in a bunch, (which is an American version of the English saying “knickers in a twist”). The agile recovery approach included things like analysing, prioritizing and sequencing the most valuable requirements with the greatest benefits to the agents and analysts.  Yup, it sounds like common sense right.. But we all know common sense just isn’t that common!

Part two is my favourite, Brian has taken the Agile manifesto and it’s principles and added his own 9 Agile Leadership behaviors, a ballsie move, which I like.  They include

1)     Satisfy the customer

2)     Harness change

3)     Encourage incremental implementation

4)     Get the business and technical people together

5)     Create trust through leadership processes

6)     Encourage face to face conversations

7)     Set targets and reward real progress towards a working solution

8)     Pursue simplicity not complexity

9)     Give your teams the space they need to excel

I was really pleased when I read this because I checked myself against them, turns out I must be an alright leader because I do all these. Woop woop.  Each behavior is discussed in detail in the following chapters and whilst the white and grey diagrams look a little bit boring (I love colorful diagrams) they are very useful, which is the important thing.

Finally part 3 is all about the 6 main barriers to success using agile.  This includes things like being addicted to process (love that chapter title) and traditional procurement / contract difficulties.  If any of you have government experience you’ll know how much of a challenge that procurement thing really is.

Case studies are used throughout the book which I love, in fact the way they are integrated really helps make this an enjoyable read. I was going to count the case studies but there are so many I couldn’t be bothered, personally I prefer a case study approach because it helps you understand the theory much better.

Who should read this?

Anyone that doesn’t want to read a big boring text book about Agile Project Management, but wants a good rounded view using real life and interesting case studies. Project, Programme, Business teams for sure, but also Portfolio office teams and business change managers would definitely benefit from this.  C-level not so much unless you have a burning desire to understand more Agile detail, although you will enjoy some of the case studies.

How did it make my life better?

Whilst i have no desire to be an Agile Project Management expert, if you’re a portfolio leader you need to know this stuff because most portfolios have Agile projects, and you need to create an environment that allows Agile to thrive.

Anything to grumble about?
Only one tiny thing bugged me and that was acronyms, whilst they were written in full the first time, you’re expected to know them after that and without a glossary there’s no way I’m going to remember what a DOD and BDUF is…nor do I want to.

If I were to rate it on Amazon

4 stars.

Buy Agile Project Management for Government by Brian Wernham here and then zap him a tweet if you want here @BrianUkulele



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