Just before Christmas, Dan Miller wrote me a message and asked for a review of his book Don’t Spook the Herd! How to get your agile projects running smoothly. He told me that he wants to have an honest review.
The book is divided in four parts. In part I the author explains what he means with agile. Part II focuses on people, Part III uses an example of organizing a congress to explain the process and the last smaller part IV gives some final thoughts.
In the introduction, the author explained the title: “When the herd is at ease they can be the most fantastic group. They are capable of amazing feats of speed, coordination and agility. However, when they are freaked out for some reason, chaos sets in, end they end up all over the place. This is much like an agile project.”
In part I we get an overview of definitions, what is an agile project and flavors of agile. The following frameworks are briefly discussed: Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, Crystal Methods, eXtreme Programming (XP), Agile Unified Process, Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD), Lean Software Development (LSD), Feature Driven Development (FDD), Rapid Application Development (RAD), Adaptive Software Development (ASD), Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM). This part ends with a chapter explaining the characteristics of a project that help you to decide for an agile approach?
Part II puts the people in the spotlights. They can make or break a project. We get an overview of the different project roles and we look at culture through the lens of the agile manifesto and underlying principles. Separate chapters talk about leadership, the team and self-organization and how to support and get support from the stakeholders.
Part III follows an agile project from start to finish. The author takes the readers with him, explaining every step he takes as a project manager for this project. He describes the electronic tools, like Jira he uses and some templates he offers on his website (smartbusinessguardian.com).
The following tools can be downloaded:
- Project Intent Statement (compare a project one pager)
- Agile Decision Checklist (compare the PRINCE2 Agile Agilometer or the AgilePM Project Approach Questionnaire)
- Project Organization Chart
- Project Summary Schedule
- Project Status Report
Conclusion: For me the first part is the weakest part of the book. The agile flavors only explain agile at the team level. There is much more available, see for example this overview from my book Scaling agile with the most used ones. Dan Miller’s approach can be positioned at the left side of my picture. The explanation of Scrum could be better and it is a missed opportunity to give some more details about XP. Many agile teams are using techniques described by XP, e.g. pair programming, Test Driven Development and last but not least, the use of User Stories. DAD is now one of the elements of Disciplined Agile and DSDM offers AgilePM, AgilePgM and AgilePfM.
I agree with the author that people are the number one success factor and this is put central in part II. For me this is the strongest part of the book. Good to read how the author explains the agile manifesto and the agile principles, the competences for the project manager, the team and management.
Part III focusses on the process. Here you get a practical overview of the process to run an agile project but for me it is still too much of a traditional approach. E.g. progress reporting focusing on time, budget, risk etc. can be replaced by burn-down (current sprint) and burn-up (whole project) and the team board and demo’s, starting with a WBS and later a translation into User Stories can be replaced with a Story Board with Features and User Stories and slicing where needed. Etc.
But, if you are unfamiliar with agile projects and needed (agile) people behavior in projects this book can be helpful to get a better understanding and a jump start in the agile way of working. If you are looking for agile flavors or an explanation of Scrum there are better choices.
To buy: Don’t Spook the Herd!