|Book Review: Managing Agile Projects|
Managing Agile Projects
Written by: Sanjiv Augustine. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005. 229+xxiv pages.
For those not familiar with agile software development, it is a collection of methods and philosophies for developing information technology and software products by employing methods that encourage speed, flexibility, and an emphasis on customer value. This journal has published several reviews of agile development books. Like most agile books and articles, this book's audience is software developers, even though the principles and practices apply to product development in other industries.
In the preface, author Sanjiv Augustine writes, “When first placed into position of leading an agile team nearly five years ago, I had precious little guidance to assist me in my job. This is the book that I wish I had then” (p. xxiii). Given the author's intended audience and objectives, there is much to like about this book. The inside cover provides a table titled “Agile Manager's Roles and Responsibilities,” which includes three guiding principles under which he lists six practices, each of which provides more detail (52 bullet-point concepts). The reader can obtain a quick overview from this summary, which loosely matches the chapters. Augustine supplements the book's 10 chapters with useful information in the preface, introduction, preludes, afterword, and index.
The book's prelude provides a narrative of a disguised project called Phoenix that was in trouble but miraculously “rises from the ashes and soars into the sky” (p. 18) due to a skillful agile project manager. The principles and practices include fostering alignment and cooperation through the practices of organic teams and a guiding vision; encouraging emergence and self-organization through simple rules, open information, and light touch; and facilitating learning and adaptation through adaptive leadership.
A novice leader of an agile software project could pick up this book and find numerous useful tools and ideas. Regrettably, some of the teases deserve more explanation. For example, the book describes a “release planning game (so named for its use of game theory in balancing rights and responsibilities among the different roles)” (p. 21) but does not explain why it is a game, what the rules are, and how the game is played.
Augustine's agile software development specialization is Extreme Programming (XP), and he also mentions other agile approaches such as Scrum, Crystal, and Feature Driven Development. Their common philosophies include small teams, high interaction, iteration, and emphasis on customer responsiveness. Because Augustine favors XP in his examples, this book would be of most relevance to the XP practitioner.
The greatest weakness of the book is its shaky linkages to project management theory. Augustine establishes a strawman description of “predictive, plan-driven project management techniques such as those based on the “Project Management Institute (PMI)'s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (p. 23) and implies that it is inadequate. To be sure, some individual practitioners and experts champion rigid, cumbersome, authoritarian, control-oriented practices, but the perceived problems are probably more with the application than with the theory. Augustine serves up his own wordy and ambiguous definition of agile project management—“the work of energizing, empowering, and enabling project teams to rapidly and reliably deliver business value by engaging customers and continuously learning and adapting to their changing needs and environments” (p. 23)—without showing that the existing definitions are inadequate. Agilists are using a revolutionary rhetoric, including a manifesto (p. 22) that suggests they have “found a better way” (p. 22) of managing projects and creating products. This book champions a new paradigm; it would be much more convincing if it could show a grounded understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the current state-of-the-art of project management theory and practice.
Overall, this book addresses its intended audience and target topic in a very serviceable way. It is a step forward in framing the distinctions of agile practices from traditional control-oriented ideas, although it is not the seminal text on agile project management that the field needs.