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Agile Project Management Books: A Challenge

By Miranda Dulin
October 10, 2022
11 min read
Agile Project Management Books: A Challenge

Although I’m a voracious reader, the books are mostly urban fantasies. I’ve challenged myself to read more agile-related books over the next year. Join me!





The Agile Project Management Book Reading Challenge

My goal is to read twenty books in the next 365 days. I challenge you to join me on this continuous learning journey. I started my challenge on 10/08/2022, and if all goes well, I will have read all of these books by 10/7/2023.

Why the Book Challenge?

There are two main reasons for the challenge. First, I’m oddly competitive, so if I imagine that I’m racing other people, I’ll be more likely to achieve my goal. Second, this challenge will serve as a source of accountability. The fact that I’ve publicly committed to reading these twenty books next year will motivate me to stick with it lest I be embarrassed by my hubris.

The List

This list is in no particular order. I curated the list from my Goodreads to-read shelf and selected books based on my interest in the book and whether I believed they would help fill a current deficit in my knowledge. Various peers recommended all books that seemingly fall into a business genre as a resource to solve common problems of agile teams.

01. Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

How I Discovered It

I’ve read several books from Mike Cohn’s signature series, and out of curiosity, I checked to see what additional books in this series might be worth a read.

Why I’m Interested

In my experience, the primary threat to agile transformation has been stamping out the deep-rooted command and control leadership styles.

I’m adept at recognizing activities that don’t align with an agile mindset, but I’m less skilled at helping peers develop leadership skills that are more agile-friendly methods.

Black grave strone with bright red rose resting on it's top
I once had a trainer commentate that Agile would have a better chance at succeeding once executive leadership formally trained in traditional project management and command and control methods were all either retired or dead.

I hope this book will arm me with tactics to help leaders adopt the agile mindset. Waiting for obstructionists to retire or die, as suggested by a trainer I once had, seems like an inefficient plan.

02. Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

How I Discovered It

While initially researching the Scrum values, I found an article referencing radical candor. Intrigued by the term, further research led me to discover the following YouTube video and, subsequently, this book.

Why I’m Interested

For me, one of the most challenging responsibilities of the Scrum Master role is having the courage required to have difficult conversations.

“When you don’t want to have a difficult conversation, you need to ask yourself: Is it because it will hurt them or hurt me? If it is because it will hurt you, then you’re being selfish.”

- John C. Maxwell

I hope this book will help me finalize my paradigm shift and grant me some tactics to be more comfortable with these conversations. Logically I understand why difficult conversations are essential, but I still approach them with reluctance.

03. Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS

How I Discovered It

It’s been on my list to learn about some of the other agile scaling approaches. I have picked up a SAFe Scrum Master Certification, so I’m somewhat familiar with SAFe, though I’ve never formally practiced it.

Zoom in on construction workers tool belt
There's really no point in having a tool belt if you only intend to ever use one tool. Expanding knowledge of other agile approaches is like adding tools to your tool belt. The more options you have, the more likely you'll have what you need when the time comes.

Why I’m Interested

I believe there is value in branching out and gaining knowledge around additional agile scaling frameworks. Now that I’m working with a larger company with more agile teams, I’m looking to pick up more agile practices to help me navigate this complex environment.

04. The Scrum Field Guide: Agile Advice for Your First Year and Beyond

How I Discovered It

The author of this book was my trainer when I took the Certified Scrum Master Course through Mountain Goat Software. He referenced this book several times in class as a source for additional information.

Why I’m Interested

I like troubleshooting books, especially from people with industry experience. It’s easy to find books describing how Scrum should work in a perfect world, like an agile textbook. But I suspect that The Scrum Field Guide is a different type of text that will dive more into understanding the root cause and resolution of common problems.

05. 97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts

How I Discovered It

While researching the Scrum values, I came across Gunther Verheyen’s blog, which led me to discover that he had a book, and I immediately added it to my to-read list.

Why I’m Interested

I’ve read several of Gunther Verheyen’s blog posts, which resonate with me. If there are 97 things he thinks I need to know as a Scrum Practitioner, I want to know them.

06. Why Plans Fail: Cognitive Bias & Decision Making

How I Discovered It

While researching the origins and anti-patterns associated with the sprint commitment, I stumbled upon this book. While it is one of the agile values that we find more value in responding to change over following a plan, that doesn’t mean that planning isn’t still important.

Why I’m Interested

I’m interested in potential psychological reasons why plans fail. I hope that by learning why they fail, I can account for that and drive team behavior in a more appropriate direction. I recognize that simply “planning better” is likely not the correct answer for agile environments, and I hope this book points me in the right direction.

07. Beyond Requirements: Analysis with an Agile Mindset

How I Discovered It

The Agile Mentors community recommended this book at some point, and I added it to my to-read list.

Why I’m Interested

My current role as a TPM blends the roles of the Scrum Master and Product Owner. Requirements gathering is a growth edge of mine. Thus, this book piqued my interest as it appears to fill a gap and be recommended by an agile community I respect.

08. Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change

How I Discovered It

This is another book recommended by the Agile Mentors community. Anytime someone I trust recommends a book, I add it to my to-read shelf and assume that future me will find it again when it’s the right time.

Why I’m Interested

One of the bonus takeaways from my SAFe Scrum Master course was the concept of powerful questions. It’s been on my research backlog since taking that course. Powerful questions are a common technique used by agile coaches to lead teams to the correct answer.

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been dictating to my teams instead of helping them uncover their proper process. I hope this book will help me move back into facilitation instead of management.

09. User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product

How I Discovered It

This book has been on my radar since I first learned about story mapping in a Better User Stories course. It has also received recommendations from a fellow TPM and the Agile Mentors community.

Why I’m Interested

When a resource continually comes to my attention, ignoring it seems foolish. Also, my teams are currently working on complex projects with many moving parts, and I suspect that proper usage of story maps could help us visualize how all of the pieces fit together.

10. Nonviolent Communication: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values

How I Discovered It

According to a former developer I worked with, a Microsoft technology team touted this book as their savior from communication struggles. When our team struggled with communication, they agreed to read the book based on his recommendation.

Why I’m Interested

It’s been several years since my first reading of this book. Given that communication is always a struggle for all teams, a refresher on this book seems prudent. Also, a second read will allow me to incorporate my notes into my second brain.

11. Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change

How I Discovered It

I’ve been reading about Extreme Programming since I started reading about agile. This agile approach crops up here, there, and everywhere.

Why I’m Interested

Top down view of table covered in various tools
You can never have too many tools at your disposal.

Extreme Programming was foundational to the agile movement, yet I’ve never taken the time to familiarize myself with the details of the agile methodology. I wanted to read at least one definitive resource on the approach, and this seemed to be the right book.

12. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

How I Discovered It

I can’t recall the first time I came across this book. Anyone working in agile project management and not hiding under a rock will come across this best seller several times in their career. If agile coaches fail to fix some of the underlying team dysfunctions, an agile transformation will not thrive.

Why I’m Interested

I read the first half of this book several years ago but never got around to finishing it. It’s been long enough now that I’ll start from the beginning. I found the book’s first half so enthralling that I could barely put it down, and that is not something I’d expect from a career-related book. This book is such a staple in the literature I can’t pass up finishing it.

13. Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making

How I Discovered It

Yet again, another recommendation from the Agile Mentors community.

Why I’m Interested

Such a large portion of my work week is spent in meetings that it becomes demoralizing if they all feel fruitless. Staying on top of my facilitation game is a mechanism to avoid the perpetuation of meeting cycles.

The first meeting derails, and the team has just enough time to discuss the problem. Someone schedules a follow-up meeting to get a decision, but by the time we regroup, everyone has forgotten the problem statement. Then the vicious cycle begins.

I hope this book will provide some techniques to reach decisions more efficiently and help me short-circuit meeting cycles.





14. Lead Without Blame: Building Resilient Learning Teams

How I Discovered It

A recent article referenced this author as a resource for more information. When I followed the link to her Twitter page, I realized I’d read one of her retrospective books. Checking to see what other books she’d written, this one stood out to me, so I added it to my to-read list.

Why I’m Interested

Although I wrote this article on accountability in agile, I’m still somewhat conflicted. I fear my piece is a little too nonchalant about the need to get work done.

The relationship between accountability and blame is so muddled in my head that I cannot separate the two. Of course, I want my team members to feel a sense of ownership and urgency in completing their work. Still, I don’t want teams to be punished for missing arbitrary deadlines when circumstances were out of their control.

I’m hoping this book might hold the missing link of how you build teams with a sense of ownership and responsibility about their work, a culture that lacks blame, and a process that enforces a sustainable pace.

15. From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver

How I Discovered It

If you had to guess, where would you say I got this book recommendation from? You’d be correct if you thought the Agile Mentors community.

Give of team from Survivor saying "winner winner chicken dinner" and dancing around campfire

Why I’m Interested

This one is probably obvious, but many teams went fully remote during the pandemic and will never return to working in a co-located fashion.

Many essential early agile books were written assuming the teams would be co-located. Though I’m a massive fan of working from home, I can admit there was some value in being co-located. How does one replace the inherent value of information radiators and whiteboards? I hope to learn some tricks and tactics for building efficient distributed teams.

16. Liftoff: Start and Sustain Successful Agile Teams

How I Discovered It

This one has dual sources. One is… you guessed it, the Agile Mentors community. The second source for this book was a blog post I mentioned earlier. When I was checking Diana Larsen’s books, this is another one that caught my eye.

Why I’m Interested

The book’s description gives me hope that it covers how to boot up teams and get them going quickly, and it seems like it might also cover project kick-offs. These topics are relevant because I have a few teams with no actual process going through agile training soon. Some tactics to use to get them off to a good start and set a strong foundation would be helpful.

17. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

How I Discovered It

Alternate text

Okay, I’m only realizing now that I’m fleshing out this post that it’s starting to sound like an advertisement of the Agile Mentors community, which was not my intention. I have found membership to that platform to be helpful in the past. It’s just simply that every time I saw someone suggest a book there, I added it to my to-read list. Now that I’m doing this reading challenge for agile project management books, it’s a coincidence that all of the recommendations I picked were from the same place.

Why I’m Interested

Recently I’ve been involved in a lot of transformation projects. With these types of projects, change management should be a consideration.

A previous co-worker always used to preach the importance of change management, an area in which I don’t have much experience, and I’ve decided I’d like to learn more about it.

18. Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects

How I Discovered It

This book was another resource recommended by the the daily standup questions article.

Why I’m Interested

Two polar bears standing front to front like they're dancing
It's unlikely that these bears are waltzing, but I felt like this post needed a visual break, and this is the cutest photo I could find.

How can you not want to read this book with a title like this? I appreciate unique titles, maybe too much. Also, risk management is a growth edge for me. Agile processes innately manage a large portion of risk; thus, to this point, I’ve not focused on diving deep into the topic. Given that risk is such a crucial agile project management topic, it’s worth having a resource that covers it more in-depth.

19. Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams

How I Discovered It

I purchased this book in July of 2013, and I’m a bit embarrassed that I never got around to reading it. I’ve seen this book and its successor reference from several places over the years and procrastinated on reading it.

Why I’m Interested

There is a lot of confusion around the testing role in agile teams. From the myth that agile projects no longer need testing to the stories of hasty layoffs of QA engineers. Then there’s the age-old favorite question - “what are test engineers supposed to do for the first half of the Sprint while the developers are developing the code?”

I expect that this book will cover all of those anti-patters. To this point, I’ve been fortunate to work with QA engineers who were secure enough in their positions that these common issues weren’t a huge problem, or at least weren’t the most urgent problem to solve on the teams I’ve worked with in the past.

But it’s better to prepare now instead of waiting until I find myself in situations where I need this knowledge but don’t have time to read a book to get it.

20. Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business

How I Discovered It

I happened upon the Nave Blog while researching alternative agile methods for forecasting delivery dates. This blog reignited my interest in Kanban. Realizing that I had only a cursory understanding of the agile approach, I felt it was worth giving the original book a read.

Why I’m Interested

Kanban’s methods for predicting delivery dates speak to me. Especially after reading some of Sonya Siderova’s posts highlighting the inherent issues with story points.

When I’m learning something new, I start with the foundational knowledge and then do specific research to fill in any remaining gaps.

Works Consulted





TLDR

Well, this post turned out to be twice as long as expected. I appreciate your dedication if you’ve made it to this point without falling asleep like the dog in the header image.

Please join me in this reading challenge. Can you read these twenty agile project management books in 365 days?

Good luck!


Previous Article
The 360 Degree Leader: Spur Your Influence
Miranda Dulin

Miranda Dulin

Scrum Master

Table Of Contents

1

The Agile Project Management Book Reading Challenge

2

Why the Book Challenge?

3

The List

4

01. Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

5

02. Radical Candor: Fully Revised & Updated Edition: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

6

03. Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS

7

04. The Scrum Field Guide: Agile Advice for Your First Year and Beyond

8

05. 97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts

9

06. Why Plans Fail: Cognitive Bias & Decision Making

10

07. Beyond Requirements: Analysis with an Agile Mindset

11

08. Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change

12

09. User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product

13

10. Nonviolent Communication: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values

14

11. Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change

15

12. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

16

13. Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making

17

14. Lead Without Blame: Building Resilient Learning Teams

18

15. From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams: Collaborate to Deliver

19

16. Liftoff: Start and Sustain Successful Agile Teams

20

17. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

21

18. Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects

22

19. Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams

23

20. Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business

24

Works Consulted

25

TLDR

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