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Book Review: The Scrum Field Guide

Mitch Lacey has written the book The Scrum Field Guide: Practical Advice for Your First Year (Pearson/Addison-Wesley Professional).  In the book he provides concrete advice to teams implementing Scrum about how to do many of the practices from a technical and teamwork perspective.

The book is intended to provide practical advice for team members across all the Scrum roles and provides a “how to” and “why to” guide for many of the complementary practices that go beyond the basic Scrum framework, from both a technical engineering perspective and from a management/governance perspective.

InfoQ readers can download an extract from the book here.

Shane Hastie from InfoQ recently interviewed Mitch about the style and content of the book.

InfoQ: What prompted you to write the book, what is the gap that you are trying to fill? Isn't Scrum already well defined with publications such as the ScrumGuide?

Mitch: When I was on my first team, I was missing tips and tricks on how to navigate agile and Scrum. There were plenty of books out at that time like Agile Software Development with Scrum, User Stories Applied and Beck’s Extreme Programming. And, yes, these books helped us understand the concepts, similar to what the Scrum Guide does today. But as we got our hands dirty, we kept asking questions like “should we really stand in the standup?” Now, years later, as I work with new teams on projects, I hear all the same the questions we used to ask, so, I finally wrote some of it down.

InfoQ: Why are you the right person to write the book, your credentials/background?

Mitch: I’m the right person because I’m a practitioner. You see a lot of materials that are just fluff. I try to stay away from that. People want real-world advice and expertise. Every story you will read in my book is from my own experiences on projects. I am a PMI PMP and ACP, so I like to think that I bring a balanced, pragmatic approach to the table as well.

InfoQ: You make the point that Scrum is "Simple, not easy" - why?

Mitch: Because it is simple, and not easy in any sense of the word. Anyone can get the premise of Scrum in a matter of minutes. Heck, there are many videos out there that promise to teach you Scrum in under 10 minutes, eight minutes, seven minutes. I think I even saw one that’s under five minutes. This tells me that people can grasp the basics of Scrum rather quickly.

To fully comprehend and use Scrum effectively, however, takes years. It unearths so many issues and problems in organizations, problems that were always there, and forces those businesses to deal with them. This is challenging, and definitely not easy.

InfoQ: What are the key messages from the book, what will readers get that will help them be more effective in their implementation of Scrum?

Mitch: The key messages from the book are that there is more to Scrum than just a daily standup. Getting to a level of done (completeness and ready to ship) every sprint takes a huge amount of discipline and effort from all levels of the organization. Readers will get practical advice across the board that will help them be more effective. One thing I ask teams I work with is to release on Friday nights. In the beginning we fail, and we fail early. As we get better, we say to ourselves “why wouldn’t everyone deliver on a Friday night?” The tips in this book will help teams achieve this level of comfort and stability in their systems.

InfoQ: You place a lot of emphasis in the Book on the Engineering Practices - why are they so important, and which ones should teams focus their efforts on?

Mitch: Engineering practices are like peanut butter to chocolate. Scrum is good, but with XP engineering practices, it’s just that much better. Test-Driven Development, continuous integration and refactoring are essential for producing done, working software each and every sprint. Pair programming, probably the most controversial practice, is also one of the most important--so important that I would say people should start there or TDD. Both are easy to implement once the mental shift is passed. Engineering practices allow teams to go from good to great.

InfoQ: One whole section of the book is titled "First Aid,” Please can you describe some of the common problems you have found and your advice for treating them?

Mitch: First-Aid was born out of teams that are “doing Scrum but something doesn’t feel right” – they are doing something called ScrumBut – where “we are doing Scrum, but we don’t have….”.  The First Aid section covers a lot of common issues like how to keep people engaged while pairing (one of the key engineering practices I recommend), how to add new team members, and how to run a productive daily standup meeting.

InfoQ: Another area that you write about is the governance and management practices - please can you tell us about some of them?

Mitch: For me, the key to working with governance and management is communication. A PMO might, for instance, ask for a Microsoft Project plan, but what it really wants to know is what will be done by about when. By the same token, a stakeholder might ask you for a detailed specification, when what she really wants to know is, “Are you and I on the same page with regards to what I’m asking you to do?”

I believe if you take the time to find out what they need to know, you can then answer the questions they are asking in regards to schedules and requirements in the most lightweight way possible for your project and situation.

InfoQ: In the section "Advanced Survival Techniques" you talk about some challenging aspects that are often considered be "anti-Scrum".  What advice can you give readers about documentation, outsourcing and contracts in Scrum?

Mitch: I don’t know if I’d call documentation or outsourcing “anti-Scrum” – it’s just the world we live in today and these are big issues facing agile teams. The only advice I can give here, in a short answer, is that it is possible to be agile and do Scrum and still have reliable documentation, to outsource and to have effective contracts. To find out more, you’ll have to read the chapters in the book.

About the Book Author

Mitch Lacey is an agile practitioner and consultant and is the founder of Mitch Lacey & Associates, Inc., a software consulting and training firm. Mitch specializes in helping companies realize gains in efficiency by adopting agile principles and practices such as Scrum and Extreme Programming. After working as a software test engineer, a test manager, a developer, and a variety of other jobs in between, he settled on his true calling, project and program management. He began developing agile skills at Microsoft Corporation and today, with more than 16 years of experience under his belt, Mitch continues to develop his craft by experimenting and practicing with project teams at many different organizations. Mitch has presented at a variety of conferences worldwide, was the conference chair for Agile 2012, was on the board of directors for the Agile Alliance and was on the board of directors of the Scrum Alliance.

The Scrum Field Guide: Practical Advice for Your First Year” by Mitch Lacey is published by Pearson/Addison-Wesley Professional, March 2012, ISBN 0321554159, Copyright © 2012 Mitchell G. Lacey; for more info please visit this link.



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