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InfoQ Homepage Articles Author Q&A: Introduction to Agile Methods by Sondra Ashmore & Kristin Runyan

Author Q&A: Introduction to Agile Methods by Sondra Ashmore & Kristin Runyan


The book Introduction to Agile Methods by Sondra Ashmore & Kristin Runyan is a straightforward introduction to agile values, principles and practices which includes interviews with various luminaries such as Alistair Cockburn, Mike Cohn and "Uncle Bob" Martin. It is intended to be a textbook or guide to learning about how to apply Agile approaches to developing software.

A sample chapter from the book can be found here.

InfoQ recently spoke to the authors about the book

InfoQ: Please briefly introduce yourselves to the InfoQ readers

Sondra: I am an IT leader at Principal Financial Group where I am supporting my team’s Agile adoption. I was first introduced to Agile in 2007 while I was working at IBM and continued to research Agile methods during my doctoral program at Iowa State University. I met Kristin through my involvement with the Technology Association of Iowa and was thrilled to discover she shared my passion for Agile development. We talked about wanting a book that would help others learn about Agile methods, then jokingly suggested that maybe we should write it. Eighteen months later, Introduction to Agile Methods was published.

Kristin: I have been in Product Management for over 20 years and it wasn’t until I was introduced to Agile formally in 2010 did I realize that I had been working with an Agile mindset for years. It instantly made sense to me and gave structure to ideas and ways of getting things done. As CIO of a company that was undergoing a massive technology transformation, we knew that doing things the ‘same old way’ wasn’t going to be enough. Being able to implement and embrace Agile was our path to success. I am now at Businessolver, a company who is accustomed to moving very quickly and being exceptionally responsive. We use Agile to ensure that our efforts are high quality and maintainable. As a growing business, everything we do has to be able to scale and Agile ensures that we are being deliberate in our actions.

InfoQ: Why did you write this book – what is the problem you were aiming to solve?

Sondra: I wrote this book because I wanted to enable professors to teach students about Agile methods. I hire college students for IT positions and I am regularly disappointed that very few of them have heard of Agile, much less practiced any of the techniques. That means that my company has to make a significant investment to train them on Agile methods once they are hired. In an effort to help with this issue, I taught a college class on Agile and discovered that there are a lot of books on Agile methods, but there was not a book that gave a good overview, included practice questions, and had examples that could be used in the classroom. Our book aims to fill that gap.

Kristin: As evangelists for Agile, Sondra and I saw an audience that was under-served (college students) and we knew that our experiences and passion afforded us the opportunity to create something that didn’t exist in the marketplace – an actual textbook for Agile.

InfoQ: The book is structured with review questions – is it your intent that it can be used as part of a teaching program?

Sondra: Yes, absolutely. It was designed to support an Agile course, but certainly can also be helpful for consultants teaching an overview course or for practitioners that would like to self study.

Kristin: Our original intent was for this to be a textbook used in Computer Science, Software Engineering and even Business programs on college campuses. Early feedback suggests that it appeals to an even broader audience. We worked really hard to make the examples and references relatable to those with little to no Agile (or even work) experience. To hear that others are benefitting from it as well is truly rewarding.

InfoQ: The book looks at Agile in general rather than any one type, why did you take this approach?

Sondra: The book was designed to be more general so it would be most helpful for introductory Agile courses.

Kristin: One of the things that I love about Agile is that it isn’t prescriptive, it’s not ‘one size fits all’ so it was important for us to show the breadth of different applications of Agile. Thus, our readers are better informed and can find the pieces that will work best in their environment.

InfoQ: You describe a number of Agile practices and techniques – why did you pick those ones?

Sondra: Picking what we wanted to include in the first edition was probably our biggest challenge. We grappled with which methodologies to include, whether or not we should include code examples for TDD and the amount of emphasis we should put on Scrum roles – to name a few. In the end, we considered feedback from reviewers and often just went with our instincts. In the spirit of agility, we welcome suggestions and plan make adjustments based on reader feedback.

Kristin: Each of the Agile methodologies that we profiled offer something unique and important to Agile overall. We wanted to be able to highlight many different ways of thinking to inspire our readers to broaden their view. We also hope that our readers take our book as an entry point to learning more about Agile. Each chapter contains a number of references for further study and we hope our readers are hungry to learn more.

InfoQ: What is the essence of Agile and how do teams and organisations know if they are “being Agile” rather than just applying new practices?

Sondra: I often get asked how you know when you’ve become an Agile team. Practitioners often want to know when they have crossed that threshold. My response is always that becoming Agile is a journey rather than a destination. Applying new practices is part of the journey. I believe there are some indicators that show that you are moving in the direction of agility. Key indicators that come to mind are regular communication, transparency, and more active engagement from stakeholders and customers. The part of the journey that I see teams struggle with the most is that they feel they encounter failures more often (albeit smaller ones) because they are getting more feedback sooner in the process. A team that is being agile embraces these early opportunities to make a change in the spirit of creating the best possible product for their customers.

Kristin: I would add that our experience has shown that Agile does not necessarily solve problems, but it absolutely brings problems to the surface where they must be dealt with. This is a great service to any business because you can no longer ‘sweep things under the rug.’ Therefore, one way to know if you are really embracing Agile is to see if you are uncomfortable. If not, and if you aren’t having difficult but ultimately beneficial conversations, then you probably aren’t being Agile enough.

InfoQ: The book has a number of interviews with other authors, how did you pick who to include and what are some gems of wisdom from the interviews?

Sondra: We started by reaching out to some thought leaders we knew personally, and then branched out to other Agile authors whose work we admired. It was important to us that both male and female thought leaders were included as well. The percentage of females in IT is still proportionally low and we wanted to highlight that this is a field where women are successful.

Kristin: The interviews are one of my favorite parts of the book. To get to hear insights and examples from such a wide range of thought leaders is amazing. We are flattered and humbled that such great minds were willing to contribute.

InfoQ: You have a case study in the book – what is special about that particular example of an Agile implementation?

Sondra: We live in Iowa and we wanted to profile a Midwestern company. We knew John Deere would be an unexpected company because they are known for hardware equipment rather than software. They have been very progressive in their use of Agile methods for software development and were enthusiastic about contributing to the book. This made them an ideal company to profile.

Kristin: Sondra is right. People don’t expect the makers of Big Green Tractors to be a highly evolved Agile software shop. Agile truly is for everyone. It can work in every type of business and we thought this case study might broaden people’s perspectives.


About the Book Authors

Sondra Ashmore, Ph.D., is an IT leader who specializes in large Fortune 500 corporations. Her areas of expertise include product management, project management, and new product development for IT offerings. She received her graduate education at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in technical communication and management, and at Iowa State in human–computer interaction. Her research focuses on the software development process, both Waterfall and Agile, and explores strategies to optimize the user experience. In 2012, she was recognized as a “Forty under 40” business leader by the Business Record and won the Women of Innovation award from the Technology Association of Iowa for business innovation and leadership for her work at IBM.

Kristin Runyan is a product delivery expert, specializing in product management, Agile coaching and training, and leadership. Kristin is certified as a Scrum Master (CSM), Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), Pragmatic Marketing Product Manager, and a Project Management Professional (PMP). She was a 2011 winner of the Women of Innovation award from the Iowa Technology Association. Kristin got her undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University and her MBA at Saint Louis University. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa, and is an avid blogger at; her twitter handle is @KristinRunyan.

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