Gathering Agility.

Books I Like

Cover Image for Books I Like

Agilists read a lot. Like, a lot a lot. When I started as an agile coach, I quickly got into a tempo where I devoured a book every one or two weeks, so I'm fairly well read in this space.

Anyway, here is a smattering of books that really helped me wrap my head around Agile and DevOps. I won't pretend that the list is comprehensive, just that each book on it helped me figure out this stuff. You may find it helps you too.

Coaching Agile Teams

  • by Lyssa Adkins

If you're an Agile coach, here is the one book you absolutely must read. My biggest surprise, especially coming from a technical background, was how touchy-feely some of the advice in this book is. Now that I'm coaching, I get it. Systems are easy; humans are difficult. Lyssa Adkins is your gentle Zen master to guide you through the sometimes unforgiving terrain of attempting to change human behavior.

Fun story: while prepping for what I knew was going to be a difficult discussion at work, I reviewed Chapter Nine: Coach as Conflict Navigator. It helped. Later, during lunch at a big corporate event, Lyssa sat down next to me, and I had the opportunity to thank her in person. Actually, I just straight-up fanboy gushed thanks at her, which she very graciously accepted. The world of Agile, I'm coming to realize, is small.

The DevOps Handbook

  • by Gene Kim, Jezz Humble, Patrick Debois, and John Willis

The go-to book on DevOps transformation. Read this book if you want a clear picture about what DevOps is and why you're probably have a ways to go before you get there. The handbook is, as others have noticed, not a how-to. It's better than that. It's a "why-you-must" and "here's-how-to-make-it-happen." Every page has one or two concrete suggestions that will help your organization be more responsive to the market. Not many books have revolutionized my outlook like this one.

The Goal

  • by Eliyahu Goldratt

I'm including this B-School classic on manufacturing mostly because you will see its insights replicated everywhere throughout Lean/Agile literature. Also, The Phoenix Project is probably best understood as its sequel.

It is written as a novel. As a novel, it's meh. Goldratt is no Dostoevsky, but that's not why you need to read it. The novel format allows him to show what a transformation looks like from the inside, and the business lessons will stay with you forever. Having read this work, you will continually search for bottlenecks in your organization. You will gain intuition around flow and the importance of small batch sizes. And you will understand how the formalities of cost accounting can actually get in the way of timely delivery.

That's a pretty tall order for one book, but that's why this is a classic.

The Phoenix Project

  • by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford

As I said before, this is both a sequel to The Goal and the precursor to The DevOps Handbook. It's another novel — more business than novel, if that matters to you — where you get to watch a hapless group of IT flunkies go from panic over a botched payroll batch run to a disciplined organization that releases code to production ten times a day. (I did mention that it's fiction, right?)

The biggest takeaway for me was the answer to the question "Where do we start?" For the hero, he started first by getting a handle on the flow of work, and second by conducting a deep study of his corporation's value stream. That's a great starting point for any DevOps transformation.

Learning Agile

  • by Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene

The subtitle of this book is "Understanding Scrum, XP, Lean, and Kanban," which pretty much says it all. This is the go-to book if you know zip, zilch, nada, bupkes, and nothing at all about Agile. If you're a seasoned professional with decades under your belt, you might be able to give it a pass (although I can name at least three IT execs from my past whom I wish had read it). But if you are a student or new arrival to IT, this is a good guide to the basics.


  • by Nicole Forsgren, Gene Kim, and Jez Humble

I realize, in looking at this list, that Gene Kim and Jez Humble have authored more than half the books here. This is not a mistake. Accelerate is the go-to book for when you have to explain DevOps adoption to a full-on skeptic who insists that this will never work in "the real world." The authors — led by Nicole Forsgren, who brings an arsenal of statistical wizardry to bear on the problem — undertook four years of research, based on 23,000 survey responses from 2,000 distinct organization, all of whom also exist in "the real world." The verdict is in: you can avoid DevOps if you don't particularly care about staying in business.

So, mission accomplished, right? Well, yes and no. There should be no argument that DevOps works, but I predict a coming DevOps backlash, simply because I can easily imagine an army of executives and consultants leaning hard on their teams to produce, produce, produce, and missing the parts of the book about limiting work-in-progress and avoiding burnout.

But for those of us who gave up on top-down management long ago, this book has great advice.