MINI REVIEW: AGILE 2

Not the sequel we deserved...


This is a book that was selected by colleagues at work as a group read along. It's taken me much longer to get through it than we had planned, but I think there've been some decent discussions along the way at least.  

HOW I RATED IT 
2/5 While this book serves perfectly fine for those interested in contemplating Agile on a philosophical level (some would argue that Agile IS just a philosophy), I ultimately did not find it to be a useful source of actionable ideas for making improvements to one's Agile practices.  

CONTENT
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this book is that it makes a ton of legitimate points about where Agile (at least in terms of how it is commonly practiced) has room to improve. The problem comes from how the authors seem so scared of coming across as prescriptive, that they end up not having much of anything at all to say that is actually helpful in terms of resolving these issues/gaps. One of the most disappointing examples of this to me is a chapter that comes later in the book on how Design often does not cleanly fit into Agile processes. This is something I very much agree with and have always struggled with, but I left with absolutely no ideas for how to handle this better. The effect is that reading this feels like the kind of conversation you might have with a really intelligent coworker who likes to complain and can break down problems in a highly detailed and super thoughtful way, but has no tangible suggestions for how to make those things better. It's a frustrating juxtaposition, especially since I think these authors probably do legitimately care about making Agile better, but ultimately failed to do so (at least in my opinion). 

I think that this book would have greatly benefited from some actual case studies to illustrate the authors' points better. There are a couple of these in the final chapters and I found those rare sections to be markedly better than the rest of the book. Other "examples" that they give earlier on mostly felt like offhand gush-rants about big, successful companies like Facebook, Google, Tesla, SpaceX, and Netflix (that didn't say anything about them that hasn't been said a million times over). I also have to say, that I'm not convinced that these authors have as good of an understanding of what "true Agile" is in certain cases. When I read their complaints about the Daily Standup / Daily Scrum ceremony, the scenario that they described most definitely sounded ineffective, but it also isn't what a Daily is supposed to be. A Daily isn't a status update, it's a plan for the day and the fact that they didn't understand that really hurt their credibility in my eyes, especially since I found the tone of the writing to be rather haughty and flippant (perhaps even condescending at specific points). These folks also seem to hate the Scrum Master role, yet they never demonstrate an understanding for what it actually is or what value it is supposed to provide. There were just so many points in the first half of the book where I had to think to myself "well maybe you just have never done it right," or "maybe you've never worked with a Scrum Master or Product Owner who knew what they were doing." 

The authors repeatedly state the importance of Leadership, but then actively disparage roles that are meant to provide different aspects of leadership. They also state that they really hope that one of the things people take away from the book is the importance of good/strong leadership. This felt so strange to me since I've never met anyone who doesn't think leadership is important to a company or team. The issue is how to get to a point where leadership is creating an environment that people can succeed in and that challenge is never really addressed outside of outlining what good leadership looks like (all of which was valid, if a bit obvious). This point also led me to wonder if this book was written for organizational leaders. That would explain why a lot of topics are discussed at such a high level, but a lot of my criticisms would still stand. It's also not great that I was honestly not sure who the intended audience is supposed to be. The authors gripe a great deal about how Agile ignores the individual in favor of the team. I haven't personally found this to be true. While there is certainly opportunity to be inclusive of those who are more soft-spoken and/or in need of better context/background prior to meetings/discussions, I don't think those are issues with Agile as much as they are with Western business culture in general. On one last, really petty note, they also don't seem to understand the true definition of an introvert vs. an extrovert, so their use of these terms in their arguments felt rather out of touch to me. 

PAPERBACK
The simple yet eye-catching cover is kind of where my positives end when it comes to the overall packaging for this book. This is one of those annoying cases where it was literally cheaper to buy the print edition than the eBook, otherwise I'd advocate for getting this digitally (if you choose to pick this up at all). The feel of the paperback is rather bizarre. It's technically the same size as a 6x9 trade paperback, but it felt bulkier in the hand like a textbook. The book also feels strangely heavy to hold in spite of the thin/flimsy paper that is used. The effect is that this feels like it is caught between a quality trade paperback and a budget textbook. Cheap paper quality and relatively dull interior formatting further the impression that the folks putting this together (on the publisher side) did not do so with all that much enthusiasm or attention to detail. 

CONCLUSION
At the end of the day, AGILE 2 isn't a true sequel to Agile, it's not even a proper reboot. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table as far as I'm concerned (despite what the authors claim) and I'm certainly not leaving with anything I can put into action in my own work. I will say that I've started to see some of these half-baked concepts gain traction within the industry, so it may very well be worth reading this if only to understand what's going on. 

(+) The authors make some really insightful points about where Agile has room for improvement
(+) Simple, yet striking cover design with some nice color choices 
(-) This book would have benefited from including a greater number of proper case studies
(-) I did not leave with any actionable ideas for improving my Agile practices
(-) Somewhat pretentious tones in the writing
(-) Awkward book construction
(-) Lazily designed interior and poor paper quality

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