Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book Review: The Agile Samurai

In November, I finished The Agile Samurai by Jonathan Rasmusson.  In short, I loved it.  This struck me as a bit strange at first because the book contains very little revelation about the craft of software development.  So what makes this book so great?  Well, I see a short answer and a long-ish answer.  For those who know me well, you'll understand why I won't bother an attempt at the short answer.

Agile Values and Principles 
To help you understand my perspective on this book, let me give you a little background.  The reason I sought to work for LeanDog (and I think the reason they sought me) was because of values.  While in its response to the agile buzz, the industry clamored to adopt superficial versions of agile practices in the form of books, tools, training classes, web sites, consulting fluff and slick marketing campaigns, Cheezy and Jon Stahl consistently and un-apologetically promoted the agile values through LeanDog.  To us it is clear that while the agile manifesto is not prescriptive, any claim to adherence must not arbitrarily choose which of the manifesto's values and principles to uphold.  The practices (which produce most of that buzz) adopted by various schools of agile thought are valuable only if they are firmly rooted in the realization of these values and principles.

A Book Emphasizing Principles
The Agile Samurai is an introductory level book.  Consequently, I think it was a bit courageous for Jonathan to write this book.  Though the agile movement is maturing, the original books written by the pioneers of the movement are far from dated or irrelevant.  So why re-hash it?  Well, that is not what this book does.  In my opinion, it approaches the topic with a freshening of how agile is now interpreted.  Yet, it is carefully rooted in the agile manifesto and its principles.  Sure, the practices are discussed, but in the proper context.  Yes, he helps the reader understand what agile teams look like and how they behave, but again rooted in the principles that inspired craftsmen to take the industry there.  By providing constant reminders of these principles the book does greater justice to the pioneers than the most thorough acknowledgment page could ever do.

The writing is clear, fun and concise.  The use of a dialog with Sensei to summarize each chapter is clever and a refreshing change from the typical bullet points. I consider The Agile Samurai the best introduction to agile I've read.  Even if you have done agile for a while, this book will bring you back to the roots and re-inspire you on why you have the habits that you do.  It will re-equip you to have conversations with skeptics and newbies.   Have a copy available for anyone who joins the team.