As one of the original signatories on the Agile Manifesto, Ken Schwaber has been at the heart of the Agile movement since its inception. With over 30 years of experience in Software development, Schwaber has been instrumental in evangelizing Agile in general, but has been most closely associated with Scrum.
Scrum started in 1986 when Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka published their paper “New New Product Development Game.” In this paper, the authors describe how the traditional Waterfall approach (which they compare to a relay race) should be replaced with a more holistic approach that is more akin to how a rugby team work together as single unit to move the ball up-field.
In the early 1990s, Schwaber used this approach at his company. At the same time Jeff Sutherland, with John Scumniotales and Jeff McKenna, developed a similar approach and were the first to call it Scrum. Scrum hit the world stage in 1995 when Schwaber and Sutherland presented a joint paper on Scrum at OOPSLA ’95 and then worked together over the following years to refine the Scrum best practice to what we know as Scrum today.
With this background, Schwaber has a wealth of experience of applying Scrum in real life and in multiple situations. He’s seen it work and he’s seen it fail; this is what this book brings. Although it touches on Agile, this is a book about Scrum (which really should be pretty obvious from the title) and so is geared for those who want to understand the advantages and potential pitfalls of this specific iterative and incremental Agile software development framework.
Starting with the background to Scrum, Schwaber then briefly describe the roles in Scrum with examples of what they do with some real-world examples. What then follows is a more in-depth review – one chapter on a specific role followed by a chapter or two on what that role brings to Scrum and the organization. The structure Schwaber uses repeatedly is to describe a client and the problem/challenge that was addressed and then lessons to be learned. Although in most cases Scrum saved the day, Schwaber also uses the book to describe how some practitioners – including himself – have failed. In his case, he was insensitive to the client’s corporate culture and, in executing his ScrumMaster duties to the letter, he made his position untenable.
Although the repetitive structure could be tiresome for some, it does ensure the the lessons are struck home and reinforced, and if you either are new to Scrum or want to understand more about how to tailor it to the real world this book is an excellent resource.
One final note; the book has several appendices that are useful to dip into that cover the Rules and Terminology of Scrum and its meetings amongst a few other items. Of particular interest to me was the Appendix on Fixed-Price, Fixed-Date Contracts that I have seen as sticking points for some looking to move to Agile (as detailed in my previous post.) Whether or not Schwaber’s approach to focus on competitive advantage will prove successful with non-Agile clients remains to be seen (by me, that is).