Dec 30, 2009

Book Review: Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility

Authors: Alan Shalloway, Guy Beaver and James R. Trott.

Between December of 2008 and April of 2009 I participated on a series of 6 webinars on Lean-Agile Software Development given by Allan Shalloway, under NetObjectives, and knew that the book—same title as the webinar series—was being finished at that time so I was definitely looking forward to it. I was very glad when the publisher asked BayAPLN for a review, which gave me the opportunity take over such a pleasant task.

The basic premise of the book is a better approach to drive software development efforts to maximize realized business value. It pays particular attention to how to scale agile to the enterprise; a main topic of discussion within the agile community during the last two years. The book’s proposal is to use lean-agile instead of agile alone and to “extend” scrum to what the authors call scrum# which is, simply put, doing scrum while also doing lean thinking. Particular attention is paid to the lean principles of waste elimination and optimizing the whole. The authors put together a body of knowledge that would otherwise take lots of research, reading hours, and trial-and-error experience. The theme itself is not new, you can also consult, e.g., books on lean software development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck, and a book on scaling lean and agile development by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde. Shalloway, Beaver and Trott’s book is easy to read and very informative at a conceptual level and also at an anecdotal level. The cases they present actually add a lot of value to it. I consider this to be a must for executives, managers, and non-technical people involved on software projects because it will help them understand better what lean and agile can do for their organization. It is also helpful to software and QA engineers as a great informative reading.

The book consists of an introduction, three parts, and an appendix. The Introduction sets the tone for the book and revisits the basics of agile and lean (manifesto, principles, etc.). But make no mistake; this book is not for people new to agile or lean, and for those who are it is better to do some previous reading or they might get lost at times.

Part I starts with a discussion on why it is not preferable to think of software development as a science or a technique instead of as a discovery means to the end of satisfying a need, and gives a gentle introduction to some lean principles within software development. Chapter 1 nicely explains the transition of manufacture-based practices to software development. Chapter 2 addresses the business value added by agile and lean through better customer interaction, better delivery, and product focus. Chapter 3 gives some insights on how to get started with the transition to lean-agile, and chapter 4 dives into lean thinking for portfolio management, which I consider to be the most important chapter of this part because it gives a good deal of practical advice to do high value-added changes to your organization.

Part II Focuses on lean project management. Chapter 5 addresses some limitations of scrum that are particularly important when considering scalability. The authors propose what they call Scrum# as an extension of scrum that includes lean thinking. I personally think the problem is not scrum itself but rather how we put it into practice and what they propose as scrum# to me is nothing more than having a better (lean) way of applying the scrum framework; maybe because I learned about lean years before scrum came to be and so I have always used lean thinking when doing scrum. In any case, I would advocate to simply keep the term scrum as-is and encourage people to learn and apply lean to it rather than getting into new terminology, which I think might create confusion instead of clarity. I was very pleased to see that Kanban was added to the book and wish it had been explained in more detail, on a dedicated chapter, because kanban is very powerful in eliminating some disadvantages of scrum and it will gain importance as a highly effective software development framework. Chapter 6 is about iteration 0, which is the preparation phase before starting your actual scrum iterations. I entirely agree with the need to do the prep work but I have never been fond of calling it iteration because in people’s minds it time-boxes a very important phase that not necessarily—and almost never—takes the same amount of time as the actual scrum iterations (see, e.g., Jim Highsmith’s book Agile Project Management). Chapter 7 is a good explanation on how to do lean-agile release planning. Chapter 8 explains the importance of visual controls and information radiators, which is a subject that most executives have a hard time accepting from the lean-agile perspective but once they fully realize their high value regardless of their simplicity they usually embrace these fully. I definitely enjoyed seeing a chapter on the role of QA (chapter 9) because this is often under-treated in the software development literature in general, unless it is on a dedicated QA book. This inclusion goes well with the lean-agile principles of working in teams and optimizing the whole.

Part II addresses scalability at enterprise level on chapter 10 with a very effective discussion format. Management’s role in lean-agile is treated on chapter 11 with good arguments but I would’ve liked it better if it had elaborated further on this very important role. Chapter 12 was one of my favorite ones since it does a good job at discussing the Product Coordination Team, a relatively new approach that has proven to be better suited for scalability than scrum of scrums. Chapter 13 is rather a teaser about the importance of a better, lightweight, approach to software architecture and design, which is okay since it is beyond the scope of the book.

Part III consists of chapter 14 only and is an epilogue to the book that basically encourages people to explore and learn more about lean, primarily, and about agile.

Appendix A explains Steve Bockman’s Team Estimation Game. A dynamic, fun, and effective step further of what you can do with the Planning Pocker that is also scalable. Appendix B presents the authors’ model of lean-agile software development, a nice quick reference to refresh the key concepts.

Alan, Guy, and James wrote a fabulous book that is a must-read for those interested on a successful lean-agile adoption whether or not you need to scale.


  1. interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

    Agile Software Development