The books on agile development could fill a library. From the pragmatic to the theoretical, and every stop in between, agile books fill over a hundred Amazon search pages. The original theorists, that small band of visionaries who wrote the Manifesto, have produced some of the landmark books that defined the methods and mindset of agile. On the other extreme are the instant trend-follower books that regurgitate agile buzzwords and repeat scrum concepts that are already outmoded. The shelves groan with the weight of works purporting to teach us agility.
When I begin to work with a new agile team just trying out the concepts and practices of agile, I often provide a bibliography of the best books for absorbing the foundational ideas of agility. I'll reproduce that list here, with a brief description of why I think they're important, and the key message I took from each. Of course, this is my list, and every agilist probably has their own.
Agile Project Management, by Jim Highsmith
This book has special meaning for me, as it was the first book I picked up on agile, after I conducted an interview with Mr. Highsmith in 2000. Highsmith's book laid out the agile case for me clearly, and helped me understand agile as a mindset and a set of values, not just a set of practices and techniques. I'm thankful that I started here: I began my agile journey under the tutelage of the key original thinker in the agile world, and began from the correct place of mindset and values.
Agile Estimating and Planning, by Mike Cohn
Where Highsmith taught me agile values, Cohn's book tutored me on agile reality. What do teams, coaches, and managers need to do every day to begin the agile transformation? How do traditional project managers and developers migrate from the familiar practices of waterfall projects, functional silos, and magical belief in predictive estimation? If we acknowledge that we can’t know the route, how will we reach the destination? Cohn’s books guided me to the balance between a theoretical approach and a pragmatic, in-the-trenches understanding of how agile is really done.
Coaching Agile Teams, by Lyssa Adkins
Ms. Adkins has clearly lived the agile transition, and she’s not afraid to talk about it. She displays her hard-won migration, from a traditional project manager, thinking she owned every detail of the project, to an agile ‘adept,’ so infused with he agile mindset that, rather than merely becoming a scrummaster, Ms. Adkins became a Zen master of agility, helping coaches understand the personal voyage they must make before they can coach others.
Agile Project Management With Scrum, by Ken Schwaber
Schwaber, along with Jeff Sutherland, developed the Scrum process, but this is not merely a methodology guide. Schwaber, like Highsmith, walks readers through the evolution of ideas and challenges that development teams faced, when the traditional methods kept failing and development teams were mistrusted and miserable, unable to deliver valuable products. While Scrum-focused, this fundamental book helps Scrum teams understand not just the methods, but the evolution that brought us to agile.
Succeeding With Agile, by Mike Cohn
Cohn has two books on the list, because it’s hard to become an effective agile leader or Scrummaster without absorbing his step-by-step instructions for building, coaching and mentoring teams, and sharpening their skills in an agile environment. Cohn has obviously encountered many permutations and combinations of challenges, issues, and resistors, and grants you the knowledge of his experience in making the right choices on your Scrum path.
There are tons, literally, of other agile books in which I've found great value, from Cohn'sUser Stories Applied to specialized works focused on retrospectives, metrics or testing, but the five I mentioned above are my touchstones as I go about the challenge of coaching teams, and consulting with enterprises, as they reach for a new way of thinking about work.