Agile Project Management with Scrum

by Ken Schwaber

Cover image

Publisher: Microsoft
Copyright: 2004
ISBN: 0-7356-1993-X
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 153

Buy at Powell's Books

Ken Schwaber is one of the two original developers of Scrum and one of the signatories to the Agile Manifesto. Agile Project Management with Scrum is an introduction to Scrum by him that feels aimed primarily at business people (project managers, executives, line managers) rather than at technical people. There's very little about agile software development in general; the emphasis is on business process, team organization, and how the Scrum process looks to the rest of the organization.

After an introductory chapter laying out the basics of Scrum, the remainder of the book is primarily case studies. Schwaber presents some principle and then discuss an anonymized case study that illustrates the principle. Each major Scrum role (ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and Team Member) gets their own chapter, interspersed with chapters on planning, reporting, and scaling. Finally, there are some concluding appendices laying out the rules of Scrum in more detail, adding a brief (and very disappointing) discussion of fixed-term, fixed-price contracts, and providing some other supplemental information.

This is only the second regular book that I've read about Scrum, but my reading has been a bit out of order. We've been using Scrum for various projects for about a year and a half, I've played both team member and product owner roles, and we've been thinking hard about how to integrate Scrum more into the way we do development. My impression of this book is that it's intended as more of an introduction for people who aren't yet comfortable with Scrum or who are still struggling to make the pieces fit together. I'm therefore possibly not the target audience. Much of this book is a rehash of things someone who has studied Scrum will already know.

I'm of two minds about the case study presentation style of this book. On one hand, it does help to make the points Schwaber discusses more concrete, and it's difficult to talk about business process in any other way. They're also more interesting and engaging than Schwaber's straight rule descriptions. But I had difficulty digging into most of the ones here. They're very simple and a little shallow, and I had trouble applying many of them to practical situations I might be in. I would have liked somewhat more detailed stories with more analysis and possible alternatives within the situation, rather than simple illustrations of how Scrum solves the problem that Schwaber had just said it would solve.

What I did like about this book is that it provides the background and theory of Scrum as empirical process control much more clearly than any material I'd previously read. Schwaber is good at explaining what empirical process control is and why it's a superior approach, and he gave me new vocabulary and basic concepts to use to talk about Scrum. I also liked the high-level look from a management perspective without getting into the details of story points and velocity estimation (Schwaber doesn't use them at all in this book, relying instead on traditional "days of work" estimates). Much of my previous experience with Scrum was tightly focused on its advantages for estimation and responsiveness to changes, and it's nice to see some of the other advantages of Scrum (developer job satisfaction, improved focus, incremental deployment) highlighted more.

Another part of this book I appreciated was the discussion of sprint length. Schwaber doesn't go into the possible alternatives, largely assuming that a month is the best interval, but the discussion of the impact and implications of a month sprint length helped me see the advantages of longer sprints. (To date, we've been doing either one week or two week sprints.) I came away with the feeling that a hybrid model where longer sprints are used for business purposes and then subdivided into shorter sprints for developer coordination might be particularly effective, although that's not an idea that Schwaber presents.

This is not a particularly compelling read, particularly if, like me, you're not a huge fan of genericized case studies. Schwaber's writing is clear, but wooden and occasionally awkward, and the book is often dry. But it talks about Scrum from a management angle instead of a developer angle, which is an additional perspective that I found valuable. Possibly worth taking a look if you want more detail about Scrum from a high-level management perspective, although I don't think you're missing a lot by not reading it.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-03-31

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21