Scrum and XP from the Trenches

by Henrik Kniberg

Cover image

Publisher: InfoQ
Copyright: 2007
ISBN: 1-4303-2264-0
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 127

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For those not already familiar with it, Scrum is a project management methodology that's most often seen in the agile software development community. It attempts to do for project management what agile techniques do for software development (and, other than test-driven development, I think is more useful than most of agile). I'm not going to explain it here in detail, but if you do software development or project management of software-style projects (including integration and computing infrastructure), it's worth your attention. It provides some nice techniques for dealing with some of the banes of technical projects, particularly constantly changing requirements and the difficulties of estimates.

Scrum and XP from the Trenches is subtitled "How we do Scrum" and is exactly what it says on the tin. It is a fairly detailed description of how Crisp (an agile Java development company in Sweden) does Scrum (with a little discussion of Extreme Programming). It doesn't explain what Scrum is, although it does provide a few pointers to resources if you've never heard of it (but this isn't the sort of book you'd be buying if you'd never heard of it). It also doesn't try to convince you that Scrum is wonderful, which is a nice trap to avoid. It gets right down to business and packs quite a bit of relentlessly practical content into a small number of pages.

I've been doing Scrum for about a year, across two large projects, both times not entirely following the full Scrum model. Both times, most of the team was learning Scrum during the project. I've gone to some Scrum training and read a bit, largely on-line, but I haven't made an exhaustive study of it. I think I'm exactly the ideal audience for this book, although my guess is that people who have been doing Scrum for longer will also get something out of it. This is not an introduction; I don't think one is likely to get much benefit out of it without a couple of Scrum projects under one's belt so that one has a feel for the problems and failure modes. As Kniberg accurately points out, Scrum is a framework, not a precise rule set, and it can't be applied blindly in one situation using analysis from another.

For that audience, though, this book is great. Kniberg has used Scrum in a variety of different situations and tried multiple solutions to many of its problems, so he can provide guidance not only on his preferred solutions but on the other solutions he's tried and why they don't work. I started taking extensive notes just a few pages in; it was exactly the book I needed to read for the full-project retrospective on how Scrum worked for a just-concluded work project, and for planning what changes we'll want to make for the next project. He goes through every step of the Scrum cycle and offers advice on each step, particularly for the sprint planning (which was extremely helpful). He then walks through release planning and advance estimation (one of the best parts of the book; I've seen the concept of a focus factor before, but this is one of the best and clearest explanations I've seen), talks about XP (Extreme Programming) techniques and testing, and then discusses how to coordinate multiple Scrum teams in a larger organization. The chapter on testing was the reason why I bought the book; the rest of the book lives up to it.

As mentioned, my Scrum exposure is not broad, so Kniberg may just be following different orthodoxies. That said, he broke with the ones I was previously familiar with in some useful places. One is to attach a time unit to story points, something that I was told was close to anethema, but as presented here looks very useful. Another, not so much a break but an idea that I'd not encountered elsewhere, is downtime between sprints, an brilliant solution to a problem that I'd not even fully articulated but which had been plaguing our Scrum process. He also has some suggestions about communication that, while fairly obvious and common-sense stuff, still were things that hadn't occurred to me and that we should adopt.

I paid for a hard-copy version of this book from Lulu because I like things like this on paper and am happy to support the author financially, but you can download a PDF file and read it for free from InfoQ and see whether it works as well for you as it did for me. If you're ramping up on Scrum, seeing some problems, and looking for good ideas on how to fix them, I highly recommend it. I'd love to read two or three more case studies like this to get some more perspectives on how to make Scrum work. The paper book will likely be making a circuit around our office to serve as fodder for our upcoming Scrum projects.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2011-10-25

Last modified and spun 2015-07-06