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Agile 101: How to write an Agile book

Yes, you can also write a book in an Agile manner. Not only software can be created this way. All these Agile things can be applied to a myriad of fields, not only to technology. In this chapter I will tell you how I used this work philosophy to write the book that you have before you:

Focus on what’s important,
delete the non-essentials

Nowadays books—especially technical books—are going through the same phenomenon as CDs did a few years ago. You bought a CD only because you had heard that song on the radio, but, how could a CD have less than 20 songs (and cost less than 20 dollars)?

It had to be filled up with something. Maybe the last few songs did not have the same quality as the two or three first hits in the disc? Well, it was necessary to justify the price, to pad it a little. This could make you hate the author for those last three songs in a duet with Tom Jones or the techno-pop version of their first hit.

The same can happen with books. We feel better if our book is 500 pages long, and we write it for two years but, at what cost to you, the writer? And for the reader who buys it? Probably that reader is only interested in the chapters on Agile quotes or about Scrum’s advantages.

Something of the sort happened to me while I wrote this book. It had very few pages and I was tempted to add some filler chapters. They weren’t really as interesting as the rest and they weren’t as close to the main subject of the book. I ended up taking them out. The first version of the book was about 67 pages long, but I chose to keep it that way instead of having readers think that the book was too long or too boring.

Real artists ship!

This expression, attributed to Steve Jobs refers to the fact that real artists are not constantly re-thinking their work until they have the perfect painting or the perfect sculpture. They ship their works, put them up for sale, and then see what the market is really interested in.

Have you written a tutorial on how to install Pentaho? A WordPress configuration manual? What are they doing in a drawer? Get a cover (there are hundreds of websites for that), format it, write an attractive description, and put it up for sale at Amazon’s KDP, at iTunes or wherever you want.

It is only 30 pages long? Well, then sell it for one or two dollars. If you sell a few you’ll get a return for the 20 or so hours that it took you. Also, you’ll have learned lots of things about digital marketing, sales, royalties…and also about which kinds of subjects sell books and which don’t.

Perfection is a vertical

No matter how much you try to write the perfect book, with the perfect cover, with the exact price to maximise sales and no typos… you won’t be able to do it. Perfection is a vertical asymptote (sorry again, Math 101 Calculus).

The better you try to make it, the higher the cost will be for you. When you’ve put an enormous amount of hours into it, putting in another enormous amount won’t get you any closer to getting a bestseller.

When I put the book up for sale, I realized from the first opinions on the book that users thought it would be a Scrum manual. I had to learn from that and change the description to make it clearer. Small changes in the description had very high impact on sales.

In the same way, when I updated the book to its second cover, sales increased by 30%. Sadly it went further down when I changed it to the third cover. It was more expensive, and in my opinion prettier, but apparently Amazon’s users didn’t like it.

Your leads will tell you if they find the content, the cover or the subject interesting or not. You can think it over again and again, but until the book is not in the virtual shelves you won’t know what works and what doesn’t. Avoid the paralysis that sets in with perfectionism and don’t overthink it. Put your book up for sale and let them decide (remember, real artists ship!).

You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).

Translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt.

Agile 101: Scrum pros & cons

“There is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things.”


Disadvantages of using Scrum

How many technologies have quickly popped up and then vanished even quicker? They all promised to be revolutionary, the new silver bullet that will end every problem in the software industry. When we get as much hype as has been lavished on Scrum and Agile, our first reaction is to raise a critical brow.
If you are adopting Scrum in your project or company, it is best for you to be informed beforehand about its drawbacks:

The team might be tempted to follow the shortest route

When we have things to deliver every two weeks, and in the latest deliveries the projected functionality wasn’t ready and the speed of the team does not indicate that we will finish the next one on time, we have a problem. We can succumb to the temptation of finishing the pending tasks in any way we can and leave a “technical debt” behind us. Everything has the appearance of going well, we create more features, we start new things, and the client is happy because deadlines are being met.

But every time you leave a small hole of a deficit behind you, I can guarantee that you will stumble on it again and make it bigger. If new things keep caving in this way, the “debt” will become a pit. Sooner or later you’ll have to stop everything and fill in the pit—pay back that loan and with extra interest because of that late payment. The project doesn’t finish when we were so close to the end, and the burndown chart appears to have a horizontal asymptote at 0 (sorry, Calculus I).

Do you need to have delivery deadlines way in advance?

This is one of the main criticisms that Scrum normally receives. In a way, it is logical that Scrum cannot give you those deadlines. At the beginning of the project, you cannot predict when you’re going to finish, if you’re making it easy to change the thing being built as time goes by. But, do you prefer a product that you know “for certain” will be finished in 12 months, but is built over the ideas and opinions you had a year earlier? Maybe you prefer a product that could be finished in a similar period of time, but that you have been able to steer towards your real needs, and you’ve been able to use and test before the final delivery deadline.


We cannot sprint for our whole lives. We deliver something and the next deadline is just two weeks away. Then another one, and another one. If we have to run like this for many miles, we will sprint really hard for the first deadline, but we will walk for the last one —and that, with luck. It is something we should bear in mind during planning, from the start.

Is your team able to self-organize?

One of Scrum’s principles is that the team members must make their own decisions and self-organize. Also, one of the requirements is to avoid having teams that focus just on specific tasks, like analysis, testing, design, documentation, development etc., but rather to make sure that every member of the same team can carry out all of these tasks without depending on external teams or members. Can we always have a team like this? What happens if we don’t have one, or if we lack a key component?

You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).

Translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt.

New chapter from book Agile 101: Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto

Nearly 15 years ago, in 2001, 17 software developers met in Utah. They were critical of the then popular software-development models, which they considered rigid or heavy. That meeting included people like Kent Beck, Martin Fowler or the Scrum founders. They had decided to meet in order to talk about the new techniques and processes to develop software.
That meeting gave rise to a number of principles governing the new alternative (and Agile) methods they were proposing: the Principles behind the Agile Manifesto. One of these principles is:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

Clearly, this is what should be done in any type of development. We start every project with that in mind, but soon people start getting into a rush. Our director asks how many hours we’ve spent (and we’ve spent a lot already). Our client asks when all the features will be ready. Our workmates ask if they can take that two-week holiday we owe them.

It starts to look ugly. We’re in a mess again. We have to redo the Gantt chart with the new delivery deadlines, we have to look for another set of dates for those holidays (even our own holidays), and we have to give the director loads of explanations. “The client requested lots of changes” “The technology was new.” “We miscalculated.”

Here’s where we should be firm and ask the team for some extra effort, and decline little changes requested by the client. If it isn’t written exactly like that in the contract we signed or the minutes of a meeting we had six months ago, we’re sorry but we can’t do it.

The thing is, clients also did this. They wrote a very clear contract in which they stated each and every feature that they wanted (or the ones they wanted when they drafted it). Maybe they no longer needed those features or had realised that there were other, more important things, but they’re in the contract and they should be done. The project cannot end and leave 30% of undeveloped functionality.

At the moment, we have lost sight of what should be our top priority in our job: early and continuous delivery of valuable software. From here on, there are just tough negotiations and a contract that we would try to fulfil as soon as possible with the least amount of damage possible.

The contract might have tonnes of clauses and stipulations, but regardless of what it says, what the client wanted on signing it was a solution to the problem at hand, not an argument about whether to implement one functionality or another.

But if we deliver our software early and often, we can let clients test it and use it and tell us what they think. We can allow them tell us if there is something missing or what could be improved. They will want us to implement things they find they now need, and they will be delighted in turn to take out that .rpt file-exporting feature that no one remembers requesting or knows why it was requested in the first place.

When we finish the project, the client will have a product that really solves their problems, one that has been evolving while they learned, and one that they have been able to use and test from the early stages of the project. It sounds better for both the provider and the client, right?

New chapter from Antonio Martel's book, Agile 101: Principles Behind the Agile Manifesto
 “How do you
manage a project when you have received no previous training in project
management? Well, by suffering a lot.”
Albert Cubeles

You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).

Translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt.

Agile 101 book

Pretty soon my first book on Agility will be also available in a new English edition. You will be able to find there same contents and same topics that were addressed at the Spanish edition or that you can find here in my blog but ready for English speakers:

  • Scrum pros and cons
  • Agile estimations with Scrum
  • Help and hints to pass your Professional Scrum Master (PSM I) Certification test.
  • Real life projects experience and practical know-how on how to deal with situations that we all have gone through any time in our professional lifes.
I leave you here with the foreword of this brand new edition (translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt):

“Extra! Extra! New edition Agile 101. Read all about it”

Your company has just appointed you project manager. You’ve heard about Agile methodologies, Scrum, Kanban, and lots of other things you’d like to try. You’ve started reading all about artifacts, principles, and manifestos, but nothing is crystal clear just yet.

You don’t know whether your lack of knowledge will put your project at risk, but probably what worries you the most is that all these things are nothing but buzzwords, the current fad, and that they won’t have any real effect on your day-to-day work… or even worse, that such a big change in what to call things and how to do them will make your team, your clients, and your company reject those ideas altogether. Luckily for me, or unluckily maybe, I have also gone through all these problems, so in this book I will tell you how I solved them (when I’ve been able to) or, at least, what I tried and what eventually failed.

Don’t expect this document to be an exhaustive Scrum guide. I don’t know everything about Scrum, and the implementation I follow is far from perfect. For a thorough knowledge of Scrum, I recommend following some of the popular Scrum guides that you can find either online or in books like the one by Henrik Kniberg, not to mention the one by Jeff Sutherland, creator of Scrum.

Even though I follow a survival Scrum style and I still have lots to improve, Scrum has worked for me. Using it, we have managed to gain credibility in difficult projects, projects that were not working the way we expected. We managed to reduce the amount of stressful situations that, luckily, now happen far less often, and we have increased the satisfaction of the clients who, sprint after sprint, get their money’s worth. We have not been able to follow Scrum methodologies to the letter in every project we have worked on, but just trying to be more Agile we have improved our results in the projects we are working on.

When we start using Scrum, we all tend to use the terminology of this framework, talking about daily sprint meetings, product backlogs or burndown charts. We follow our Scrum guides to a tee, when in fact no one understands them, not even ourselves. Not understanding the spirit behind these rules, we end up creating a waterfall project—like we always have done—disguised by jargon that makes us look more innovative.

Rather than telling you how to do things, or explaining in detail how many meetings you should have and how many minutes each one should last, in this book I want to describe what the purpose is behind those meetings, what the artifacts described in Scrum guides are for, and what you might get out of them. I’ll help you understand the Agile principles that underlie this way of working and that really make this work. I hope you find this book very useful!

You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).


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