Jim Holmes writes "Mary and Tom Poppendieck's Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit is a great read for anyone interested in agile software development. That includes developers, leads, and managers interested in speeding up development cycles, improving quality, and getting their customers the best value. This book's been out since May, 2003, but it's well worth picking up. The concepts within are absolutely applicable now, and will continue to be for quite a few years." Read on for the rest of Holmes' review.
|Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit|
|author||Mary and Tom Poppendieck|
|summary||Toolkit for getting agile development in your organization.|
Lean Software Development is full of pertinent comparisons between the current state of software development and the massive changes in manufacturing over the last three decades, specifically demonstrated by the Toyota Production System, and 3M's innovative atmosphere for bringing products to life. The Poppendiecks make a great case as to how similar changes in software development can reap great benefits in the software production industry.
Who It's ForThe book's very useful for anyone involved in or around the software development process: developers, leads, managers, and corner-office types. Corner-office types won't get as much out of the book as those in the trenches, but the Poppendiecks' arguments against overly-constraining process management systems may help high-level managers come to understand that such systems can actually hurt production.
Who It's Not ForThis book isn't for closed-minded folks who think the waterfall method and a preponderance of documentation and process control are the bee's knees. The book talks specifically about how Six Sigma, Capability Maturity Model (CMM), Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), and Project Management Institute (PMI) certification can drag down development productivity and quality. Also, it's not for folks who are unwilling to consider that shorter delivery cycles improve feedback, quality, and lower cost.
(Note that the authors specifically point out that agile development does not mean tossing out all documentation and process.)
What It CoversThe book is labeled a "toolkit" for lean development, and it describes 22 "tools" -- that is, approaches which will help an organization move to a leaner development system. The authors start off with a great explanation of what lean practices are and how they can benefit software development. They then move on to more detailed coverage of important principles.
The book's broken into chapters covering the seven principles the Poppendiecks lay out as fundamental to agile practices: eliminating waste, amplifying learning, deciding as late as possible, delivering as fast as possible, empowering the team, building in integrity, and seeing the whole. Those seven principles may sound like marketing blabberspeak, but the Poppendiecks nail each section down with terrific discussions of applicability.
They've also got great examples tying the principles into how manufacturing has so drastically improved its processes. Each chapter concludes with a "Try This" section aimed at getting your group moving in a lean direction.
The second biggest benefit after the book's content is the extensive reference list. There's an impressive bibliography, and each chapter is loaded with footnotes referencing various books, articles, etc. This gives interested folks a great guide for further reading.
The book's summary chapter is especially good. It concisely wraps up the book in the somewhat tongue-in-cheek format of an instruction sheet for the tools the Poppendiecks have laid out. The "Caution - Use Only As Directed" section is particularly useful because it shows how one should not use the principles: "Eliminate waste does not mean throw away all documentation," and "Deliver as fast as possible does not mean rush and do sloppy work." The summary also breaks out high-level details for implementing in large and small companies. The authors are particularly helpful in pointing out strategies for dealing with difficult process improvement programs such as Six Sigma, CMM, and/or CMMI. They point out the political aspect of how to approach implementing agile methodologies in organizations constrained by such "helpful" policy systems.
There's also a note for folks working in safety-related fields where regulations and immense processes dictate how to do work: Shortening cycles in such environments can better ensure people aren't killed by software failure.
What It Doesn't CoverDespite the great coverage of the principles and tools, this book isn't a detailed guide for implementing agile processes at your organization. The authors are very adamant that no two organizations function alike. Implementing agile processes requires some careful forethought before jumping in. The authors don't advocate any one methodology over another, so don't look to this book for help in deciding whether you want XP, FDD, SCRUM, or any one of the other alphabet-soup-of-the-day agile buzzwords.
Additionally, I thought a few items were given pretty cursory coverage. One example is in the chapter on late decisions where the authors breeze right over implementing a quick persistence layer to put off deciding on exact database implementation. I particularly would have liked more detail in that item. On the flip side of that; however, is the great detail given to value stream mapping, feature implementation burn rates, and several other very, very useful items - so my complaint is really that one particular item I'm working on right now wasn't covered as well as I'd have liked.
Bottom LineThis really is an important addition to your reading list if you're at all interested in learning how an agile environment can increase your speed, quality, and cost effectiveness. It's a great book if you're in need of guidance on how to look at and improve your current environment. It's also a great book if you need backup for convincing either your co-workers or management that a move to agile is necessary.
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