Read Like Your Agile Coach

Our Agile Coach John reviews the books that shaped the way he views agile practices.
Annual Report 2017-18.pdf

This month I thought I’d go over a few books that have shaped the way I view agile practices. You’ll note that while none of them are actually agile implementation guides, they all speak to the values and principles that live behind agile implementation. While readers of these titles have typically been in the tech and startup world, each book contains an approach to tackling uncertainty that should resonate with anyone running an applied research project.

Zero to One – Peter Thiel (2014)

Big Ideas:  

These ideas particularly apply to science and research projects. Projects are often undertaking amazing and novel research that can change entire industries – but at the heart of every project lies the question of adoption and impact. I’m always curious about how each project team defines their ideal customer and who they believe their early adopters will be.  

The Lean Startup – Eric Ries (2011)

Big Ideas:  

The takeaway for research projects is that if you want your research to have an impact you have to call out your assumptions and find ways to validate them through experiments. Most importantly, each project has assumptions that live beyond the central research questions they have been contracted to answer. There are many assumptions around adoption and implementation that the teams also need to consider.  

Change by Design – Tim Brown (2009)

Big Ideas:

Putting the customer at the center of scientific research is exciting. While applied research has always been about delivering value, customer-centric scientific research pushes teams to consider the actual end-user of their research, not just the organisations who are paying the researchers to explore an idea.

Scaling Up – Verne Harnish (2014)

Big Ideas:

Metrics and outcomes are particularly important for applied research projects because research can often be seen as exploratory. Having a limited number of project outcomes phrased in a way that demonstrates the value of the project to a customer helps to ground exploratory projects in a united vision. This can prove challenging for teams that are accustomed to reporting against activities they have done rather than measuring themselves on how they are delivering impact to an end-user.  

Final Thoughts:  

Agile is both a mindset and a practical approach to exploring new situations and adjusting course as needed. There are plenty of physical practices you can implement to help manage teams in ways that meet this mindset (scrum is particularly useful) but as a first step, developing customer-centric, outcomes-based mindsets is essential.  

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