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Building an Agile Book with Agile

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Building an Agile Book with Agile

If you were going to write a book using agile methodologies, what might that look like? You might be inclined to create a backlog of topics… maybe play a little planning poker to get some idea of how big your book is in story points. You’d start writing the book in sections… chapter by chapter… burning down your backlog as you delivered. Since you understood the size of your backlog, and you know your average writing velocity, you’d start to get a pretty good idea about when the final draft could be delivered to the publisher.

If you were running ahead of schedule, you’d be able to predict an earlier delivery date or maybe include some content that you weren’t originally planning to be part of the book. If you were running behind schedule… you’d be able to make solid decisions about what to leave out. Maybe you go back to your publisher with real data about how much additional time you’d need to get the book completed. You could use all this agile goodness to really run a solid ‘book writing’ project.
Do you think that you’d stop there? What else could you leverage from agile methods to write your book? How would you build in quality? How would you know you were writing the right book? Over the past few months I have been thinking hard about this idea of keeping the book potentially shippable. How would we build the book in such a way that it always tells our story. If the publisher pulled the plug in a few months, how could we self-publish a shorter version of the whole book rather than be sitting on a few disjointed individual chapters.
So here is the plan. Dennis and I are working really hard on the major themes… you saw that last week in my four posts on capabilities, double-loop learning, the 7 Habits, and conversations. These themes are going to be hung on our five phase framework of team based agile, horizontal, first order, second order, and third order scaling. The final bit of work we are doing right now is around the specific organizational capabilities (and by extension, the practices) we see as essential for adopting and scaling agile at each of the five different levels.
This is the basic set of up front design work that we want to do on the book. I think of it as the high-level systems architecture. We are defining the framework, the major themes, and the significant features that are going to blend together to tell the story. Like I keep saying… all these ideas are subject to change but this helps us decide what is in-scope for the book… and what is out. There are zillions of ways to tell this story… we are picking one to start with.
Over the next week or so… you are going to see me blogging a bit around the extended book structure as my way to start telling the story end to end. We’ll talk about the order of the topics and the learning outcomes for each section. By the end of this phase, you should end up with a pretty good idea of where Dennis and I are headed. That process will help us decide specifically the user stories we want to put in the backlog with a pretty high degree of confidence we are telling the right story. Then we start really writing the book.

Next Interesting Post... 8/30/2009 through 9/5/2009

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