Book Review: Mike Cohn X 2

I’m covering two books by Mike Cohn in this post: User Stories Applied, and Agile Estimating and Planning.

I’m reviewing them together because I read both of them at the same time, and some of the content is inter-twined in my own mind.

Both books provide a wealth of practical advice on succeeding with an agile process. Throughout both books, the depth of Mike’s coaching experience comes through.  With every element of advice, Mike includes a discussion about why each recommendation is what it is. He also includes a lot of “you may be thinking of …” comments with reasons why straying from his advice may cost you and hurt your project.

Throughout both books I found myself almost thinking Mike was inside my head, helping me improve. When an author does that, he’s clearly succeeding.

The two books are aimed at different, but overlapping audiences.  Maybe because I’m in both audiences, I found both useful. 

User Stories Applied goes into more depth about the process of creating user stories that will help drive your project to success. You’ll find advice that you should share with your customers. It will help them learn what makes a good user story, and how to express their needs and feature requests in the form of user stories. In addition, you and your team will gain a better understanding about creating stories that show value, are not too big, and aren’t too small to provide real value. You’ll learn how to break epics into measurable deliverables for your team. Those skills will help you succeed with agile. Software project success starts with getting good input from stakeholders and customers, regardless of which process you choose. Mike’s guidance in User Stories Applied will help your team, and your customers get this crucial part correct.

Agile Estimating and Planning provides advice from a different angle. This book explains agile techniques from all angles: release planning, iteration planning, daily planning, and modifications when reality differs from estimates (you know, like it always does).  The best feature of this book is how Mike seems to anticipate counterarguments from those in any organization that would be opposed to adopting agile. He counters those arguments with clear logic and solid explanations about why following his advice will achieve better results. From different angles, you’ll find advice for developers, project leads, customers and customer proxies. Whichever role you find yourself in, read the entire book. Knowing how other team members should be approaching the process will help build a functioning team across processes.

The key theme running through this book is that agile plans must be constantly revisited, because reality changes constantly. Agile planning is not something you do at the beginning of a project, it’s a series of ongoing activities throughout the project. That point is stresses repeatedly, and it’s worth it.

If you are looking into agile, or you’ve tried an agile process and haven’t had the success you’d hoped for, you must read these books. It will help.

Created: 2/10/2009 3:08:22 AM

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