Books about Scrum

The Best Books About Scrum Aren’t About Scrum

Books like Mike Cohn’s Succeeding with Agile and Henrik Kniberg’s Scrum and XP from the Trenches were two of the first books I read as I began my agile journey.  These books were useful to teach me about Scrum, but Scrum is simple to understand.  People though?  They’re a challenge.  As Ronika Lewis eloquently put it:

The best books about Scrum aren’t about Scrum.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some books that have made a difference in my professional life.  You won’t see the words “Scrum” or “agile” in any of them, but rest assured they’re relevant to our domain.  As a bonus, I’ve attached all passages that I highlighted as I read each book to give you greater context.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

In SwitchChip Heath explains why change can be difficult by decomposing a common behavioral change metaphor called the rider and elephant.  If you’re unfamiliar, watch this short video.  Chip uses real-life examples of how it has been applied in other companies while also giving us ideas for how to use the metaphor in our own work place.  A few of my favorite quotes:

  • A good change leader never thinks, “Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people.” A change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”
  • Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions.
  • Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviors.
  • When you’re at the beginning, don’t obsess about the middle, because the middle is going to look different once you get there. Just look for a strong beginning and a strong ending and get moving.

For a list of all passages I highlighted, click here.

Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marine Corps

I read Corps Business by David Freedman many years ago, but it continues to stick with me.  The writing is a bit primitive, but the stories are great.   As I’ve written about here and here, the Corps taught me a great deal of what I know about agility.  Freedman does an exemplary job of describing agility by way of his 30 management principles, and he includes many great war stories from several legendary Marines.  In fact, I had the honor of learning from and serving under two of the Marines he interviewed:  General Krulak and Sergeant Major Whiley.  Below are a few of his 30 principles:

  • Manage by end state and intent.  Tell people what needs to be accomplished and why and leave the details to them.
  • Aim for the 70% solution.  It’s better to decide quickly on an imperfect plan than to roll out a perfect plan when it’s too late.
  • Experiment obsessively. Even the most successful organizations will eventually stop winning if it doesn’t explore radically new approaches.

For a list of all 30 principles, click here.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Five Dysfunctions by Patrick Lencioni is a rather popular book.  If you haven’t yet read it, you may have already heard of it.  It discusses each of the five elements of the triangle you see below.  Here are several great quotes from the book:

  • Great teams understand the danger of seeking consensus, and find ways to achieve buy-in even when complete agreement is impossible.
  • Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.
  • Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.

Finally, you can find the passages I highlighted in Five Dysfunctions here.


I have many others I’d recommend, but I’ll stop here for now.  Further, I hope it emphasizes that some of the best books about Scrum have nothing to do with the framework.  If this list was useful for you and you’re interested in more recommendations, let me know in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “The Best Books About Scrum Aren’t About Scrum”

  1. I love this and the quote about aiming for the 70% is some of the most divine wisdom ever uttered, for reasons you mentioned. I’d also like to add the constant communication of his approach is vital to the end state success.

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