Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time


Jeff Sutherland is one of the founders of Scrum, a methodology for agile software development. But even if you are not involved full time in software development, The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time (Crown Books, 2014) is a quick and easy read that attempts to educate a general manager about the virtues of agile development and apply the principles to non-software development projects.

The idea behind Scrum is simple. Projects are difficult. People have no success in defining requirements up front. So, the alternative process is to phase and iterate the project, something I wrote about in our book, Riding The Tiger, back in 1997. Even more importantly, the goal in any project is to get better. Delivery of the phase needs to be accompanied by figuring out what you can do better and what roadblocks can be removed.

Why should you care about agile project management? The simple answer as the title implies is that you get more work done in less time. The book title claims a 4X improvement. Other scrum specialists suggest 8X improvement is not unreasonable particularly in software where at the end of each Sprint, reviewing opportunities for improvement is part of the scrum process.

The book is filled with illustrations of projects where the simplification of scrum product results from IT projects at Medco to home renovation. In a story that we can all relate to, Sutherland tells the story of two projects on identical home renovation projects. The Scrum approach took 6 weeks. The non-Scrum approach with the same team took three months.

The principles behind Scrum are easy to understand. You have three roles: Product Owner, Scrum Master and project team. The product owner's job is to be ruthless in prioritizing what needs to be done. The Scrum Master's role is to make sure that roadblocks are removed. The team is a self organizing team that takes responsibility for delivering what they have agree to deliver in each phase or Sprint.

There is however, a philosophical twist to scrum. It's open management. As with kanban, project work is always on display, categorized as backlog, being worked on or completed. Making information visible makes it harder for managers to play political games, conceal lack of progress or demand extra work.

Scrum is also psychologically sophisticated. It assumes that your motivation is affected by your control over your work. It also denies the "sweat shop" assumption that keeping people busy all the time and demanding overtime is the best way of keeping productivity. That may have been true in a textile factory in the 19th century, but it's not true for knowledge workers. Underscheduling people gives them time to work at higher quality, help each other and generate higher levels of team equality.

There are many good books about Scrum. Mike Cohn, Kenneth Rubin and Ken Schwaber have excellent books on the subject, but Jeff Sutherland's book is a good recommendation if you need to educate a manager about a new approach to project management.

1 comment:

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