If we were only allowed to choose one fundamental principle for changing to an agile approach to working, it would be the acceptance that you are no longer commanding and controlling your way to world domination with your one big hairy idea, instead working in short cycles of experimentation and failure, learning your way incrementally to the top.
We’ve done a few reading lists on Luna Tractor before, on specific topics mostly – like this one on learning about agile and lean in as few a number of books as possible. Now it’s time to look at a longer list — perhaps a two year program of reading for you to ingest, depending on your reading speed.
It was that last thought that got us debating the economic value of formal education. We have a young friend angsting over which of two fine, world-class universities (Stanford or London School of Economics, lucky bugger!) he should invest his life savings studying at — and he has concluded that the bottom line is it’s not so much what you learn, but who you hang out with. WTF? Turns out you’re actually buying a stream of future job opportunities, thus the skill improvement is merely the price you pay to be part of the job club. This distorts things a bit.
If you were serious about real learning, you’d do what Mike Lee (the world’s best-dressed and toughest developer) did – follow the very old-fashioned path of finding the best person in the world at your chosen craft, and apprentice to them for a minimum wage for a while. The wages sacrificed from your current learning-free, lazy-assed salaryman life would be about the same as the cost of a good MBA I suspect. And no doubt you get the career path thrown in for free.
So here is the list, the path to a Luna MBA, in no particular order, but biased by our own world-views and what we’ve read and found useful. Read at least one of these a month, get your hands dirty in a job that is doing something meaningful, and help us build a better world.
- Good Strategy, Bad Strategy (Richard Rumelt). I rate this the best strategy book ever written for business people. It not only debunks all the mission, vision and values crap we have been peddling for decades as ‘strategy’ in the West, but tells you how to do it right. Turns out strategy is just like working agile – diagnose a customer problem, choose your option for addressing it (there’ll be many, and you’ll have to say ‘no’ to some), plan-do-check-act, and don’t wait 5 years to see if it worked.
- Rework (37 Signals). The handbook on how to move fast, and be customer-led, without losing your mind. Turns out if you solve interesting problems for yourself, other people have the same problems and will pay you money for your insight. Such an easy read – short chapters, quick lessons, pithy conclusions.
- Meatball Sundae (Seth Godin). Seth got tired of the repetition of earning money from bricks and mortar businesses who wanted to be ‘digital’, because the advice was the same every time. You can’t dominate distribution on the web, and there is no ‘middle of the road’ mass market. Suck it up Grandma.
- Predictably Irrational (Daniel Ariely). This book will give you a fundamental understanding of consumer behaviour, and if you’re smart, an insight into why your agile project stakeholders are also irrational. Read about ‘anchoring’ prices, and apply that to ‘completion dates’.
- Delivering Happiness (Tony Tsieh). The story of Zappos – the most unlikely online retailer you can imagine, selling shoes on the web. Although occasionally a bit FIGJAM, the author imparts some good news for the humanists out there – online businesses succeed because of people and service. Australian retailers need to read this book, get their heads out of their asses, and start building online.
- The Perfect Store (Adam Cohen). #5 and #6 go together, because Amazon so admired the Zappo business they bought it. Understanding the business models of the last 10 years is vital to further innovation – this book is as good a history of ecommerce as you will find.
- Founders at Work (Livingston). Suprising stories of the winners of the 21st century’s race to build businesses on the internet. Lots of lessons of how what you started out to do, isn’t what you always end up doing. This book adds a human face to many of the brands of the last decade, and some from the 1990s as well that have been swallowed up. Inspiring.
- The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development (Cooper and Vlaskovits). One of the most influential thinkers to emerge from the Stanford melting pot in recent times is Steve Blank, with his amazing book The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Unfortunately, his brain is the size of a planet and this shows in his book – it is vast in scope, terse in tone, complex in structure and a bit of a chore to follow. Fortunately, a couple of his students wrote the cheat’s guide – and this is it. Compulsory reading to understand innovation in the modern context – not just in the form of startups, but also within larger companies.
- Freakonomics (Levitt): a partner to Daniel Ariely’s book when it comes to understanding customers. I suspect WE Deming would have loved this book, with its insistence on good quality statistical proofs and proper experimental approaches. Not sure Deming would have loved some of the funnier examples, but hey, he must have had a sense of humour somewhere. A must-read to make you think twice about those assumptions on what your customers want and need.
- The Toyota Way (Jeff Liker). Liker, who has remarkable inside knowledge of the workings of Toyota, does the West a big favour by describing in terms we can understand the sometimes impenetrable system of working developed on the top of Deming and Ohno’s leadership. He summarises 14 sensible and easily understood business rules – you’ll do well to write them down and have them to hand.
- The Art of Agile Development (James Shore and Shane Warden). Warning, this is not a Dummies Guide to agile software development. It is however, one of the most thorough, extensive books you will find on the subject of agile software development. Have it handy to dip into, or read bigger chunks as an education on why agile works, what all those mysterious techniques and practices are, with a particular nod towards XP or Extreme Programming methods – the agile toolset I cut my teeth on in the USA based on Kent Beck’s agile treatise Extreme Programming Explained.
- Hackers & Painters (Paul Graham). Now days Paul Graham is more famous for his Y Combinator Angel fund … but don’t be fooled, back in the day Paul was both a proper Hacker and very successful in his own right. This book is one that James has often given to leaders of technology teams who are not themselves nerds. It’s an essential guide to the mind of the software developer and explains the art and science blend that is great software development.
- Here Comes Everybody (Clay Shirky). An excellent book that teaches us the power of the internet when it comes to communicating, and introduces the best definition of governance ever written – ‘rules for losing’. If you read carefully, Shirky provides the rational for individual organisations to rethink their org chart from being based on the limits of ‘span of control’ for bosses, and functional teams, to more communicative multi-skilled groups with a clear purpose. Sound like agile? Did to me.
- Freedom from Command and Control (John Seddon). In my book, Seddon has picked up the lean torch from Deming, and run hard with it in a world of service-based government and business organisations (as opposed to manufacturing). He is a detail guy, steeped in the rigour and the hard slog of transforming organisations from the top down. His Vanguard website and newsletter are also well worth getting to know.
- The Innovator’s Dilemma (Clayton Christensen). Whilst not a new principle at all (Richard Pascale wrote about it in the 1980s, by the way ignore his Seven S theories imho ;-), Christensen managed to coin a brilliantly memorable phrase to describe it 10 years later, and write a book to summarise the concept that we all fall in love with the last brilliant thing we made, and refuse to move on. Sadly, people have only been discovering this book in the last couple of years it seems. Too bloody late!
- Don’t Make Me Think (Steve Krug). One of a pair of fundamental resources around listening to customers, observing customers and designing winning products as a result. If I had a dollar for every smart-arse who said “oh, but Steve Jobs didn’t listen to customers”; or “like Henry Ford said, ask the customer what they want and they’ll say a faster horse”, I’d be a rich man. This book will explain why that is bullshit, and tell you how to overcome your fear and ignorance of customers. Easy to read like 37 Signals’ book.
- Rocket Surgery Made Easy (Steve Krug). The second in the series, and a worthy follow-up to Don’t Make Me Think. If you honestly work in product development, or design, or user experience and have not read these books – hang your heads in shame. Which would be most of you I fear. The most important point for agilists is how the methodology of getting customers involved for 1 morning a month with your ideas can be proven to be valid against the army of marketing naysayers who demand huge sample sizes, laboratory heat map testing, and months of large scale research.
- The Mythical Man Month (Fred Brooks). A candidate for the oldest book in our list, first published in 1975. A classic on team behaviour, and the impossibility of success from just adding more resource to a project to make it happen faster. Brooks would have loved agile, and stands alongside Tim Lister and Tom Demarco as my heroes from the 20th century. Obviously not required reading for any MBA that I know – they were too busy studying shareholder value and GRQ101. Save $25 by getting the Kindle edition!
- In Great Company (Human Synergistics). Call me biased, as we got amazing results from using the Human Synergistics toolset at Lonely Planet as part of the change program moving to agile, but this is my favourite book on culture. It takes it from a thing we all know exists, to a science that we can understand and manage our way to healthier organisations with. It’s a big, dense book, and there’s no eBook version sadly. Buy it from them directly and take the time to watch some of the videos while you are on their website.
- Good to Great (Jim Collins). As with all books, authors are damned to historical retrospective where we can all laugh at what happened to the heroic companies referenced in their book. For a real chuckle, revisit that amazing 1980s treatise In Search of Excellence by Peters and Waterman. Good to Great survives because the model of why the companies were great alongside their industry competitors is credible and still working today. His new book Great by Choice is in my Kindle reader, and I’m hoping that sheds more light on what good looks like in the 21st century.
- The Winter of our Disconnect (Susan Mauchon). James’ named this his favourite book of 2010 – a balanced and clever story of a family in Perth giving up electronics for a few months and observing the sociological results first hand. Every second chapter visits the research and theories around the impact of new media and devices on people and society. Essential reading for insight into the biases that we now live with daily – and it might well be a life saver for a few people struggling with teenagers and their addiction to online gaming, facebook and myspace.
- What should I do with my life (Po Bronson). A wonderful book with a title that gives the story away nicely. Bronson’s earlier book ‘The Nudist on the Late Shift’ inspired me to up sticks from Melbourne and move to San Francisco for a dot com opportunity in 2000. This one brought me home. A collection of 50 stories of people who have struggled with this monumental question, and an emergent theme in the end.
- Learning to See (John Shook). A bit out of character for a generalist book-list, because it is strictly a how-to guide on value stream mapping – the lean tool for figuring out how to improve your business through better flow, attention to value delivery, and reduction in waste. A hard read, but lot sof pictures and the concepts are vital, and not explained as well in many other books. You’ll learn to appreciate that Deming and Ohno had some hard-arsed principles behind their designs for work, if nothing else.
- Lean for Dummies. If Shook’s book is the reading equivalent of agile jerky (an acquired taste, and tough to chew through), this Dummies Guide is the plain pork sausage. A great introduction to Lean thinking, it is necessarily shallow but impressively broad in scope (like all Dummies Guides I guess). If someone is freaking you out with their use of Japanese words like Heijunka, have this guide handy.
- Marketing Warfare (Ries and Trout). I owned this book in the 1980s, and leant it to my mate Andy who had just become the marketing manager at a big hotel chain in NZ. I recall telling him ‘this is pretty much all you need to know’, and I’m guessing he loved it so much he never gave it back. The good news is that there is a 20th anniversary edition, so you have a chance of getting hold o this book. In it you will learn all the fascinating military strategy from history you will ever need, and how it relates to business strategy in marketing today. Two subjects mastered in one paperback!
- ZMOT Zero Moment of Truth (Google). This is a downloadable eBook (PDF and other formats) available here. The hypothesis is simple – buyer behaviour has changed from what you were taught in the pre-search engine world. Now a huge part of buying something is a moment of truth when you google ‘Samsung TV consumer review’ before heading to the store, or even at the store. The growth of sites like Whirlpool in Australia attest to this, and the Google research is fascinating as to the timing of consumer research on the web, in relation to their actual purchase (see page 62 and the diagram at left). If you are in financial services or travel, read and weep.
- Management 3.0 (Jurgen Appelo). For such a large book with a grandiose title, the down to earth, funny and insightful way it is written is inspiring. I once helped make a book called The Successful Manager’s Handbook, which was an all-time bestseller, and I think this one is the replacement for people having to build 21st century organisations. Lots of stuff on managing Agile, plus managing the big picture of a company full of talented people in an agile way. If I lived my life twice over, took copious notes on the way, plus had 75 more IQ points, I might have written this book before Jurgen did. It still wouldn’t have been as good.
- Peopleware (Lister and DeMarco).Another vintage piece of writing, ignored by
managers for decades since 1987 when it was first published. Luckily they did a second edition in 1999 which you might be able to get your hands on, and at $10 for a Kindle edition versus $32 and freight for the cellulose model, you have no excuses. I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Lister in NZ at an SDC conference, and found the secret to writing in the informative, witty style of this 25 year old book – be witty, warm and informative in person!
- The Lean Startup (Eric Ries). On the list above, we named Steve Blank as a smart man from Stanford. Here’s another one. A lot of people are foolishly ignoring this book as only being relevant to smelly university kids starting a dot com in the garage, when in fact it has the most potential to influence the way mainstream corporations learn to innovate.
- The Human Equation: building profits by putting people first (Jeffrey Pfeffer). This 1998 book is your shortcut of all the important research and knowledge from the 20th century on why people live, work and play the way they do. Pfeffer is yet another Stanford person (if they ever meet, morning tea in the staffroom must be bloody amazing at Stanford 😉 and his ability to bring together multiple threads of history and science is unparalleled. If it is news to your boss that people and profit are linked in some way, have her read Chapter 2.
- The End of Business as Usual (Brian Solis). A very recent book from the research firm that houses the BYT (bright young thing) Jeremiah Owyang, one of the emerging big brains thinking about the impact of communities moving online. A fairly light read, it’s a quick skim to catch up on what the kids have been doing lately online.
- The Principles of Scientific Management (Frederick Winslow Taylor). The oldest book on this list by decades, and still remarkably readable despite being 100 years old last year. This book s to some extent, for agilists and lean thinkers, the root of all evil. Written about a series of worker experiments carried out between 1880 and 1910, at several US steel companies and beyond (see his mate Henry Ford for example), Taylor pioneered time and motion studies and the belief that the worker needs to be managed to be efficient. It’s important to read to understand the context Taylor was working from, and reflect on just how irrelevant that is to innovating businesses 130 years later. Watch for a full review on Luna Tractor soon.
- Haynes Owners Workshop Manual, Apollo 11. No Luna degree would be complete without studying and passing the exam on the greatest vehicle ever made. You never know when you will find yourself on the moon and needing to re-start the old girl or begin that restoration project in the shed.
If you got to the bottom of the list, I have an extra piece of good news. Buy this many books digitally and you can justify in a business case to yourself and your bank manager the purchase of an iPad with the Kindle Reader installed. Some are $25+ cheaper in the Kindle store!
Interestingly, many of these authors also have blogs that are well worth putting on your Flipboard list. But that’s another story, and ‘keeping up digitally’, another Luna degree entirely.
Extra Credit Books:
If you’ve finished the current list then consider this extra credit for your degree.
Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure – Tim Hardford
A remarkable, if slightly repetitive set of stories showing us the unpredictable path to true innovation. He starts with the story of Palchinsky at the turn of the 20th century who may have just invented Agile approaches analysing the Russian ecconomy even before the ship building yards of the first world war; Of course he was exiled to Siberia for his efforts. He also explores our aversion to variation and experimentation – the tendency for governments and corporate bosses to love large and grandiose projects instead. As Hardford points out the proliferation of iPhone and Android apps has hidden the uncomfortable truth which is innovation is harder, slower and costlier than ever before. All the easy problems have already been solved. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book to inspire you to buy and read it.
‘Return on investment is simply not a useful way of thinking about new ideas and new technologies. It is impossible to estimate a percentage return on blue-sky research, and it is delusional even to try. Most new technologies fail completely. Most original ideas turnout either to be not original after all, or original for the very good reason that they are useless. And when a original idea does work, the returns can be too high to be sensibly measured.’
Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age – Michael A Hiltzik
It is quite hard to imagine a world without so many of the things invented at the PARC labs. So often we talk about wanting innovation in our organisation, but I think without really appreciating the investment, genius and insanity it really takes. Don’t even talk about building an innovation lab in your organisation until you’ve read and appreciated these stories.
The Essential Deming: Leadership Principles from the Father of Quality
Deming like Fredrick Taylor was obsessed with measurement and statistics, but also the more human side of leadership. He wrote hundreds of articles, gave speeches and wrote many books over his life – often repeating himself or retelling the same experiences different ways. This book brings together and rationalises a life time of work by probably the most significant thinker in our field to one book which is quite readable, though insulting if you run a transitional command and control system of work.
So Jeff Liker wrote about the 14 management principles from Toyota in the Toyota Way (a book we have previously recommended) – It is excellent, but to be honest hard to read and hard to digest at times. Then Nigel and I had the chance to read a TPS manual from the source – A beautiful and small book – Japanese on one page, english on the next. It distills the system down into a much simpler 4 themes – unfortunately money can’t buy you a copy of this once mythical book. John Shook has now written the Kaizen Express – a guide to understanding the TPS, which both bears a strong resemblance to the real TPS manual as well as providing a bit more context and explanation rather than being a reference manual for those already deeply immersed in the system day to day.
Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead
Imagine for a moment you didn’t want to or can’t actually embrace the fundamentals of Agile and Lean at a philosophical level for your project or organisation but still wanted things to be less awful, there are a bunch of techniques which can really help any group. Visual management, stand ups and retrospectives will help the most waterfall of projects. In the same boat using A3′s as your method of reporting or business case process rather than 400 slide powerpoint decks or heavy documents which nobody reads anyway is a great improvement for any organisation. Of course they have extra potency in an adaptive and learning culture. Great book, practical examples, even some nice folded up cheat sheets in the back… There is even an awesome cheat guide for the iPhone – but we will only tell you about that once you’ve read the book first.
How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know – Byron Sharp
Being scientists at heart we loved this book. Sharp questions the basic assumptions and wisdom which has been driving your marketing department’s strategy for decades, putting it under the lens of data and experimentation rather than following conventional best practice from text books, HBR articles and folk law. Assumptions like customer retention being cheaper than acquisition, our consumers being a distinct (and special) kind of person and mass marketing being dead all don’t hold up to scrutiny. I’m not sure yet how some of the lessons in the book apply to small companies or very niche markets; but if you are in business in any large segment then this book is a must read for everyone in marketing, product and strategy.
Forty Years of Teams: Tim Lister
Ok, ok – So it’s not a book – I tweeted a link to this video of Tim Lister (author of PeopleWare) and it’s really not one to miss. It’s wonderful, humbling and inspiring all at once.