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Book Review: The Concise Executive Guide to Agile
by Bill Keyworth

agileWhy would a business executive be interested in Agile software development?  Why is Agile a topic of interest to the Business-oriented Service Management community? The answer involves strengthening the connection between the developer (…who provides software capabilities for business use) and the business entity (…who uses software technology for critical business functions.)  These two groups are frequently bridged (…successfully or unsuccessfully) by IT operations, adding complexity and increased business frustration to the BSM process of aligning business with IT (…both operations and development or DevOps.)

Most of the available literature on Agile methods focuses on the nuts and bolts of Agile – roles, ceremonies and artifacts. Valuable as such literature might be, it fails to respond to the needs of business executives in two major ways. First, it usually takes too long a time to comprehend the Agile topic; and second, it requires depth in software engineering that most non-technical executives do not possess. Consequently, most executives remain uninformed about their potential contributions in the Agile process, (…particularly the specific deliverable they own) and the kind of behaviors that encourage proactive, grass roots Agile initiatives.  This requirement for two way communication between the business user and IT is the core of BSM.

To respond to the acute time pressure that executives are subject to, The Concise Executive Guide to Agile is written without any fluff. I would venture that every paragraph is subjected to the "…and therefore what?!" criterion ...which is meaningful to most business users. Points are driven home and their use made clear to the reader in as few words as possible. You can fully comprehend the guide during a flight in the continental US.

To make it accessible to any executive, The Concise Executive Guide to Agile assumes the reader merely possesses a conceptual grasp of software. The guide does not use technical jargon. It examines Agile through the lenses of the various business disciplines - R&D, Marketing, Sales, Program Management, Professional Services, Customer Support, Finance or IT ...or the required working parties for BSM success.
The Guide covers a broad range of topics – from why Agile matters to the governance of the Agile process. It focuses on Agile from an end-to-end perspective, explaining what it means to the business enterprise in its entirety. It puts special emphasis on the operational, financial and business (BSM) benefits of Agile methods. Its overarching message is clear and simple: Agile is the most productive technology your business is not using.

By focusing on the principles and implications of Agile, the author produced a guide that is straightforwardly applicable to IT operations, Dev/Ops and Business Service Management. As a matter of fact, the author’s forthcoming book - Agile Business Service Management(Israel Gat, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley Professional, 2011) holds the details for applying Agile in these important domains.

I can think of no better way to conclude this review than the very same words with which the author starts the book:

“The closer one listens to the music, the more remote it sounds.” These insightful words about Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony apply equally well to the art of Agile software methods. The nuts and bolts of Agile methods are not likely to be very relevant to the executive. Instead, he or she needs to stand back and focus on the mindset, values and principles that make Agile methods so powerful, and on harnessing their power to create business value.”

How appropriate, timely and insightful this paragraph is! It captures the very essence of the whole Agile guide in one chord.  The book may be obtained from the online store of the IEEE Computer Society Press.

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