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Mike Riley

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The Agile Samurai Book Review

September 19, 2010

Having read a number of books on agile methodology, I was curious to see how one themed with a Japanese warrior would be unique among the other titles on the market. Read on to find out if this agile book is worth its cover price.Nothing is more hypocritical than a non-agile book on agile methodology. Gobs of tables, charts, lists and ROI analysis are preachy CYA consultant material, but hardly do much for people in the trenches trying to succeed at their jobs within the ever shrinking constraints they may be under. Fortunately for readers of The Agile Samurai, this is not one of those books.

The book is written predominantly for project managers and developers striving to improve their application lifecycles by applying agile principles to their work. It also doesn't take itself too seriously. Indeed, the author mentions in early on that "You can't take this stuff too seriously, and it helps if you can approach the material with a bit of a sense of humor." Taking this tactic, the author succeeds at sharing his experiences in a non-threatening fashion while solidifying his main points. Helping along with this approach are the numerous illustrations and call-outs the highlight key ideas. In addition to these illustrations and bold call-out statements, conversations between the fictitious Master Sensei and the aspiring warrior accentuate and further reiterate best practices and sane ways to handle various challenges to agile approaches along the way.

The book progresses through 15 chapters segmented into five parts: Introducing Agile, Agile Project Inception, Agile Project Planning, Agile Project Execution and Creating Agile Software. The clear themes that pervade throughout are the importance of personal and team alignment, effective organizational skills, active and persistent client engagement and having the fortitude to be an honest, trustworthy partner who will tell it like it is, even if it's bad news. As the author states, "Bad news early is the agile way."

The part of Agile Samurai that will most interest developers are what the author calls "the no-brainers" of agile software: Unit Testing, Refactoring, Test-Driven Development and Continuous Integration. Using Microsoft .NET C# code, the author clearly shows the difference between a developer who practices these skills and one who does not.

The author shared a few ideas that I hadn't practiced before, some of which I will definitely adopt in future projects. One of these is an estimation and consensus-building activity called "planning poker". Another is publicly promoting a visual workspace that clearly advertises team velocity and project burn-down. As the author relates in a fictional account that encountered a bad situation and concluded with a happy ending for the agile team leader, a visual workspace "can help you set expectations with stakeholders and make the reality of a situation self-evident."

The book's author, Jonathan Rasmusson, is a former agile coach for ThoughtWorks and maintains a blog at agilewarrior.wordpress.com that continues the conversation beyond the book by offering codified examples of the principles and practices espoused in The Agile Samurai.

Those developers and project leads who are seeking to share with their teammates an agile education in an entertaining and insightful way will find The Agile Samurai a worthwhile investment. It's not a silver bullet book, but one that will most assuredly help forge the bullets for those new to agile and sharpen the saw for those who are regular practitioners of the methodology.

Title: The Agile Samurai: How Agile Masters Deliver Great Software Author: Jonathan Rasmusson Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf ISBN: 978-1-93435-658-6 Pages: 280 Price: $34.95 US

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