As any elite athlete that you bump into on the street will tell you, to stay agile you have to keep training. Or to draw from one of the Agile Manifesto principles: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.”
So last year, when the engineering team leads & managers were thinking about ways to keep ourselves trained up without going old-school, we came up with the idea of an Agile Book Club. Sounds dull, but the results can be kinda cool.
How does it work? We choose a book related to agile methodologies, individually read the agreed-upon chapters during the week, and meet once a week to discuss what was in the chapters. This usually involves anecdotes of our own past (or present) experiences as related to the chapter contents, and it’s this pooling of experiences (both good and bad) from the author and the book club participants that leads to the most effective learning.
We tend to go in cycles of high and low attendance, depending on a few factors (our Book Club meetings are not compulsory, just “strongly encouraged”).
Factors leading to high attendance:
- Practical, well-written, Agile books, e.g. Mike Cohn’s Agile Estimating and Planning
- Having enough copies of the book to go round
- Meeting on comfy couches, instead of in a meeting room
- Meeting at the pub, instead of on the couches, with the VP Engineering buying the first round
- The next round of performance reviews is coming up 🙂
- Short articles and/or blog posts. Bite-sized chunks means easy digestion.
- Switching up the topics. In addition to Agile content, we’ve read articles on people management and strategy to give ourselves some variety in our reading diet, or to address current hot topics in the company.
- Topics which are at least slightly controversial. If everyone agrees with what the author is saying, it makes for a boring discussion.
Factors leading to low attendance:
- A crappy book. This may sound obvious, but what one person thinks is a great book can be the Worst Reading Experience Ever for others. Best to make sure at least two people recommend the next book, and that they have read beyond the first chapter. The author’s writing style is at least as important as the content. Dynamic & witty – good; pompous & patronising – bad.
- Project deadlines and other emergencies. Sometimes you just have to skip a book club meeting; that’s ok, but having an interesting book/article will entice those people back to the club post-emergency.
- Book Club fatigue. Try taking a group-wide break from the weekly meeting in between books, just for a week, to help everyone stay fresh.
Last week we had our first official Book Club break. It didn’t take long for a certain manager to admit that he missed the rant-expressing, stress-relieving benefits of weekly Book Club meetings. True story.
Watch our agile book club members talk about agile