An Agile Reading List

I love books. Proper, paper books. I’m always recommending titles to people, so thought it might be a good idea to pluck ten books from my bookshelves that I regularly recommend to anyone who wants to learn about Agile development, or improve their skills.

Now, please note that my background is with XP as that is the process that has worked the best for myself and for the teams I have worked with. As such, recommendation number one is:

Extreme Programming Explained (2000) – Kent Beck

This is the book that kicked it all off for me back in 2000, and it still remains the most concise and readable introduction to XP. It’s also an important text for anyone wishing to understand what it means to be “Agile”.

User Stories Applied (2004) – Mike Cohn

Human society has used stories for a very long time to convey information, yet writing user stories is often not as easy as it should be. This is one of those books that I ummed and ahhed about buying: what could a book on such a “small” subject really offer me? The answer was quite a lot, because there’s a great deal involved in learning to write effective stories. More than that, writing stories is just the first step – what we do with those stories is an important part often glossed over.

Agile Estimating and Planning (2006) – Mike Cohn

In many ways, this leads on from User Stories Applied. How do we turn a stack of stories into a tangible piece of software that delivers value to the customer? The whole spectrum of estimation, prioritisation and planning is given coverage, explaining not just how we do things, but why we do things.

Domain-Driven Design (2004) – Eric Evans

Anyone who says that Agile doesn’t do design is talking nonsense. Unfortunately, the lack of books on the subject of Agile design doesn’t help to dispel this myth. Domain-Driven Design is a much needed addition to the Agile library. Two core concepts, the use of common language and a strong model, are presented and elaborated upon to form a simple, elegant, yet powerful framework for designing large systems. My only negative point is that the book could probably be condensed into one half the size without losing the clarity of vision.

Refactoring (1999) – Martin Fowler

I picked up this book not long after reading Extreme Programming Explained. This book was very influential on me, because it made me realise we don’t have to be satisfied with the final implemented solution to a problem – people who haven’t read the book often raise an eyebrow when I mention things like “code smells”. Designs and code go stale more often than we like to admit, and this book provides a readable, in-depth guide to tackling the overhaul of code in order to improve the design, readability and maintainability. Those of us who use dynamic languages in our large-scale projects might find some of the refactorings unimportant, but the concepts are still invaluable.

Test-Driven Development (2003) – David Astels

To refactor code safely, you need to have an excellent test suite to ensure you don’t break anything or introduce (or even fix!) unexpected side-effects. This book is an excellent introduction to the subject – very clear and concise, yet often overlooked in favour of Kent Beck’s book. The bulk of the book uses examples with Java and JUnit, but covers other xUnit implementations for a variety of languages. The choice of language is unimportant as the concepts are equally valid.

Agile Testing (2009) – Lisa Crispin / Janet Gregory

An impulse purchase from Amazon that ended up being an essential book in my library. Although aimed more towards a QA team nervously wondering if they’re obsolete in the New Agile Order, this book is an incredibly good resource for anyone involved in a software project. Every aspect of testing is covering in a very approachable and comprehensive style, including the different roles testing plays and how testers can incorporate their role as part of an Agile team. Developers needs to remember that there’s more to testing than their own TDD test suites, and that’s where an Agile QA team comes into play.

Continuous Integration (2007) – Paul Duvall / Steve Matyas / Andrew Glover

There are quite a few good books on continuous integration, but this one manages to provide both a decent introduction to the subject and a good balance between theory and practice. Although I’d used CI long before I’d read this book, I must admit I’d never really needed more than a superficial knowledge. This book helped fill in some massive gaps in my knowledge and understanding.

Agile Retrospectives (2006) – Esther Derby / Diane Larsen

This book covers a much-neglected part of the Agile process: reflection and self-improvement of teams. Regular retrospectives to give teams time to identify where things are going well, where things are not going well and seek out ways to continually improve themselves. The book introduces the concepts behind retrospectives, gives a framework for running them, and presents various supporting exercises that can be used.

Principles of Software Engineering Management (1988) – Tom Gilb

This might seem an unusual one to finish with. Why is it even on an Agile reading list? Because it’s easy to forget that “being Agile” is not new, or a fad, or sprung up suddenly. This book covers evolutionary delivery, estimating and dealing with risk, planning and code inspection. Although written for a “traditional” software engineering audience it reads in places more like a proto-Agile manifesto, a genuine reflection on the discipline and where it was heading at the end of the 80s. I really wish I’d discovered this book at university, rather than ten years later, because it would’ve changed my approach to software engineering outside of academia. Even reading twenty years after it was published, it still offered a very relevant text.

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