A Tale of Two Systems: Lean and Agile Software Development for Business Leaders reviews two different fictional systems development projects: Cremins United (CU) and Troubled Real Estate Information Management (TRIM). Both were done at the imaginary Cremins Corporation, a venerable printing company trying to transform itself to survive in the Internet age. The Cremins United project was an abject, expensive failure, while TRIM succeeded in creating a major new revenue stream and solving important customer needs. One project was done in a traditional, process-centric 'waterfall' approach, the other according to lean and agile principles and techniques. By reviewing the tale of these two archetypical systems, readers will develop a better understanding of what works and what doesn't and become better prepared to implement successful systems development projects.
Review By: Showey Howey 05/10/2010This book, contrasting a traditional and a lean/agile project, would make a wonderful, anonymous gift for the C-level Scrooge in your chain of command. Alternating narratives written in the first person perspective from non-technical members from each project are lively, engaging, and allows your skeptical reader insight into these radically different management frameworks and how each hinders or helps the work-ethic of the teams assigned. In the story that spans two years of parallel development, we meet employees with talent, dedication, and a will to succeed. Along with management, they have great expectations. While the Lean team seems to have David Copperfield's magic, the control-driven project finds only hard times in a bleak office. In the midst of these fast-paced sketches, author Michael K. Levine includes a twist of romance. This new story line keeps us hopefully attentive despite the inevitable death march of the waterfall project.
The format also allows Levine to deliver clear explanations of processes and terms through his remarkable skill at writing dialog. Short descriptive passages enliven characters without sacrificing its quick read time. End of chapter sidebars facilitate skimming important content. Lessons learned are in a separate section. Among many good bullets and quotes found in these pages is "If you do not trust your team members...you cannot work around that by requiring detailed plans and demanding detailed accounting ..." If you don't care enough to learn what it takes to build the technology your company needs to compete, you cannot work around that by assigning it completely to technologists. You cannot work around your disrespect for team members by hiding behind layers of management and documents.
While the Lean development process demands management and users who are willing to work with their technical team (not just wait for them to deliver), management's desire to control without accepting responsibility or involvement plagues the team following "The Process." From the moment senior management interrupts their first team building meeting through the stifled reporting process that forces a "green" status on mostly-wasted efforts to their last ditch efforts as the Process Police throw more consultants into the mix, create additional paperwork, and even wilder deadlines at them—well, for most of us it's a nasty trip back in time with the Ghost of Failed Projects Past.
A Tale of Two Systems is the first Lean/Agile development book I've read that has the potential to reach business leaders without preaching or pushing a sales pitch. I can't wait for a sequel.