Book Notes: Scrum: the Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

I read Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice The Work in Half The Time (Sutherland, 2014) earlier this year, as we were re-introducing agile practices into our engineering org. I figured I could use a refresher of the basics, and I was hoping to get new ideas and inspiration.

There is an overall tone to the book that I found a little off-putting. Sutherland seems to be trying really hard to cement his image as inventor of scrum and thought leader. There are some gendered moments — referring to the readers as “guys”, using “Matt” as the prototypical developer — that felt very outdated in 2018. Luckily, the book is very readable, in the style of fluffy business books, with lots of anecdotes from the author’s experience interspersed with the actual content that I came to this book for.

The book does cover the basics of Scrum, in an accessible and logical way, alongside motivating stories. The Appendix contains a summary of the basic rituals and practices. If you’re already familiar with the ideas behind Scrum, and want a high-level refresher or a reference, you could just read the Appendix and get a much higher signal-to-noise ratio.

I was disappointed that the book did not go deeper into underlying rationales or discussions of pros and cons. There is no mention of situations in which Scrum might not be a good fit. There are no anecdotes where Sutherland did not succeed in introducing a miraculous transformation to a team. There is no examination of why these teams were working in such inefficient ways before. Instead we are told how this team and that team doubled how much work they accomplished sprint after sprint — no end to this magical doubling of productivity is ever discussed or even implied as a possibility.

Overall, it was a useful refresher and occasionally an entertaining read, but there are probably other books out there that present the principles of Scrum in a more concise and less aggravating way. If you’re curious here are my Kindle highlights for the book, including parts that I felt annoyed by, intrigued by and simply bits that I wanted to remember.