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bob marshall
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"If I have seen further...
it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants" Sir Isaac Newton

interesting books

I am greatly indebted to many, many authors whose experiences and ability to convey them have helped me on the road to understanding just a little more about the world of transformational leadership in technology businesses. The follow is a list of some of those books from which I have drawn most inspiration:


"What literature can and should do is change the people who teach the people who don't read the books" A.S. Byatt

Robert K Greenleaf - Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

Servant Leadership is a leadership style which Greenleaf promotes as having the ability to transform individuals and organisations through its concern with the needs and well being of these who follow. He explains he various ways in which leaders can serve, with skill understanding and spirit, and describe how followers will be responsive only to able leaders who also serve.

Peter Senge - The Fifth Discipline: Strategies for Building a Learning Organization

A seminal work on the concepts of the Learning Organisation in general, and Systems Thinking in particular. The five disciplines of the learning organization explained in the book are: Personal mastery; Mental models; Building shared vision; Team learning; Systems thinking, a.k.a. The Fifth Discipline, which integrates the first four. Essential reading for the budding Rightshifter.

Joe Jaworski - Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership

Wandering in and out of the metaphysical, Jaworski sees "relatedness" as the organising principle of the universe. This book is above all a description of a process that transcends the our "normal" existence: "If we have truly committed to follow our dream, there exists beyond ourselves and our conscious will a powerful force that helps us along the way and nurtures our growth and transformation. Our journey is guided by invisible hands with infinitely greater accuracy than is possible through our unaided conscious will." In a word, inspirational.

Adam Kahane - Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities

No doubt, effective organisational change is a tough problem. Kahane explores the connection between individual learning and institutional change, and how leaders can move beyond politeness and formal statements, beyond routine debate and defensiveness, toward deeper and more productive dialogue. Both tough and inspiring, the book explores models, technologies, and examples that illustrate the central conclusion - that solutions require just two things: the ability to talk and the ability to listen. Truly profound. (An Entry point into the world of Scenario Modelling).

William Isaacs - Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together: A Pioneering Approach to Communicating in Business and in Life

Isaacs, Director of the Dialogue Project at MIT, suggests that effective communication can and should be a process of thinking together - as opposed to thinking alone and then trying to convince others. Contains concrete examples of effective dialogue, as well as ideas on effective talking, and listening; on avoiding the forces that undermine meaningful conversation; and on changing the physical setting of the dialogue to change its quality. His bottom line is that through effective dialogue, businesses get to make more reasoned decisions and thus earn more money.

Marcus Buckingham - First, Break All The Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers do Differently

Another great contribution - backup up by hard evidence from 25 years of Gallup surveys - towards dispelling some of the core fallacies of accepted management "wisdom". Indicative of the tone of the book is my favourite quote "Great managers are revolutionaries - and break all the rules of conventional management thinking". Whether you're new to management, been doing it for years, or want nothing to do with it at all, there's much value in this book for you! Especially interesting for people working in businesses where staff appraisals hold sway - arm yourself with the Twelve Things that Mean Job Satisfaction before your next appraisal!

Ricardo Semler - Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace

One shining example of how to build a highly effective business by following the path less travelled, and doing things entirely alien to most business managers, such as trusting people and encouraging leadership from the grass roots up.

Patrick Lencioni - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

If there's one book you need to read if you're at all concerned with the performance of teams in your business, this is it. Although written to illustrate the power of an effective management team, the ideas in this great book are equally applicable to software development teams, particular in the Agile arena, where team dynamics and interpersonal relationships not only can, but do, make all the difference between success and dismal failure. Tip: Don't just buy this book as a singleton - go for the full three-box set including "The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive" and "The Five Temptations of a CEO"!

Patrick Lencioni - Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business

A one-topic wonder, but none the less wonderful for that. Gets to the heart of the meetings culture in businesses of all sizes, and provides a simple but tremendously powerful solution to getting meetings on track and avoiding all the wasted time, effort, money and human potential that most businesses endlessly suffer from through meetings.

David Bohm - Wholeness and the Implicate Order

OK, so this one's real left-field. Bohm, a renowned theoretical physicist, says that everything is connected to everything else: "The oneness implicit in Bell's theorem envelops human beings and atoms alike" and that "If you reach deeply into yourself, you are reaching into the very essence of mankind. When you do this you will be lead into the generating depth of consciousness that is common to the whole of mankind and that has the whole of mankind enfolded in it." Phew!

John Seddon - Freedom from Command and Control: A Better Way to Make the Work Work

"Command and Control is failing us. There is a better way to design and manage work - a better way to make work work - but it remains unknown to the vast majority of managers." In this book, John Seddon writes about the benefits of transformational leadership and systems thinking within service organisations, such as call centres, public services and the NHS.

Lean Software Development is NOT the same as Lean Manufacturing. A great read in its own right, this book is also hugely valuable as an example of how to adapt Lean principles to a particular domain, and how some Lean Manufacturing ideas do not translate at all well to that new domain. I also take John's reminder of Deming's message to heart: 95% of an individual's performance at work is due to the system they find themselves working within - change the system and you can improves everyone's performance; behavioural change and cultural change then comes "for free".

Michael Kennedy - Product Development for the Lean Enterprise: Why Toyota's System Is Four Times More Productive and How You Can Implement It

I have shared this book with several key clients, and their reactions have been that of astonishment and dismay. Astonishment that another discipline has so comprehensively solved the key issues of effective product development, and dismay that they and their organisations have so far to go to even begin to see comparable productivity and organisational effectiveness. I feel it no understatement to say that for people that have any interest in the effectiveness of a technology business, and how the business brings software-intensive products to market, this book will be a world-changing revelation.

Allen Ward - Lean Product and Process Development

Even more insightful than Michael Kennedy's "Product Development for the Lean Enterprise", the book by the late Dr Allen Ward points the way with many, many observations, practical solutions and techniques for building a Lean Product Development organisation capable of outstanding productivity, quality and innovation. Also defines one idea which for me has been utterly illuminating: the essential purpose of a product development organisation MUST be to create (and evolve) Operational Value Streams for its host business.

Jim McCarthy - Software for your Head

Jim's earlier (1995) title "The Dynamics of Software Development" was one of my favourite books of that era, so it's great to see that he's still experimenting and learning - and writing about his experiences. "Software for your Head" contains a large collection of "behavioural patterns" (and anti-patterns) for improving the way people in software teams work together, drawn from years of practical experimentation. Some organisations may find the ideas and evidence here rather disturbing, implying as they do a significant rightshift in both personal and team integrity, candour and self-examination.

Steve McConnell - After the Gold Rush

Steve is very widely read amongst developers, particularly for his excellent works ("Rapid Development", "Code Complete", etc). on various aspects of coding, testing and other practical software development topics This book seems much less widely read, which is a shame as it has much to say about building high-performance software development organisations for the long term, with establishing a "true profession" of software engineering a key theme.

Tom De Marco and Timothy Lister - Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects

Makes a compelling ethical case for effective and deliberate risk management on software projects - a position I wholly subscribe to. Also includes a huge range of examples and ideas on how to manage and mitigate common project risks. For all those Agilistas out there, who are managing risks on a daily basis without really realising it, this book may just provide some insight into the roots of Agile practices (i.e. managing common project risks).

Capers Jones - Assessment and Control of Software Risk

Not a great read and rather dated now, but still an indispensible catalogue of many (100+) of the risks common to software projects everywhere. Used as a source for e.g. checklists for Risk Parades, Risk reviews, and so on, it can save hours of work and help produce a much more comprehensive Risk Register for any software development project.

Tom De Marco and Timothy Lister - Peopleware

A classic (more than twenty years old now) text on the people dimension of software development projects. "Peopleware" asserts that most software development projects fail because of failures within the team running them, rather than because of issues with e.g. technology, process, tools, etc. Comes loaded with lots of helpful examples of common pitfalls, as well as much sage advice on how to make things better. The basic ideas underlying the whole book is that "people matter" and "people can be trusted" - if you can't get with this programme then there's little hope for your projects, Sir!

Tom Gilb - Principles of Software Engineering Management

I have placed Tom's ideas - as first discovered through this book - at the heart of my own personal approach to running software development projects (e.g. Javelin, FlowChain) ever since I first read it some twenty years ago. Few software people seem even to have heard of Tom, let alone read his works, which is a shame as his ideas of evolutionary development, quantifying requirements, etc. were decades ahead of their time.

Mike Cohn - Agile Estimating and Planning

A whistle-stop tour of what people and projects are doing today to bring better estimation and planning to Agile projects. I don't buy the hype that says that this kind of thing will cure all your project ills, but the book is very valuable in illustrating the issues that Agile software development projects face, along with some practical steps and solutions that folks have found can help address these issues.

Mike Cohn - User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development

A key influence on my work on evolving FlowChain, Mike promotes the idea of placing User Stories at the heart of the software development process. While I think the term "User Story" is a little unfortunate - development projects have to deliver stories for many stakeholder constituencies, not just users, I share his view that Stories should be the atomic unit of flow in the development process.

Mary Poppendieck - Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit

A good first attempt at translating Lean principles into principles that can help to inform effective software development practice. A bit theoretical and generally lacking in evidence, and sometimes making the mistake of conflating Lean Manufacturing with Software (Product) development - but worth of attention as almost the first book to suggest that the world of Software Development has many things to learn from the world of Lean.

Mary Poppendieck - Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash

Mary's follow-up to "Lean Software Development" and a much improved book with lots of practical information that you can apply directly to your own software development projects. Also begins to draw the clear distinction between lessons learned in Lean Manufacturing (philosophically interesting from the software organisations' perspective but not very useful or relevant) and those of Lean Product Development (SO much more relevant and informative for software development organisations wishing to dramatically improve their effectiveness).

Ray Immelman - Great Boss, Dead Boss: How to Exact the Very Best Performance from Your Company and Not Get Crucified in the Process

I must admit a soft-spot for "populist business books" and read quite a few during the course of a year, even though most of them aren't worth the paper they're printed on, from a practical perspective. This is the only such book I've chosen to include in this list - because it provides a very useful, practial model for understanding how to get factious, fractious groups of people to give up their parochial agendas and work together for the common good.

Eliyahu M Goldratt - The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

A business novel introducing the ideas of Goldratt's Theory Of Constraints. Rarely known and even more rarely applied in the UK, Theory of Constraints (TOC), like Lean, originated in the Manufacturing area and has growth to encompass a number of different business domains, including software development and project management. Unlike Lean, however, the basic principles of TOC apply equally to all areas of business, and the TOC toolkit of "thinking tools" such as Current Reality Trees, Evaporating Cloud diagrams, etc. are incredibly useful to business improvement across the board (sic).

David Anderson - Agile Management for Software Engineering:: Applying the Theory of Constraints for Business Results

David was the first software (agile) development thinker to publish a book tying together Agile software development and Theory of Constraints - a marriage made in heaven and just waiting to reach a wider audience, IMHO. Given the very limited penetration of TOC into the UK at all, it's probably no surprise that this book too seems to have acquired little public acclaim over this side of the pond , which is a shame as it makes an enormous contribution to advancing the uptake of disciplined Agile - for example the Burndown chart, project velocity metrics and so on.

Womack & Shook - Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Add Value and Eliminate Muda

OK. This is a book about Lean Manufacturing - and as such has little direct relevance to software development per se. However, the idea of designing the software development process to deliver value (as opposed to software, or even products) can pay huge dividends when looking to Rightshift a technology business. The book itself contains lots of practical advice and examples of how to examine the flow of work through a system in order to identify bottlenecks, constraints and sources of waste.