Review: The Professional ScrumMaster’s Handbook

Whether you are new to Agile methodologies or a seasoned pro, Stacia Viscardi’s new book, The Professional ScrumMaster’s Handbook  is an essential reference resource. I had the privilege of undergoing a two-day CSM training with Stacia while I was at Razorfish and was impressed with her approach to teaching and with the methodology itself. I liked it so much that I mentioned it in a blog  I wrote about productivity and email after the course. Since then, I’ve been mulling over the methodology and trying to find a way to transition appropriate projects to use Scrum. I haven’t been that successful, largely because I think a lot of people misunderstand the methodology and are afraid that it will result in a lack of structure or a lack of tangible, clear goals. That perception couldn’t be more wrong. In truth, Scrum puts a lot of responsibility on product owners to be accountable for decisions and gives a ton of control to the stakeholders involved. In my view, this is the perfect way to ensure that change is dealt with in small, incremental steps over an ongoing process as opposed to building up into a large and unmanageable change (how many times has that happened?). A solid process, with the right team, results in a happy client and a great product. At least that’s how I see it.

The purpose of Stacia’s book is well articulated in a short preface where she says, “I don’t want the original vision for ScrumMaster to become lost in the methodology/certification wagon train. I want people to reach their full potential and believe that Scrum is one way to facilitate that.” She isn’t an evangelist who screams out for certification without implementation – how many people who complete CSM training actually use it, I wonder – but rather, the goal of the book is to provide a series of techniques, reminders, stories, and resources to help those who are able to use Scrum on a project, to use it well and therefore reach their full personal potential and that of their work.

The book has a clean layout with easy to read graphics that summarize/illustrate important points. Whether talking about baselining (and burndown charts) or about how to translate Scrum into views that are more comfortable to clients (like using a Gantt chart to show burndown – an idea that had never occurred to me), her ideas go beyond simple explanation of the methodology by grounding the concepts in clear examples. The fabulous first chapter introduces the basic concepts of Scrum and reminds readers what we’re talking about when we talk about Scrum. She says, “the primary role of the ScrumMaster is to bring visibility to the development team’s true capacity, so that the organization may balance that against its consumer demands.” This chapter is like a crash course, or refresher, that I think should be mandatory reading for all PMs. As you get deeper into the book, the content becomes richer and more tactical, with a focus on creating lean processes that allow for the most efficient use of effort.

Even if you’ve never had Scrum training (maybe especially if you haven’t) I highly recommend you get your hands on this book. I keep mine on my desk at work and am constantly picking it up looking for ideas/tools/techniques to keep my mind and skills sharp. And, if possible, sign up for one of her courses. You won’t be disappointed.


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