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2012 retrospective – The books (Markus Gärtner)

On December 29, 2012, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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After some reflections on my professional life, and the conferences I visited, I would like to go for the books that I read next. I will do this part of my personal retrospective in the same way I did it last year.

2012 has seen many new books. It seems no one can hide from the influencing that Lean Startup had on the products out there. That said, I also read a lot of books in beta from LeanPub. I purchased and read some books while they were written in 2012. So, you will not find all books on the platforms that I used like LibraryThing and GoodReads.

Flawless Consulting – Peter Block

As much as I loved Jerry Weinberg’s Secrets of Consulting series two years back, I also loved reading Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting. The key lessons I took away from it were how to negotiate the verbal contract with the client, and that I shouldn’t take anything personally that happens before 6 pm. I think it’s a must read for every consultant. Unfortunately I read the second edition, and figured only later that there is an updated version out there with content that came out in the past decade. If you are buying the book, check for the latest version.

Miteinander reden Band 1 – Friedemann Schulz von Thun

One of the German books I read this year. In fact, I read the whole series. It’s a book series on communication psychology – one of the fields that seems to be not well known among technicians. The first book introduces the concept of listening and speaking with the four ears – context, relationship, self-revelation, and plea. Schulz von Thun claims that we speak and hear with different emphasis in these directions. For example, someone that hears too strong on the relationship ear will lightly be offended by a message that was intended more on the context. Much of it resonated for me to the stuff I learned from Virginia Satir.

The Lean Startup – Eric Ries

These days, it seems hard to escape the validated learning mantra, and probably everyone going to conferences has heard about the Build-measure-learn loop. My colleagues spoke enough about it for me to start reading Eric Ries’ book. It was an eye-opener, and eventually led to some thoughts on how a tester contributes in a startup.

Miteinander reden Band 2 – Friedemann Schulz von Thun

While the first book in this series introduced the four ear concept, this one set out to settle misunderstandings. Schulz von Thun describes were communication can go awry, and how to settle it, using a scheme with four corners, where two oppositional positions with extremes can be settled. It was an eye-opener for me again. The main point is that we sometimes end up in extreme positions where such dogma is not useful – especially when dealing with other humans.

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge – Harry Collins

I think this was a recommendation from James Bach from CAST 2011. In the book, Collins describes that tacit knowledge can not exist without explicit knowledge. He also explains the limitations of making tacit knowledge explicit. Especially when it comes to explaining some domain knowledge or technical knowledge, I noticed that writing a document is indeed a bad thing to do (like I didn’t know before-hand, but the book explained to me why). Collins also explained for me that manual testing is not going to be replaced by automation – just like the choice of bread, the recipe, and the eating are still manual decisions even though we have invented automation in terms of bread baking machines. We can automate the kneading, but not everything – just as in software development, or writing.

Miteinander reden Band 3 – Friedemann Schulz von Thun

In the final book in this series, Schulz von Thun uses the metaphor of an inner team to describe how we act and react in different situations. He describes how we can train our inner team, make ourselves aware of the different team members, and even change the settings – and our responses – to end up in more congruent communication. I think the whole series is a great addition to Satir’s lessons.

The principles of scientific management – Frederick W. Taylor

What? Yeah, I read this one. Back in May I was intrigued by an internal discussion about Taylorism in Scrum. The main point was, that the concept of ProductOwner and ScrumMaster take away some of the thinking from the Team. Thereby this yields to a tayloristic separation of thinking and doing. At some point, no one knew what Taylorism was, nor were we able to find any definition about it. My colleague Arne Roock read Taylor’s freely available book, and inspired me to read it as well. The writing is old, and at times hard to read, but it was worthwhile reading it – just as I recommend reading Winston Royce’s paper on waterfall (read up to the final page, not just the second graphics).

The New Comedy Writing – Step by Step – Gene Perret

This was a recommendation from Gojko Adzic when I attended ScanDev. Perret describes by-and-large how to write good comedy. I tried to incorporate some of the lessons into my presentations. So far, I think I failed to do so. Maybe I should read that other book that Gojko also recommended, and really try it out. Great book, indeed, but plan in some time to try all these lessons out. I unfortunately didn’t.

Influencing Patterns for Change – Royce Halladay, Kristine Quade

This is one of the books in the Human Systems Dynamics series of books. It was a quick read for me, and inspired some new insights about organizational development. Especially as Halladay and Quade provided some tools to think about organizational change, this is a must-read for any change-agent.

Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Another recommendation from CAST 2011. This book describes how we make choices, and the different biases that are involved in anything us humans do. Kahneman did a lot of investigation and research using gambles in the past 40, maybe 50 years. He describes about the psychology involved, and introduces his model of two thinking modes – one being analytical, the other more driven by fast responses. Whenever we can, we avoid the harder analytical approach, Kahneman claims – like when you drove to work, and can’t remember how you got there.

LiftOff – Launching Agile Teams & Projects – Diana Larsen, Ainsley Nies

These two ladies describe their approach to launching an agile introduction. Even if your project is already underway, the two day workshop proposed in this book should be worth checking out. Beyond the concepts of values, purpose, and alignment you will learn how to get the right team going with your project, and how to create the right vision from the start.

Adventures in Thesisland – The 5th Piled Higher and Deeper book – Jorge Cham

Finally an update from one of my favorite online comics: PHD comics. Although I already read most of the cartoons online in the past few years, it was great to have them together in one larger book. Oh, and I also own the other four volumes, of course.

Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that cannot stop talking – Susan Cain

This was a recommendation from Jurgen Appelo at ALE 2012. Cain describes in her book different introverts and how they discovered their strengths. She also has a compelling message on how us introverts influence others who think while they talk. I learned so much from this book about my own preferences, and how I can contribute to an intense discussion. It’s worth reading this book – not only as an introvert I think.

The five dysfunctions of a team – Patrick Lencioni

This was a long “need to get” item on my reading list. When I met J.B: Rainsberger and Ruud Wijnand at XP 2012, I had to order it right away. Overall, it took about two days for me to read this fable. I was a great thing. Lencioni describes the five dysfunctions of a team as absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to (team-) results. I was already familiar with this concept, but reading about it in a fable made me aware of the times when I suffered from the same dysfunctions – or even worse, when I contributed dysfunctional to a team. Ever since I can make myself aware of it, and seek to build a better team around it.

About Coders – Geek & Code

Another book from one of the web comics I read (yeah, I read a lot of them). The Geek & Code comics usually resonate around one concept in software development. They use coders to explain different things like continuous integration, or a CI system. At times this might seem dysfunctional, but I see the comedy lessons from Perret’s book above applied. Besides, they’re funny as well. 🙂

How to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you – The Oatmeal

Oh, another web comic. I love the Oatmeal comics. For example I go nuts every time someone mistakingly uses “to” or “too”. I attribute it to the Oatmeal since I read this comic. This book is full of kittens. So, in case you don’t like the Oatmeal, you might eventually love the kittens.

The three signs of a miserable job – Patrick Lencioni

Another recommendation from J.B. Rainsberger and Ruud Wijnand at XP 2012. This book describes the three signs that eventually lead to job frustration, and how to improve work. Lencioni claims that you need to get rid of anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement in order to overcome high staff rotation at your workplace. This can be achieved by getting to know your personal, helping them see where they help someone else in their life, and how they can assess this help on their own so they know they did a great job without the need of the manager to tell them. I think there is a lot of lessons in here to learn for good team building.

CAD Volume 2 – Tim Buckley

Another one of my online comics. The second volume was sold out for the longest time. But when Buckley published the fourth volume in late 2012, he also put up a re-print of the second volume. I had to get both, together with a Zeke plushy.

Discover to deliver – Agile Product Planning and Analysis – Ellen Gottesdiener, Mary Gorman

This is the first of the books that is not yet available. I was happy to receive an up-front copy of it. In the book, Gottesdiener and Gorman provide a model with structured conversations, seven product dimensions and other tools that help you to explore and discover your product. A book worth reading from my point of view, especially since it builds the bridge from business analysis to specification by example and ATDD.

The Retrospective Handbook – Pat Kua

This is the book that inspired the idea for a 2012 retrospective. Kua describes a lot of things to be aware of when you are facilitating a retrospective. Kua describes not so many different activities for retrospective, but provides different tools for the facilitator. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you haven’t read the other two retrospective books from Kerth and Larsen/Derby.

Experiential Learning Vol. 1-3 – Gerald M. Weinberg

Yeah, Jerry didn’t write a single book this year, he wrote three of them. With Experiential Learning Jerry provides the baseline for his Problem-solving Leadership courses, AYE, and all the other courses he’s offering with various folks. The basis for the courses lies on experiencing the training, and deriving your own personal lessons for you. That said, if you attend PSL next year you might take something completely different from it than what I experienced in 2011. Ever since reading the first and second volume in this series, I plan to incorporate some of the lessons into my trainings. Thus far I have ended up with a combination of the 4Cs from Training from the back of the room and Experiential Learning with good success. I think I can extend this in the years to come.

Explore It! – Elisabeth Hendrickson

It was long overdue that Elisabeth wrote a book. With Explore It! she has done very well. Once I was informed about the upcoming, I ordered it in beta, and read the first beta in a few weeks. Five updates later, I have received the final version that is going to production right now. I started recommending the book ever since then. Hendrickson explains by-and-large how to use charters in Exploratory Testing, how to setup your sessions, and how to plan and follow up on different sessions. She also explains different variables in the application – some of which that you can see, others which are not so obvious. Oh, and she explains how to use her test heuristics cheat sheet well.

The Elf who Learned how to Test – Mike Talks

I saw this on twitter last week. I directly checked it out. A neat little story about a Christmas elf that learns how to test toys for Santa Claus. Loved it, and it was for free.

ATDD by Example – Markus Gärtner

A shameless plug, but since I reviewed the book, and decided to read it once more from cover to cover before it goes to production, it would be unfair to leave this from the list. I think the worst thing that can happen to an author once his book is published, is that he wins it. At the time you finish your book, you have read it often enough to hate it – at least it’s the case for me.

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