Book Review: Lean from the Trenches

Cover of the book "Lean from the Trenches"

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”
– Yogi Berra. Or Albert Einstein. Or Jan L.A van de Snepscheut. Or…

Sometimes, we all get too caught up on the theories behind project management. Which process should we follow? Do we need to get certification from PMI, or in PRINCE2? Should we be using Kanban, XP, Agile, all of the above?

But it’s important to remember that the theory is only important when it helps with the practice of project management – in other words, when it actually helps us get projects done, quicker, cheaper, better.

That’s why Lean from the Trenches by Henrik Kniberg┬áis so useful. It isn’t trying to tell you the one true way of managing a project. It isn’t setting out exactly what you should do so your project can be classed as Lean. It isn’t a set of prescriptions on what you must do.

What it is is a description of one particular project, over one particular span of time, and the way that it was managed during that period. It lets you know the successes, and the difficulties, so you can see for yourself what worked and what didn’t.

And, as always, reality is much messier than the textbooks would have you believe. The project described, a large-scale software project for the Swedish police, is complicated and high-profile. The project team increases in size dramatically over the period this book covers. The release schedule doesn’t fit with the theories.

But… it works. It delivers. And that’s the most important thing for any project – delivery.

Kniberg explains what was done to help the project’s management, and how it worked or didn’t. It covers, very briefly, the key ideas behind Agile, Lean, Scrum, XP, and Kanban, but goes beyond them, showing you the way they were applied, tweaked, and adjusted to meet the needs of the project.

The story told of the project is interesting, and should spark ideas that go further than the theory alone. The way the principles behind the various Agile methods are applied offers greater understanding.

For myself, as a relative novice when it comes to purely software projects, I found it the most useful project management book I have ever read. If you want to get better by drawing on the experience of others, read this book.

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