In November 2013, I had the idea of writing a book. The book would be in a Q&A format, based on the questions that attendees had asked us during our Scrum training sessions.
We’d been training colleagues within our company, and running public courses at General Assembly, for a number of years by this point, and had been noting down the questions that were asked to enable us to improve our teaching material.
I expected to be able to complete the book by early 2014.
By the time March came, it was clear that I needed help. I asked James Wyllie to come on board … then we asked Jiten Vara to help us a few months later. We had agreed the list of 101 questions, but the going was tough. Writing a book at the same time as working, training, running meetups, writing blog posts, speaking at conferences, etc, wasn’t easy.
We were managing the writing using Leankit — one card for each of the 101 questions — and Google Docs to allow collaborative writing. Our process was to first agree the answer to the question in bullet point format, before writing the chapter in full. That helped us be clear on the answer we were going to give.
Summer 2014 arrived. Our going was slow. After looking at the flow of tickets through our Leankit board, I emailed my co-authors with a summary: “Great news: If we carry on like we are, we will finish the book on 5 September 2018.” But we continued to plod through the chapters as best as our time allowed.
In January 2015, Jim questioned our scope. We’d titled the book Agile 101 because it had 101 questions and answers about a broad spectrum of Agile, but maybe we should just focus on Scrum and Agile rather than XP or anything else. We agreed to be specific about the topics we covered and re-titled it Scrum 101.
Our process took a turn for the better in September 2015 when we decided to publish the book through Leanpub, using Git to manage the addition and editing of chapters. We were now quite strict with how chapters got added:
- Person A picks up the next question in the Leankit queue
- Person A proposes an answer in bullet point format (as a pull request in Git)
- Person B and/or C reviews the proposed answer, making comments and discussing with person A until everyone is happy and the pull request is approved
- Person A, B or C can then pick up the bullet-pointed summary, and turn it into a fully written chapter (creating a new pull request when they think it’s finished)
- The other two people then review the chapter, making comments and discussing with the author until everyone is happy and the pull request is approved
- The chapter is then added into the contents page on Leanpub and a new version of the book is created.
In September 2015, we created our first preview on Leanpub which contained 23 chapters.
Finally, in December 2015, with 60 chapters completed, we made the jump and published the book on Leanpub. This meant the book was now accessible to the buying public.
Leanpub is a great system. You can publish your book as early as you want, allowing people to choose how much to pay (within whatever bounds you permit). They then receive all future updates of your book at no extra cost. Our first buyer bought the book at full price of $12.26 on the same day we published it! [Although I think that was my wife]
Early 2016 saw us push our friends hard for feedback on the book. Lip service on progress wasn’t what we wanted; we needed brutal criticism to improve the book. Their hard work is acknowledged at the end of the book.
Finally, around September 2016, we finished the 101st chapter. A book is never finished when you’re writing on Leanpub, because you can continue improving it as many times as you want, but we had answers that we were happy with for all the questions we intended to answer.
We decided to leave the book in the wild for a few months to help our readers spot our mistakes and typos before we moved to a print version. However, we lined up the marvellous Tom Mann as our designer at the end of 2016.
By mid-2017, we’d received much feedback from the hundred or so people who had downloaded the book and we decided to go to print. Despite having lots of feedback and having read it numerous times, a professional proof reader still came back with over one hundred suggestions! After a bit of back-and-forth on design and a few last formatting alterations, we ordered a proof copy. Holding the physical book in our hands a few weeks later was an amazing feeling.
On 15 October 2017, Scrum 101: The most frequently asked questions about Agile with Scrum finally became available on Amazon in print form.
Our baby was finally born.
In true Q&A format, we thought we’d answer a few questions that people asked us about the book (feel free to ask us others and we’ll add our answers here):
Q: Why did you write it?
A: We make sure that we leave ample time to answer questions during our 2-day Scrum courses, but there will always be questions that people wish they’d asked once they get back to work. We thought that the book would be a nice way to support people after the training is over, using questions that people had asked in the past.
Q: What was the hardest bit?
A: We really struggled getting the chapters to flow through our system. We could have made it a lot easier on ourselves by making the process simpler, but we deliberately made it tough to ensure quality. Although it was hard work, I don’t regret it.
We also struggled to agree on some of the answers. So, although we try to give a straightforward answer, a few do highlight that there are a variety of views.
Q: What was the best bit?
A: The day I held the proof copy in my hands made me so proud. It looks amazing too.
Q: What would you do differently next time?
A: Try to get the three authors working in the same place while we write. We worked for the same company for the first few months, but went in different directions. I’m a big fan of co-location.
Q: What’s next?
A: We’ve got the Kindle version in development.
I’m also writing a novel on service design which I hope to publish in 2018. I’ve storyboarded the whole book and am about half way through writing it. But don’t hold me to that date!