Running An Agile Book Club

Agile Book Club. Our book choices - McKenna Agile Consultants

At McKenna Agile Consultants, we love to learn as much as we can from a variety of sources. Considering that we are all operating in a complex, fast-moving environment, where knowledge is constantly expanding and industries are evolving at an unprecedented pace, the need for continuous professional development has never been more critical.

Over the past year, we have been running a global Agile Book Club with our North American partner. The Agile Book club is really helping us to enhance our knowledge and foster effective team building through the camaraderie built in our weekly sessions.

Our clients frequently ask us what we have been reading, so we asked Aaron McKenna, our Enterprise Transformation Director, to share the agile books that are taking up space on his bedside table.

Agile books I’ve read and loved

Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind – Nancy Kline

This book was introduced to me when I was doing my coaching post-grad at the University of Chester a couple of years ago. This book has a significant impact on me and how I work. When someone is speaking, are thinking of what to say next? Are you trying to solve their problem for them? If so, this is a must read for you. It’s transformed the way I listen to the people around me and coach my clients.

The ART of Avoiding a Train Wreck: Practical Tips and Tricks for Launching and Operating SAFe Agile Release Trains – Em Campbell-Pretty and Adrienne L. Wilson

This is a reference for anyone who is currently using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). You will get lots of practical hints and tips for your Agile Release Trains (ARTs). It was written before the pandemic when people were mostly working co-located, so it needs some reflection on how to make the ideas work in today’s hybrid work environment. For a bonus, look out for some contributions from myself!

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones – James Clear

This book has helped me to not necessarily “break” a habit, but to form new ones to overpower the old ones. This has been great for me for making myself more productive, especially when taking on the tasks that I do not enjoy as much.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek

When a client tells me “we want to be agile”, my response is “can you explain to me why you are looking to be agile, without using the word agile?” I found this book to be inspirational in helping me to zone in on the why behind McKenna Agile Consultants (we increase value delivery, through developing better agile leaders, incase you were wondering). Use this book to inspire you to create a strong sense of purpose for you and your team.

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams – Matthew Walker

I read this on my Kindle app on my iPad (ironically reducing blue light will help me sleep better), so it’s not pictured , but I cannot understate how positively this has impacted my own and the rest of the Agile Book Club’s habits. Once you get over the panic of “I don’t sleep enough!”, the book is truly life changing. I am now obsessed with my sleep app and hitting my sleep goal, feeling noticeably better for implementing some better sleep habits. If you only read one book from this list, make it this!

Agile Book Club - McKenna Agile Consultants

Agile books I’m currently reading

Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work – David Rock

I am almost finished with this book. It’s all about how we as leaders can improve performance through how we have conversations. A big takeaway so far is ensuring that when we speak, we are succinct, specific and generous. This book compliments lots of the ideas in Nancy Kline’s Time to Think mentioned earlier.

Agile books on my reading list

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work – Chip and Dan Heath

We each submit recommendations to vote as a team on the next book. This is the book that I am putting forward once we’ve finished Quiet Leadership. 

Tips for setting up your own agile book blub

Getting started with a book club is easy. Here are some of my tips to get you started.

  • Find a group of like-minded people who are passionate about learning – make the group as diverse as possible to get unique perspectives on what you are reading.
  • If you cannot find a group, search online, or even start with just one other person – having that one person that you meet with once per week really helps to hold you accountable to your commitment.
  • Agree on a realistic cadence to meet. We find that meeting once per week with the commitment of reading just one chapter works well.
  • Use the book club sessions to serve as a coaching opportunity and chance to reflect. Ask one another questions like “How does what we have just read apply to our day to day role?”. The reflection on the practical application can lead to some really powerful insights.
  • Allow everyone to submit recommendations and vote as a group on what to read next. Leave no subjects off of the table.
  • Don’t limit it to just books – the purpose of the club is growth. Allow people to recommend other forms of learning, for example, podcasts, videos or articles.

What is stopping you?

In addition to running our own Agile Book Club, we have also facilitated book clubs at our clients too, sharing material for the teams that we coach to reflect on each week. We have found this a powerful tool in helping to establish longer term change. Get in touch with us today if you would like some help in building a culture of lifelong learning in your company.