Over the past year, TGG consultant Josh Bathon has provided book reviews for The Project Management Institute of Portland. Throughout the coming months we will periodically share some of the reviews that previously appeared in the PMI-PDX newsletter.  

Book: Scrum by Jeff Sutherland

Agile project management is not a fad. Over the past 20 years it has become the dominant organizational system for software development, and has also started to flourish in other industries as well. You have most likely come across either an agile tool or an agile team, such as Scrum, Kanban, or SAFe. You might even have an agile certification; PMI offers the PMI-ACP (Agile Certified Practitioner) and agile theory is included in the PMP and CAPM.

Regarding agile, there are thousands of books and tens of thousands of articles online. Everyone has an opinion. So if you want to learn more, where should you start? Why not learn from the founder of Scrum, the most popular agile methodology out there?

In his book, Scrum, The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland is a master teacher. He slowly unravels the various parts of Scrum, illustrating with examples from his clients over the years. The goal of his book is to make Scrum usable for people who don’t work in software. And he succeeds. 

Transitioning to agile can seem like a paradigm shift for many people but Sutherland demonstrates how this change doesn’t have to be dramatic. Throughout the book, he works through various aspects of Scrum, breaking them down into digestible chunks that could be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Take for example a venture capital company which decided to embrace Scrum in their daily operations. Investors, management, researchers, and administrative staff all started to use Scrum to organize their work. Sprint planning, daily standups and team retrospectives resulted in transparency: everyone could see what was currently being worked on, major blockers were identified early and the team regularly reviewed the way they worked. These small changes had large benefits: the average work week at the company dropped from over 60 hours to less than 40, and the team started completing almost twice as much work.

A key problem with agile project management is the army of purists that help implement it. They advocate for strict adoption and rigorous adherence to an entire system. But this dramatic, one-size-fits-all approach fails because businesses come in all shapes and sizes. This book is different. Sutherland provides practical advice for adopting agile, using real world examples of success. 

This is a must-read for project managers, even for seasoned agile professionals. I have 2 scrum certifications and have worked in several agile environments, and I still found Sutherland’s book to be a valuable exploration of how and why to use agile. In my experience, it’s hard to do agile without understanding why it works. Level-up your skills with this quick read, straight from the founder of Scrum himself.


Over the past year, TGG consultant Josh Bathon has provided book reviews for The Project Management Institute of Portland. Throughout the summer and fall we will periodically share some of the reviews that previously appeared in the PMI-PDX newsletter.  

Book: Upstream by Dan Heath

Much of what we do is planned out, driven by templates and schedules. We’re project managers: careful planners, skilled organizers, disciplined doers. However, no amount of planning can solve for everything–problems creep into our projects no matter what we do. Good examples include chronic last-minute change requests, hectic go-lives, scheduling conflicts, unforeseen emergencies and unexpected long-term stabilization escalations. Even the best-planned projects will experience pain points.

That is where Dan Heath’s book Upstream comes in. The book asks a key question: how many of our problems could we solve before they even happen? Reacting to issues is necessary, but preventing them by upstream intervention is even more valuable. Upstream provides a number of questions, barriers, approaches, and case studies that encourage us to think about problems differently. Here are a few of my favorite concepts and applications from the book:

Barrier – Tunneling The problem arises, escalations occur and everyone scrambles to fix it. But once the fire is out, it is rare for the team to stick around and ask, “How do we prevent this from happening again?” Instead, we simply move from problem to problem with tunnel vision, never addressing root causes in the system. Moving beyond this barrier is key to upstream thinking. 

Approach – Unite the Right People The ones reacting to a problem aren’t necessarily the right people to change the system. Take the example of a scrum team that experiences a periodic loss of velocity. Once a quarter, a request from the executive team forces 3 of your developers to stop their work and spend time updating reports. This extra work causes a delay in feature releases. You can’t solve the issue of your developers’ productivity by asking the developers to make a change–solving this problem requires the involvement of the leaders who are making the request. By bringing the right people to the table, you can understand the reasons for the last minute requests and try to plan ahead.

Approach – Use the Right Measures – Any single metric can be abused. At a previous company I worked for, the corporate office decided they needed better visibility into our project spending. They required that any proposal above $5M be routed to Corporate for several months additional review. Within a year, every strategic initiative in my region had been broken up into several smaller projects with budgets under $5M, resulting in an enormous overall loss of efficiency. Upstream suggests a simple fix: pair multiple measures together, to prevent people from gaming your metrics and demonstrating a false indication of success.

Project managers spend a lot of their time scrambling to solve problems. Excellent project managers know how to solve problems before they materialize. Upstream is a solid read for the project manager looking to improve their approach.