The 8 Best Books on Agile (Our Favorite Picks)


When I talk about agile with friends and peers, I often get asked, “If you could recommend one book on the topic to me, which one would it be?”

Indeed, much has been said and written about agile and agile frameworks like Scrum or Extreme Programming (XP). And though I can’t pretend that I’ve read all of the books and papers for agilists out there, I have gone through plenty.

The outcome? Some I regret reading, others I’ve kept coming back to and telling others about ever since. In this article, I’m going to share the books on agile that I’ve bought as presents and recommended to others the most.

Best Book for Agile Beginners

Learning Agile: Understanding Scrum, XP, Lean, and Kanban

Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene provide an exhaustive and easy-to-understand introduction to all things agile. From the agile manifesto to the most common frameworks and terms, Learning Agile teaches you everything you need to get started with agile.

If you’re new to agile, Andrew Stellman and Jill Alison Hart’s “Learning Agile: Understanding Scrum, XP, Lean, and Kanban” is by far the best book to get you started.

I read this book years after I got started on my agile journey and wished I had found it earlier. It’s one of the easiest to understand, most comprehensive introductions yet to agile I’ve come across.

The one thing I really like about Stellman and Hart’s book is that it compares two of the most popular agile methodologies, Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP), and two of the most misunderstood methods in agile, Lean and Kanban, explaining what they have alike and how they are different.

This is why this book is the best book for beginners in agile. Other books I’ve read on the topic will introduce you to the Agile Manifesto and what it means for adopting agile in your ways of working, but won’t go into the specifics of any agile framework. Or they’ll talk about one framework in great detail, only hinting about the rest.

“Learning Agile: Understanding Scrum, XP, Lean, and Kanban” is different. It’s a one-stop shop for the agile beginner who wants to understand what agile is—and how the most popular agile frameworks out there can help them to adopt and apply the agile mindset differently.

Read this book if:

  • You’re new to agile and you want to understand what the fuss is all about;
  • You’re curious about where agile came from and why it works the way it does;
  • You want to get a “good enough” understanding of Scrum, Extreme Programming, Lean, and Kanban, so that you can choose which one to start with.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You’re looking for a deep dive on Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Lean, or Kanban that gives you specific and/or contextual advice about using any of these frameworks or methods;
  • You’re a Software Architect, Programmer, or a Quality Assurance person looking for technical advice on how to design, develop, and test software in an agile way;
  • You’re a leader looking for ways to steer your organization on an agile journey and scale agile ways of working within it.

Best Book for Agile Leaders

Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos

Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez dispel the myths and misconceptions that executives have about agile transformation and provide practical advice on how to make your business' agile transformation a success.

If you’re a Chief Executive, Senior Manager, VP, or Director looking for an insightful and actionable guidebook for organizational agility, it’s time to put “Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos” by Darrell K. Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez on top of your reading list.

In “Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos,” Bain & Co consultants Rigby, Elk, and Berez share their experience of how agile transformations at some of the world’s leading companies can go right and how they often go wrong, allowing agile leaders to learn from the successes and failures of others.

Some leaders plan agile transformations for their staff and structures, the authors write, but not for themselves. They set up a Project Management Office (PMO) to drive the transformation with project plans, Gantt charts, and stoplight reporting systems. Unfortunately, the approach and metrics are aimed less at helping the organization adopt agility and more at convincing investors, boards, leadership, and staff that the transformation is progressing exactly as planned.

Rushing to adopt agile as a magic pill for their strategic problems, some companies undergo big bang transformations that try to copy/paste the models of others. Sooner or later, everyone in the organization comes to the conclusion that what worked for one patient won’t necessarily work for another. The Spotify Tribes Model—and financial services firm ING’s failed attempt to replicate it—is arguably the most popular example of this.

This is one of the best books on agile leadership written to date. Unlike many others, it doesn’t try to oversell the benefits of an agile transformation or sugarcoat the challenges of undergoing one. It’s a humbling, concise, and practical guidebook that leaders across geographies and sectors can use to get agility for their organizations right.

In the rest of the book, Rigby, Elk, and Berez outline their step-by-step approach to how agile leaders achieve that. They introduce you to how agile really works, go on to explain the challenges of scaling agile, and ask you the (uncommon) question of how agile you really want to be. Next, they introduce you to Bain & Co’s definition of agile leadership and give you practical examples of how to plan work, budget spending, and review outcomes in an agile organization. Finally, the authors share their best practices for designing an organization structure, managing people, and achieving excellence in process and technology in an agile way.

Read this book if:

  • You are a C-Suite, Senior Manager, VP, or Director in a large organization looking for an insightful and actionable guidebook on how to approach an agile transformation;
  • Understand the new role of the agile leader—and the top-down, command-control management practices that you and your fellow leaders need to learn how to let go of;
  • Have questions about the practicalities of leading an agile organization on a day-to-day basis that the videos on YouTube or the blog posts on blogs and forums can’t answer.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You are a Chief Information or Chief Technology Officer looking for domain-specific advice on how to scale development, testing, and operations/maintenance of your firm’s technology stack;
  • You have no interest in agile leadership and agile transformations, and are interested in agile as a member of an agile team (i.e. you are a Product Owner, Scrum Master, or Developer in a Scrum Team) instead.

Best Book for Product Owners

Product Mastery: From Good to Great Product Ownership

Thought leader Geoff Watts outlines his definition of a great Product Owner in Scrum. They are DRIVEN: Decisive, Ruthless, Informed, Versatile, Empowering, and Negotiable. The book is a fantastic primer on product ownership for anyone who's new to the role.

Too many books on product management/ownership talk about the importance of vision, strategy, and delivering value for your customers—without telling you how. “Product Mastery: From Good to Great Product Ownership” by Geoff Watts is not one of them.

In his book, Watts writes about the five characteristics of a great Product Owner (PO). The great PO, he says, is DRIVEN. They are Decisive, Ruthless, Informed, Versatile, Empowering, and Negotiable. The book is split into six parts, with two chapters each. Each part goes into the details of one of the characteristics.

The book has a story, which Watts uses to illustrate his theory through fictional situations every PO will find very familiar to their own professional experience. It’s also highly practical as, every now and then, you’ll learn about an approach or practice that you can use to communicate with your customers and team, prioritize well and make informed trade-offs, and learn how to handle the challenges and difficulties of product ownership in a wiser and more graceful way.

The one thing I like the most about this book is that Geoff Watts has much coaching experience and, like the rest of his books on agile and Scrum, he has embedded that experience in his style of writing—giving you moments of introspection and making you question some of the attitudes and behaviors that are probably preventing you from becoming a great PO today.

Read this book if:

  • You are a new Product Owner looking for advice and guidance on how to communicate with customers, work with your team, and make better-informed decisions that lead to greater outcomes;
  • You are an experienced Product Owner who wants to sanity-check their ways of working and identify what they can improve to transition from good to great;
  • You’re an Agile Coach in search of ideas and inspiration on how to coach Product Owners toward high performance.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You’re looking for advice and guidance that’s specific to your industry or domain;
  • You’re expecting a “how to” book for eliciting requirements and formulating user stories.

Best Book for Scrum Masters

Scrum Mastery: Geoff Watts' Agile Mastery Series

Thought leader Geoff Watts outlines his definition of a great Scrum Master in Scrum. They are RETRAINED: Resourceful, Enabling, Tactful, Respected, Alternative, Inspiring, Nurturing, Empathetic, and Disruptive. The book is a fantastic primer on scrum mastery for anyone who's new to the role.

The Scrum Master is the servant-leader of a Scrum Team. And no other book than Geoff Watts’ “Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant Leadership,” will help Scrum Masters understand exactly what servant-leadership means and how they can excel in it.

Geoff Watts is an experienced Agile Coach who, in 2005, became the United Kingdom’s first Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). He has years of experience coaching agile teams, which shows in the way he writes about agile and Scrum. Thanks to his captivating and educational style of writing, this is the second book by him on our top list.

His book is an insightful read about what makes a Scrum Master great. Watts writes about the RETRAINED Scrum Master: Resourceful, Enabling, Tactful, Respected, Alternative, Inspiring, Nurturing, Empathetic, and Disruptive. His whole book is organized around stories and examples for how to become one.

In “Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant Leadership,” you’ll find the skills and characteristics of great Scrum Masters, practical tips for how to drive and sustain engagement from your Scrum Team, and advice on how to help your team make the most of the events in the Scrum framework (the Sprint Planning, the Daily Scrum, the Sprint Retrospective, and the Sprint Review).

The book is an excellent companion for any Scrum Master, who’s faced with the challenges of helping their team establish agility and Scrum, cause the removal of impediments, and help their team members learn how to cooperate, collaborate, and continuously improve their ways of working. After reading this book, Scrum Masters will have more tools in their toolbox for boosting the engagement and performance of their Scrum Teams.

Read this book if:

  • You are a Scrum Master looking for practical advice on how to tackle some of the most common challenges with Scrum Teams (like dealing with difficult team members, people showing up late for meetings, etc.);
  • You’ve been a Scrum Master on one or multiple Scrum Teams for a while—and you feel like you need to add new tools to your toolbox.
  • You’re an Agile Coach looking for ideas and inspiration on how to coach Scrum Masters.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You’re expecting a deep dive into each specific practice of Scrum Mastery.

Best Book for Agile Coaches

Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters

Lyssa Adkins gives agile coaches the mindset and insights they need to coach individuals and teams through any challenge. Packed with examples and practical tips, Coaching Agile Teams is for beginners and experienced coaches alike.

If you’re an Agile Coach (or Scrum Master looking to improve their coaching skills), Lyssa Adkins’ “Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition” is one of the best books out there for you.

This is one of those highly contextual and extremely practical books you read once, highlight all over, and keep coming back to. In it, Adkins explains why agile coaching matters, how an Agile Coach is different from Scrum Master, Program/Project Manager, or Technical Lead, and what it takes to become one.

She then goes on to share the hats that an Agile Coach usually wears as they help agile teams get more from themselves:

The Coach-Mentor who helps the organization adopt agile, the team practice agile as they grow healthier together, and the members of the team take the next step on their agile journey, so that they can become more successful agilists in a way that contributes to the team’s productivity and organization’s performances.

The Coach-Facilitator who helps teams achieve great results by showing them how to make the most of the values and principles of agile within the roles, events, and artifacts of the agile framework that they’re using. Adkins gives practical advice on coaching teams to maximize the value of meetings, sharing her 2¢ for when to intervene in a conversation—and when to hold back.

The Coach-Teacher helps the team to understand agile theory in practice. This can be especially challenging at the start, when the team’s members haven’t stepped into their roles and the interactions between them are awkward and difficult as they explore their own responsibilities and test each other’s boundaries. Adkins shares her experience for how to help get new teams started, how to integrate newcomers to established teams, and how to ensure that everyone’s roles are understood and healthy.

As you coach agile teams, you will often identify problems that their members are unable to see yet. The Coach-Problem Solver, Adkins explains, knows how to help the teams and individuals they’re working with learn how to spot and solve problems as they arise. She talks about her own journey as a coach and how she evolved from solving problems for others to coaching others how to identify and solve their problems. In the process, she shares a set of tools that Agile Coaches can add to their toolbox.

Conflict is at the very nature of people with different backgrounds and perspectives being together. The Coach-Conflict Navigator knows where their responsibilities in resolving conflict start and end—and stands firm with their boundaries to help the team and its stakeholders manage conflict in a constructive, rather than destructive, way.

Conflict is at the very nature of people with diverse backgrounds and different perspectives getting together. The Coach-Conflict Navigator knows where his/her responsibilities in resolving conflict start and end. They then use that as a boundary to help the team and its stakeholders learn how to manage and resolve conflict in a constructive (rather than destructive) way. This is one of the most valuable sections of the book, and one that I kept coming back to for advice when I found myself in difficult situations.

The Coach-Collaboration Conductor knows the subtle but important difference between cooperation and collaboration, helping the team’s members learn how to cooperate and collaborate with one another. Adkins’ theory is simple: when a team’s dynamics are dysfunctional, help the people on the team cooperate before showing them how to collaborate.

Before I moved house, I had a paperback copy of “Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition” that I had practically destroyed from reading, highlighting, and writing notes on. Now, it’s one of those books on my Amazon Kindle app that I keep coming back to the most.

Read this book if: 

  • You’re an Agile Coach looking for contextual and practical advice about the day-to-day challenges of coaching agile teams and individuals;
  • You’re a Scrum Master who wants to improve their coaching know-how and skills, so that you can help your team work in agile ways and use Scrum well;
  • You’re a sponsor, leader, or member of an agile team who was an Agile Coach onboard, and you’re wondering what the Agile Coach does and how to work with them.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You’re an Enterprise Agile Coach looking for advice on how to coach executives and senior managers on agility.

Best Book on Scrum

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Jeff Sutherland and J. J. Sutherland provide a compelling and practical introduction to the Scrum framework. They explain why the framework works so well—and show how every company and team can make the most of it.

It should come as no surprise that the best book on Scrum is written by Jeff Sutherland, one of the two co-creators (along with Ken Schwaber) of the Scrum framework. 

“Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” is a compelling read that clearly explains why, in a world and time when the work we do is getting increasingly more complicated and complex, there is a growing need for an agile mindset and for agile frameworks like Scrum.

It’s also a sobering and practical introduction to Scrum that’s packed with insightful stories and real-world examples from Sutherland’s decades of experience in helping some of the leading companies, non-profits, and government institutions in the world to adopt and use his framework.

One of the best ways to understand something is to know why and where it came from. In a way that only a creator can explain, Sutherland shares the backstory behind the Scrum framework; from how feedback loops helped him survive as an American fighter pilot in the Vietnam war to his academic and business experiences that shaped his concept of agility and the Scrum development process in the 1990s.

In his book, Sutherland teaches you empirical thinking as he tells you the story of what led him, along with Scrum’s co-founder Ken Schwaber, who at the time was a software development process consultant, to create the Scrum framework as we know it today. The narrative switches between philosophy, theory, storytelling, and real-world examples of Scrum implementations gone right and wrong.

Which is why “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” deserves to be called the best book on Scrum. Like the official Scrum Guide, the book itself is purposefully incomplete. It doesn’t tell you how to use the framework. It gives you the context for what led to the creation of Scrum and teaches you the mindset of adopting and applying agility at your organization and for your work.

Many Scrum books talk about the “How.” Jeff Sutherland’s book talks about the “Why” and, to an extent, the “What.” Personally, I believe that the only way to make the most of an agile framework like Scrum is to know where it came from. At the end of the day, being an informed user helps you become a better practitioner.

Read this book if:

  • You want to know the backstory behind the Agile Manifesto and the Scrum framework;
  • You want to understand the origins of the agile mindset through the personal and professional stories of one of the agile movement’s co-founders;
  • You’re curious about why Scrum works, what a Scrum implementation should look like, and how some of the highest-performing organizations and teams in the world use Scrum.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You’re looking for a guidebook that gives you an if-this-then-that guidance on how to adopt, apply, and use Scrum on a daily basis;
  • You dislike blunt and opinionated authors who have a polarized view of what works and what doesn’t.

Best Book on Extreme Programming (XP)

Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change

American software engineer and creator of the Extreme Programming (XP) framework describe how companies, teams, and individuals can improve their software development by adopting the XP mindset and practices.

Every now and then, a book comes out that changes how professionals in a given field think and work. 

When Kent Beck, American computer scientist and creator of the Extreme Programming (XP) framework, published “Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change,” his book changed the way that programmers thought about and built software.

Extreme Programming (XP) is an agile framework created by and for software developers. It sets a number of simple rules that software development teams can use to manage, plan, design, code, and test their software products in an iterative and incremental way. Like any agile framework, XP is easy to understand and hard to master.

If you are a Software Architect, Programmer, Tester, or another technical member of an agile team, Beck’s book will help you understand and master XP. The book will help you decide whether or not XP is the right framework for you and your team. If it is, Beck will give you practical advice (but not a “how to” guide) on using the framework to build high-value and high-quality software in an agile way.

This book is timeless because it doesn’t focus on the “How,” but on the “Why” and “What” of agile programming. Though the second edition was published 16 years ago, which in software development terms can seem like a century, the philosophy and practices for how to develop software that it contains continue to be useful and valuable to this very day.

From Test-Driven Development (TDD) and unit testing to team co-location and peer programming, Beck reviews the elements of XP in the level of detail and specificity that any programmer considering or using the framework will be looking for. Ultimately, “Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change” will help you decide how much of XP you and your team would like to adopt in your day-to-day work.

Five years after he wrote the first edition of the book, Beck wrote the second and had it published in 2004. It’s worth mentioning that the second edition is practically a complete rewrite of the first. Some practices were added, some were updated, and others were dropped. Beck recommends that you adopt XP step-by-step instead of the big-bang change proposed by the first edition.

If you really want to fall down the rabbit hole of Extreme Programming, I recommend that you read the first edition before or after the second. It shows you how much an agile framework can change in just five years and serves as a good reminder that, as British statistician George Box once said, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”

Read this book if:

  • You’re a Software Architect, Programmer, or Tester who wants to understand what Extreme Programming (XP) is about;
  • As a technical person, you want to understand how an agile mindset translates into the day-to-day philosophy and practice of software development;
  • You’re a member of an agile team that’s using Scrum or Kanban, but is struggling to achieve the balance between technical excellence and welcoming change that they talk about in the Agile Manifesto.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You are not technical and are looking for an overview and introduction of what the Extreme Programming (XP) framework is about.

Best Book on Kanban

Real-World Kanban: Do Less, Accomplish More with Lean Thinking

A compelling and practical introduction to the Kanban method with four real-world examples of how Kanban has made a difference in four companies.

Contrary to popular belief, Kanban is not an agile framework. Kanban is, in fact, a process improvement method that helps you to visualize your workflow and continuously improve it by making small changes that lead to big gains in effectiveness (doing the right things) and efficiency (doing the things right) over time.

“Real-World Kanban: Do Less, Accomplish More with Lean Thinking” by Mattias Skarin is one of the best books to help you understand how to adopt and make the most of Kanban for your organization or team.

Skarin shares four case studies of Kanban implementations:

A company that’s been in business for more than 100 years has, over the course of time, built up a technology stack of 300 IT systems. Most of these IT systems dated back to the 1970s. Naturally, the IT team was struggling to keep up with the pace of change demanded by the Business—making the entire organization uncompetitive.

A change management team in an IT department of a company that practiced Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) was tasked to track change requests from System Owners, Programmers, and Third Parties, grouping them into releases. The team was unable to focus on big-picture goals because of disruptive and urgent requests.

Six months into a software company’s eight-month project, the customer was about to pull the plug. A project that had otherwise started well had quickly begun to show the symptoms of upcoming failure. No matter how much overtime the team would put in and how much they’d try to resolve technical debt, more non-negotiable features had to be trimmed from the scope as less was being delivered against a fast-approaching deadline.

A small and tightly-knit back-office team at a fast-growing bank in Sweden that handled personal issues and life-changing events for customers (like job loss, marriage, and death) was struggling to keep up with the bank’s growth. Somehow, they had to create a system of their own that allowed them to distribute the workload on customer requests between the senior members of the team and the newcomers.

Skin tells the story of how he and his team helped the organizations, teams, and individuals in each of these cases adopt and apply Kanban to visualize the workflow, manage the workload, and make one small improvement at a time, which ultimately led to marginal effectiveness and efficiency gains for the organizations and their customers.

Kanban is a generic method (you can use it for any case) that needs a specific implementation (it needs to be adapted to the case at hand) to work.

Read this book if:

  • You know the theory behind Kanban and are curious to see examples for how others have made it work;
  • Your team is about to adopt Kanban and you’re looking for stories on how other teams have gotten started;
  • You’re an experienced Kanban practitioner looking for an interesting and insightful read on others’ lessons learned.

Don’t read this book if:

  • You’re looking for an introduction to Kanban theory and a step-by-step “how to” guide that you can apply in any situation.

By Dim Nikolov

Jack of all trades and master of none. Dim is a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) and Certified Scrum Master (CSM). He has a decade of experience as a stakeholder, member, leader, and coach for agile teams.