Writing a book the agile way…



























For quite some time I have been asking (bugging) agile authors why they don’t write their books in an agile way.

Most told me it’s impossible.
Some of them have tried. With (in my opinion) nice results.

Agile Retrospectives is written by two authors. If I remember well Diana & Esther had writing sessions where they would write together. (PairProgramming)

For Agile Coaching Rachel and Liz both wrote on their own, but they reviewed and reworked each other’s text (collective code ownership). They also used a kanban board to make their work visual.

Robin Dymond and Gabrielle Benefield have been doing distributed pairwriting using skype and google docs.

All very nice examples, yet I hadn’t yet heard of iterations or at least regurly deploys.

I was told that a book is a one shot option. Hmmm, how many clients have told me that? And how many of them were right?

Last year when I was working on a book on Agile Games, I set up CI server and built the book at regular intervals. I only had a pdf version, but having a real version felt good. The big problem was I was spending so much time on layout and building issues I hardly had time to write. At the same time Johanna told me that writing a book with multiple authors was much harder then with one author. Looks like I was trying to run before I could walk. As a result I failed in public.

Now having time free, I started the Who Is Series on my blog. It is a weekly publication that includes one new person who answers the same set of questions. That very quickly became popular, so popular I had a stock of answers ready to post.

And then I noticed that Laurent Bossavit had published a book. Now Laurent is one of those people in the agile world who is miles ahead of all of us. He used LeanPub.

Leanpub gives people the possibility to publish in a lean way and to republish a book whenever there are changes.  Hmmm, looks like my idea of publishing a book the agile way is coming closer. I made up my mind that if I ever write a book, I would use LeanPub.

And then Elisabeth published There is always a duck. She had the idea. She created the book on LeanPub and after only 4 days she published her book. Wow that was LEAN.

OK, it was content she had been creating the last 15 years. Yet, for someone who had been trying to create multiple books and never succeeded, creating a book in 4 days was impressive.

Now I wanted to start writing myself. Although my first blog post was in 2002, I had abanded that blog. So Elisabeth’s option of using my blog content was not an option for me. Or was it?

I realized that the Who Is series was actually a good candidate for a book. I had popular content and I added answers every week. And it was written by multiple people.

The Who is Agile book was born. It took me a week or 3 to publish the first version – not because I wanted it to be perfect, but because safety is important to me and I wanted to be sure that I had the permission from all 30 people in the book. That was the hardest part.

When I had the permission of 25, I decided I would publish that week, no matter what.

I would withdraw the people that had not given me permission.

And so yesterday the first version was published.

Is it finished? No, it’s a MVP
Do I know what will be in the finished version? No it’s an MVP, so I use this to figure out what my customers want.

Is it bug free? No. At this moment the pictures are not optimized for the book. This means the book is too big. That’s fine. People can read it. And when I update that part (or find someone who is better than me at doing this) I will republish the book and my readers will get the new version of the book in their mailbox.

Along the way Andrea Chiou presented herself to edit the book. She is an agile coach with a quality control history and some free time. Wahoo – now I had a real team.

We used a google spreadsheet to keep track of the work. We did not have standups but used mail to synchronize the work, looks like we have some place for improvement in our team.

That is the future of publishing for me. At least for technical books where people can’t wait for the book to be finished to learn about a technique.

Why would people pay for content that is already free on the web?

I have asked the authors to answer one extra question. So people that read the book do get extra content. It seems to work as I let people pay what they want – some pay nothing, but most pay 29,99.

And while publishing, I thought about so many other things that I want to add to the book.

Does that sound familiar? Yes – pushing the release button has that effect on projects.

Publishing a book the agile way, it’s no longer the future. You can do it today.

Next up? A retrospective with Andrea to see what we can improve…

Update: If you want to experience how agile publishing works for readers, buy the Who Is Agile book and see for yourself.