Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: The Art of Business Value by Mark Schwartz

I just read the book "The Art of Business Value" by Mark Schwartz. I came upon this book as I follow Adrian Cockcroft on Twitter and he tweeted about it. Mr. Cockcroft also has a blurb for the book on the back cover.  That was enough to get me to buy and read the book.  As a technical author myself, Amazon does not let me post reviews on technical books. As a result, my review is here.

Even with agile methodologies, IT has trouble delivering business value. The book starts with some typical observations of difficulties IT departments have implementing scrum/agile. Technical debt payment and non-functional requirements don't seem to be adequately prioritized by product owners. Product owners make priority decisions that perplex the people implementing them sometimes. Even though developers follow product owner direction, IT departments still get complaints about the low value IT generally delivers.

Business value has a vague definition and is difficult to objectively measure. The book very effectively argues that the objective of product owner, which is to deliver business value, is a vaguely defined concept and is far from objectively measurable using the information product owners have at hand. More to the point, business value is difficult for anyone to measure. The book takes us on a discussion of how to measure value from a financial perspective.

Product owners are guessing about business value with they prioritize stories. Effectively, the business value assigned to stories isn't really known by product owners. Consequently, story prioritization is the product owners 'guess' and isn't really objectively determined. You can argue that a product owners guess might be more educated than an IT developers guess, but it's a guess all the same. 

As a result, we see the issues and problems IT is all too familiar with.  I'm summarizing the argument, but the book provides robust support for this argument drawing on financial valuation methods taught in many MBA programs.

The book has an excellent premise, but unsatisfying solution. While Schwartz starts with a very good premise, he doesn't really provide adequate answers for the problems associated with evaluating business value. Given the rigor with which he describes the problem, I expected to get the same level of rigor in his search for a solution. His prescription of developing a robust continuous delivery pipeline is very much disconnected for the valuation problem and almost seems to be arrived at out of the blue. Schwartz doesn't connect the dots for me as to how with a badly defined concept of business value as a target, building a delivery pipeline represents enables us to meet that target.

Schwartz is very concise and effectively communicates his points in 131 pages, which as a busy person, I greatly appreciate. The book is also cheap for books of this type.
Bottom line: this book is worth reading for the understanding of the issues we commonly face implementing agile methodologies. Understanding a problem is necessary for finding a solution. I just wish we got a solution too.

Bottom line: Three stars. Reading the premise was enlightening and worth the reading time. Just not the same analytic rigor when discussion solutions.

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