CMMI and Agile Blog

August 12, 2014

Three Great Book Titles and One That Missed the Mark: Part II

In last week’s blog I explained how I whittled down a long list of possible titles for my latest book to the following top four choices:

  • The Essence of Improvement
  • 15 Fundamentals for Higher Performance in Software Development  
  • Better Decisions Through Better Practice With Patterns
  • A Framework Vision for Higher Performance in Software Development 

Only one of the titles came close to meeting Peter Gordon’s rule of keeping the title to three words or less, and that was “The Essence of Improvement”.  I liked this title for one main reason besides its length.  I worked with Ivar Jacobson and our co-authors on the “The Essence of Software Engineering” book which focuses on the essentials—or common ground—that always exist across all software engineering efforts. 

I was originally thinking when I started to write my latest book that I was going to distill “the essentials that are common across all improvement efforts”, and so the title “The Essence of Improvement” seemed perfect.  But as the book evolved based on reviewer comments, discussions, and my personal analysis of past experiences working with multiple clients, it became clear that what I was talking about in this book was not common at all.  In fact, the 15 fundamentals– while they seem simple on the surface— are rarely achieved or thought about in most organizations today. 

There was also another problem with this title.   While I have found value in these fundamentals in my own personal improvement efforts as discussed in the book (e.g. golf), the vast majority of the examples I provide relate to software development.  So the simple “Essence of Improvement” title was reaching too far without sufficient research and proof into what it takes to improve and sustain improvements in other endeavors. 

If you read my two blogs over the past few weeks about Practice Slices and Patterns you should have a good idea why “Better Decisions Through Better Practice With Patterns” would have been a great title for this book.  The value of patterns is a key point that I highlight in this book, and I provide many pattern examples from my software development experiences both as a practitioner and as a coach. 

As I researched the pattern idea I became increasingly excited when I found numerous examples of similar experiences to my own in areas that had nothing to do with software development.  Examples include the idea of “thin slicing” discussed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking”.  

A second example was found In Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”.  In this book Kahneman explains how we can improve our quick–or intuitive– thinking by learning to recognize common situations rapidly.  This idea fits perfectly with my own experiences in software development, especially when rapid decisions need to be made by software practitioners on a high pressure project when a deadline is approaching. 

My favorite story that I convey in my book to explain the power of pattern recognition among athletes I borrowed from Jonah Lehrer’s book, “How We Decide.”   This is the story about Tom Brady, Quarterback for the New England Patriots football team in the National Football League.  In this story the reader learns how Tom prepares for football games which gives you an idea why he is such a great quarterback when the original scouting reports indicated he would never make it as a professional athlete. 

The analogies between what Tom does, and what I have found software practitioners can do to help prepare for typical situations they face each day– especially on a high pressure software development project—may well be the most compelling part of my book.  This also turned out for me to be the most rewarding part of my research and work in writing this book.  For that reason this title was my own personal favorite.  It was also Bill Fox’s favorite. 

A late entrant into the list of possible titles was “A Framework Vision for Higher Performance in Software Development”.   I liked this title because the framework vision, which I added just in the last few months of writing the book, turned out to be a major strength of the book based on comments from a number of my reviewers. It was exactly what was needed to help people understand why we need a framework like the Essence Framework.  Creating this framework vision also helped me personally– as one of the volunteers who developed the Essence Framework—to step back and see more clearly the bigger picture and the need for a framework such as Essence.    

The Essence framework is difficult for many people to understand when first exposed to it for a number of reasons.  One reason is because it is not immediately evident to many people why we need this new framework, or what problem it is solving that other software frameworks have not been able to solve.

By presenting the framework vision in the book using very simple non-technical language it helps the reader to first understand what is needed and why we need it, before we talk about a specific solution. 

 If you take the time to read my book– whether you like the Essence framework or not– I would love to hear your feedback on whether you agree or disagree that the software community needs a framework that fits the needs of the framework vision as I describe it in my book. 

But when the voting was done, the majority of my reviewers polled preferred the title that highlighted the 15 Fundamentals.  What is it that resonates with the idea of the 15 fundamentals that I highlight in this book?

First, these fundamentals are not what many might expect to see in a book about fundamentals and software development.  You will not see Requirements, Design, Programming, and Testing mentioned.  This is because this is not a book about the fundamentals of developing software. It is a book about the fundamentals of performing at a high level and sustaining that performance even under difficult and often adverse conditions–which are not at all uncommon in today’s fast paced and competitive world– when developing software.

Second, in this book I am calling for a culture change in how we implement process improvement today in organizations. A key point I raise is the fact that the speed of change we are all witnessing in today’s world requires that we step back and take a serious look at the process we are using to help our people get better at what they do. 

It is my contention that we need a far better way than what most organizations are doing today to empower our teams to take ownership for improving their own practices and their own personal performance. 

The 15 fundamentals I present in this book are my way of helping you think a little outside the box about how you might help your own organization get started down this path.  If you only take one or two ideas from my 15 fundamentals that can help you make even a few small changes in your organization that can start you down this road, then my ultimate goal in writing this book will have been achieved. 

Love it or hate it, I would love to hear what you think. 

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August 7, 2014

Three Great Book Titles and One That Missed the Mark—Part I

When I asked Bill Fox, author of “5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success” (http://5minutespisuccess.com/ ) what he thought of my current working title of my latest book he didn’t answer.  He just said, “the title of your book is so important.  I think you should write down 100 possible titles, then pick the top ten, and then poll your reviewers to get their opinion.” 

When he first suggested this I thought there was no way I could actually come up with 100 different possible titles, but within a couple of hours I had actually created a list of 102.  The next part of whittling the list down to a top ten took longer.  In my case the problem was compounded by a number of complicating factors. 

First, Peter Gordon, my publisher from Addison-Wesley for my second and third book told me that a title ideally should be no more than three words.  When I looked at my list of 102, less than 10 were three words or less and none of them were my favorites. 

Second, Rachelle Gardner, a literary agent says, an author needs to do everything possible to come up with the best possible title because your title “sets the tone, … and hints at the style of the book… and draws the reader in….” (http://www.rachellegardner.com/about-rachelle/).

While Rachelle’s advice makes sense to me, what really complicated this issue was the fact that I had multiple goals in writing this book, and there was no way I could capture them all in a single title.  Furthermore some of my reviewers were highlighting strengths of the book that weren’t even part of my original goals in writing it.

One of the lessons I have learned from writing this book is one should never be surprised if you don’t end up exactly where you set out to go when writing a book.  It is as much a learning process as it is a way to  communicate your ideas.  This is especially the case when you have over twenty reviewers many willing to help guide your thinking.  This also means you need to be open to hearing that the most valuable parts of your book may be different from what you had originally planned.    

My original working title for the book when I started it four years ago, “How to Get Better at Anything” never even made the list of 102.  And the working title I had for most of the second and third year of the book’s development as I wrote and rewrote draft after draft listening intently to my reviewer’s feedback, “Performance Improvement Simplified” made the top twenty, but missed the top ten. 

The top three titles eventually were:

  • The Essence of Improvement
  • 15 Fundamentals for Higher Performance in Software Development  
  • Better Decisions Through Better Practice With Patterns

In the last few months of developing the book a fourth candidate title was also added:

  • A Framework Vision for Higher Performance in Software Development 

In next week’s blog I will share which three titles could have been a great choice and why one of them turned out to miss the mark given where the book ended up.  I will also share which title was my favorite, and why the eventual winner was selected. 

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