Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Manga Edition)

Author: Patrick Lencioni
Illustrator: Kensuke Okabayashi
Published: 2008
Paperback: 174 pages

A must read for those executives who wants to bring about team leadership culture  in their organization. Also highly recommended for Agile Coaches, ScrumMasters and Scrum Team members since Agile highly values  teamwork.

Read more about this book in my Professional Blog.

Friday, December 23, 2011

World History - 50 key milestones you really need to know

Author:         Ian Crofton
Published:   2011
Publisher:    Quercus
Hardcover:  210 pages
The aim of this book as per the author is to focus on 50 key developments and events of the world history and lay basic foundations for the readers to build on. The economic, social, geographic and cultural factors surrounding these events are covered.
The time period covered in this book ranges from beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago to the 9/11 attack on Twin Towers in 2001.
The author allocates four pages to describe each milestone . 
A detailed timeline of dates and events accompanies the main text. 
The main text is also supported by selected contemporary quotations to bring the flavor of the period being described.  Personalities as diverse as Aristotle, Saladin, Christopher Columbus, Galileo, Thomas Jefferson, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lincoln, Winston Churchill etc. are quoted.
In addition there are one or two mini articles for every milestone being discussed. These articles cover a range of fascinating topics - Nazca Lines, Renaissance man, Confucianism, Alexander the Great's horse, Islamic science, Barbary corsairs, Enigma code, the atomic bomb etc.

It would have been better if in addition to the above if all the dates and events for all the milestones were captured in a single tabular column, with each column representing a milestone.Also this book lacks a bibliography.
Nevertheless an interesting, handy and well laid out reference book which may serve as an appetizer to know more about the milestones.

Milestones Described in this book:

The beginnings of agriculture; The first cities; Egypt of the pharaohs; Classical Greece; Alexander the Great; The spread of Roman power; The fall of Rome and its aftermath; The rise of Islam; The Vikings; The Crusades; The Black Death. 

OTHER WORLDS: Precolonial India; Imperial China; The Mongols; Japan, the island empire; Incas and Aztecs; Empires and kingdoms of Africa. 

THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD: The Renaissance; The Ottoman empire; The voyages of discovery; The Reformation; The Counter-Reformation; The English Revolution; The Scientific Revolution; The age of empire; The Enlightenment. 

GATHERING PACE: The American Revolution; The French Revolution; The Napoleonic Era; The Industrial Revolution; Nationalism in Europe; Slavery; The expansion of the USA; The American Civil War; The rise of socialism; Women's rights. 

THE 20th CENTURY AND AFTER: The First World War; Lenin and Stalin; The shadow of Fascism; The Great Depression; The Second World War - Europe; The Second World War - Asia and the Pacific; The Holocaust; The Cold War; The end of empire; The Vietnam War; The Arab-Israeli conflict; The fall of communism; The resurgence of China; 9/11 and after.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Gandhi - Naked Ambition

Author:         Jad Adams
Published:   2010
Publisher:    Quercus
Hardcover:  336 pages
I doubt whether there is any Indian who has not heard about Mahatma Gandhi. We revere him as the Father of the Nation and generally have some idea (however vague it may be) about the values and ideals he stood for. His role in leading India to independence from the British Raj is well recognized all over the world.  
But how many of us  really know beyond what met the public eye and know him as a person? I must confess that apart from Gandhi's autobiography: My Experiments with Truth, which I read more than a decade ago (and forgotten almost all its content), I had not read much about his life. That's the reason I borrowed this book from the British Library.

This biography is mainly based on Gandhi's own writings and that of his secretaries Mahadev Desai and Pyarelal. It is a fairly well narrated account of Gandhi's life. I came to know several little known facts about Gandhi.
While the author has based this biography on authentic sources he has his own interpretation of the facts. In his introduction to the book he conveys that:
  • Gandhi was very image conscious and knew very well how to make best use of the media to promote his image.
  • Gandhi's striving for truth was not an attempt to reach unquestioned factual accuracy, but stretching out towards spiritual perfection.
  • The battle with the government over Indian rights was what Gandhi did, the struggle with his sex drive was what Gandhi was.
  • Gandhi was an intensely ambitious man. The ambitious was not for fairness of laborers or Indian independence but for spiritual perfection.
The above interpretations form the underlying theme of the entire book . 
While I am not sure how far these interpretations are correct, the book is quite an interesting read. However one needs to read a few more books on Gandhi to get a complete picture and understanding of  his multifaceted and often contradictory character.

[Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

Friday, December 2, 2011

The PMP Exam - How to Pass on Your First Try

Author:         Andy Crowe
Published:   2009
Paperback: 556 pages

Overall seems to be a pretty useful aid for PMP exam preparation.

Read more about this book.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Immortals of Meluha

Author:         Amish
Published:   2010
Publisher:    Westland Ltd.
Paperback: 466 pages

This is a  story about the  transformation of a  Tibetan tribal leader to a savior of the country of Meluha.
This Tibetan is none another than whom many Hindus worship as Lord Shiva and Meluha is " what modern Indians mistakenly call the Indus Valley Civilization".
This is an  imaginative rendering of the saga of Lord Shiva.
A modern Shiva Puranam !
This book is the first book in the Shiva Trilogy , the second being "The Secret of the Nagas" and the third "The Oath of the Vayuputras (yet to be released)".
The book begins with Shiva being convinced by Nandi (a Meluhan) to emigrate from Mansarovar , Mt. Kailash to Meluha along with Gunas , the members of his tribe. It concludes with Shiva leading Meluhans to a resounding victory over their enemies the Chandravanshis of Swadweep. However Shiva is rather pained by this victory and almost goes into depression. Why ? Read the book to find out!
The plot is quite interesting, fast-moving and has a surprising twist in the end.  It has author's own logical and quite credible interpretations of - how Shiva got his blue throat (thereby the name "Neelkanth"); how his weapon the trident (Trishul) was conceived; his third-eye; the symbol "Aum"; reincarnations of Vishnu etc. Though this book is packed with events, yet author has managed to portray Shiva's character, his dilemmas and  his sense of humor pretty well. 
The underlying message of this book as mentioned by Amish, the author in the introduction is "... all of us can rise to be better people.....there exists a potential god in every human being. All we have to do is to listen to ourselves." 
However from a literary perspective I would rate Ashok Banker's book "The Prince of Ayodhya", which belongs to the same genre, a notch higher (See my review of this book). But Banker's book is more voluminous and rather too descriptive which may be a bit too much for many readers (not for me though ! I liked it).  And this is where "The Immortals of Meluha" has an edge. It is more appealing to a wider audience and has become No.1 National Bestseller.
Though it did not meet my expectations 100 % (may be I had too high an expectation based on what I heard and read about it), I still enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading its sequels.

[Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Agile Estimating and Planning

Authors: Mike Cohn
Published: 2005
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Paperback: 368 pages

A MUST READ for all project managers from both Agile and Traditional projects !

Read the complete Book Summary in my business website.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Agile Testing

Authors:       Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory
Published:   2009
Paperback: 576 pages
A very significant contribution to agile literature which educates programmers and testers as well as their managers on how to appreciate one another's work and collaboratively work towards integrating testing activities as a part and parcel of an agile process.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

7 Secrets of Vishnu

Author:     Devdutt Pattanaik
Published: 2011
Publisher: Westland Ltd.
Paperback: 232 pages

I received this book from Blogadda under their book review program.
I belong to the Iyengar community which worships Vishnu as their main deity. Therefore I am generally familiar with most of the legends and rituals built around Vishnu. However I was always curious to know the hidden meaning and significance behind them and hence this book sounded interesting and I offered to review it. 

There are seven chapters in this book, each dealing with one secret of Vishnu. These seven chapters also correspond to seven of the several avatars (reincarnations) of Vishnu viz.; Mohini, Matsya, Kurma, Trivikrama, Ram, Krishna and Kalki.  These avatars are chosen to explain various underlying and hidden metaphysical and philosophical themes :
  1. Mohini's Secret - Spiritual growth need not exclude material growth.. 
  2. Matsya's Secret - Difference between man and animal - only humans can empathize, and exploit.
  3. Kurma's Secret - Wealth eludes the insecure.
  4. Trivikrama's Secret - Ignorance breeds insecurity and ignorance.
  5. Ram's Secret - Outgrow the beast to discover the divine.
  6. Krishna's Secret - Know the thoughts behind actions.
  7. Kalki's Secret - The wisdom of letting go of things with a faith in its renewal.
 The title of the book is a misnomer for it reveals much more than seven secrets of Vishnu . It also slips in the secrets of  Shiva, Brahma, Saraswati, Lakshmi and many more gods, goddesses, asuras and rakshsas as well as a bonus within confines of the above chapters !
All the legends , rituals and symbols are very well interpreted, though I am not sure whether it is author's own interpretation or whether it is based on the research he had conducted.The writing style could have been simplified a bit more. It is slightly abstruse and somewhat disjointed and lacks a spontaneous flow. This may cause some difficulty to readers not exposed to Hindu philosophical concepts, though for me it is not a major issue.
The book has an attractively designed cover and an impressive layout of pages.It is profusely illustrated. Every alternate page has an illustration of a classic painting (for e.g.Mysore painting, Kerala murals, Pahari miniature, Mughal paintings, Patta paintings etc.) or a calendar art or a temple sculpture. The illustrations are well supported by explanations in call-out bubbles which point to the exact part of the illustration being explained. See below a sample of such illustrations.
A few suggestions for the author and the publisher to be taken care of in the next edition:
  1. A glossary for non-English terms used in this book.
  2. An index to easily locate the interesting pieces of information.
  3. A consolidated list of all the illustrations along with their sources.
  4. A hardcover version of this book with glossy illustrations in color will make this an excellent coffee table book.
Overall I am really impressed with this book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in religious mythology, spirituality or philosophy. At just Rs. 250/- this book is a real bargain. 
I was luckier since I got to read it free. However as a part of the deal ,  I had to try hard and take time out to write a 500 word review within the 7 days deadline given by BlogAdda. But it was worth it.

Visit the Author's website for interesting articles on mythology.

Sample illustrations from this book:

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!
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Monday, November 7, 2011

Letters to Sam

Author:       Daniel Gottlieb
Published:   2008
Paperback: 176 pages

There is a saying, "If life gives you a lemon make lemonade out of it".
This very well applies to Daniel Gottlieb, the author of this book who is a psychologist. At a young age of thirty three, an accident made him quadriplegic and confined to a wheel chair for life. But in spite of this debilitating disability, he tried hard and developed a tremendous mental strength which enabled him to develop his career as a successful psychologist over the last thirty years. He has counseled and helped people to deal with their mental agony through his consulting sessions, articles and books and also as a talk show host.
In this book he shares his perspectives on life as observed from his wheelchair .He says his clients, his talk show audience and the readers of his articles have taught him "a great deal about courage, longing, and what it means to be human'. And these perspectives and the lessons he learnt  he wants to pass on to his grandson Sam who suffers from an autistic disorder. Each of the thirty odd chapters in this book  is in form of a letter to Sam. They are lessons on - perfection, kindness, love, compassion, frustrations, desires, justice, happiness, peace, loss, gifts of life, death etc. All these letter try and answer the question "What it means to be human?".

There is another saying - "The best things in life come in small packages".
This slim pocket-sized book is definitely one of the best books I have read this year. Chapters are short, simple and touches your heart.
In a very reassuring manner it motivates the readers to accept the reality of their suffering and effectively deal with it.
A must-read for everyone especially for long suffering patients and their caregivers !

Look forward to reading its sequel "The Wisdom of Sam".

P.S. While reading this book I was reminded of  Hrithik Roshan's character in the Hindi film "Guzaarish". It has Hrithik  Roshan playing a quadriplegic who as a Radio Jockey spreads hope and laughter among his listeners. May be this character was partly based on Daniel Gottlieb who hosts a very popular talk show "Voices in the Family".

  1. Daniel Gottlieb's Website
  2. Excerpts from the book : Two chapters - Lap Time & Give Kindness a Chance
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Templar Legacy

Author:         Steve Berry
Published:   2006
Publisher:    Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
Paperback: 560 pages

A  Da Vinci Code- like adventure  about Knight Templars and the hunt for the Great Devise which holds the key to the secret behind Jesus Christ's resurrection. 
Partially based on facts.
Fast moving and interesting though somewhat confusing  with too many characters and clue.
A good time-pass reading .
However if you have read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code you can give this book a miss unless you have nothing else to read.

[Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Art of Living - Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka

Author:        William Hart
Published:   1988
Publisher:    Embassy Book Distributors
Paperback: 180 pages

Vipassana is an ancient meditation technique originally taught by Gautam Buddha 2500 years ago. It is aimed at effectively dealing with the misery in life - tensions, agitation, unhappiness, suffering etc. - we experience in this world and achieve peace and equanimity of mind thereby  leading a happy life.
Vipassana technique is based on self-observation and introspection. It is a non-sectarian approach, so one need not be a Buddhist to follow it.

S.N. Goenka a retired industrialist is one of the most recognized teacher of Vipassana in the present age. This book is based mainly on the discourses given by him during a ten-day Vipassana meditation course and to some extent the articles written by him.
There are ten chapters in this book corresponding to each day of the course. At the end of chapters there are excerpts from the Q&A session and a typical story choosen among the several stories narrated by  S.N. Goenka.
A well written book which provides a a spiritually inclined person very good introduction to the technique of Vipassana. It got me interested enough to ponder over the possibility of attending a Vipassana course at some point of time. But the prospect of getting cut-off from the 24X7 connected world for 10 full days is rather daunting. Wish I had the capacity to let go of temptations of the modern world at least temporarily.

  1. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation a text based upon a talk given by  S.N. Goenka in Berne, Switzerland. 
  2. Introduction to Vipassana Meditation by S.N. Goenka : A 17 minute video discourse.
  3. Vipassana Research Institute : Established by S.N. Goenka in 1985 for the purpose of conducting research into the sources and applications of the Vipassana Meditation Technique.
 [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Agile Coaching

    Published: 2009
    Publisher: The Pragmatic Bookshelf
    Paperback: 240 pages

    This book is a must-have tool of an Agile Coach ! Highly recommended reading for every one in the agile team as well!

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Delivering E-Learning

    Author:       Kenneth Fee
    Published:  2009
    Publisher:   Kogan Page
    Hardcover: 200 pages
    Buy from Flipkart

    In this information age one cannot afford to keep away from the potential benefits which e-learning can deliver. However the subject of e-learning is still misunderstood and still accounts for only 10 % of all the training though its popularity seems to be on rise. 
    The author Kenneth Fee through this book presents a complete strategy of design, application and assessment of e-learning initiatives.
    The focus of this book is on the process of learning rather than on the digital technologies that enable e-learning.

    There are seven main chapters in this book.
    Chapter 1- Understanding e-learning: Corrects some of the common misconceptions about e-learning and defines e-learning, the three components of e-learning and five different models of e-learning.
    Chapter 2- Advocacy of e-learning: Provides guidelines on recognizing and overcoming objections to e-learning and influencing effective e-learning implementations.
    Chapter 3- E-learning strategy: development:  Discusses the know how of devising and implementing an effective e-learning strategy which is aligned  with the organization's learning strategy as well as its overall business strategy. 
    Chapter 4-  E-learning strategy: suppliers and resources: Demystifies the digital technology associated with e-learning and examines ways of classifying the technology vendors and integrating them in the strategy in a most effective manner.
    Chapter 5- E-learning strategy: learning design issues: Explains how e-learning design is different from the design for other media and shows how to make e-learning program work well by pointing out the pitfalls to be avoided in this process.
    Chapter 6- E-learning strategy: measurement and results: Discusses the various approaches that can be taken to evaluate an e-learning program and how they can be linked to strategy development.
    Chapter 7- Learning more about e-learning: Gives pointers to further information in terms of web references and annotated bibliography.
     Epilogue - Offers some  thoughts on the future trends on e-learning.

    Most of the chapters have a section called "Virtual Round Table" where the author consolidates the responses of six international experts on e-learning to the following questions he asked them in separate interviews:
    • What  are the big issues in e-learning at the moment?
    • What works well and what doesn’t work so well in e-learning?
    • What the main trends in e-learning are at the moment?
    • How e-learning will change in the future? What it could look like in 10 years’ time.
    There is also an illustrative case study which runs throughout the book. It is about how a learning and development manager with a leading UK retailer successfully implements e-learning in her organization.
    Quite a concise, well-written, introductory  book on the e-learning strategy  which also provides insights on how to manage e-learning effectively.
    A MUST READ for every learning and development professional taking first steps towards e-learning.

    Useful Links:
    [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    Exploring Indian Railways

    Author:      Bill Aitken
    Published:  1994
    Hardcover: 292 pages

    As a kid I used to look forward to train journeys a lot. And I still do. This interest in trains led to my picking up this book from the library. Though this book was somewhat outdated (last published in 1994) I was expecting  interesting accounts of some fascinating train journeys undertaken by the author , interspersed with interesting anecdotes and facts about Indian Railways. But I was rather disappointed. This book devotes much space to the bureaucracy and politics prevailing in Indian Railways around the time the book was written. Though in bits and pieces some interesting information is available, by and large I found this book rather boring and outdated.
    I rather keep this review short and not waste too much time writing about the book which I wish I had not read at all.

    [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Prince of Ayodhya - Book One of the Ramayana

    Author:        Ashok K. Banker
    Published:  2005
    Publisher:   Penguin Books India
    Paperback: 534 pages


    The story of  Ramayana takes me back to my childhood days when I  used to repeatedly hear it from my grandfather who was a great storyteller. His vivid narration had a deep impact on me and I myself at the age of 5 or 6 started telling the story of Rama to whoever cared to listen and appreciate!
    Nowadays I prefer Mahabharata to Ramayana since I think the characters in the former are more realistically portrayed.  However  this book - Prince of Ayodhya : Book One of the Ramayana -  written by Ashok Banker has rekindled my interest in Ramayana enough to look forward to reading its sequels too.
    I had always thought of Ashok Banker as a pulp fiction author and had not cared to read any of his books.  I could not have got to reading even this, had I found the book - The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi  - I was looking for in the library.  Tripathi's book has received good reviews for its contemporary treatment of Lord Shiva's story. But it so happened that  "The Immortals of Meluha "was not available so I picked up this book instead since it seemed to be of the same genre i.e. modern interpretation of a mythological figure.
    The book begins with the Author's note where he tells us how Ramayana came to be written by Valmiki and subsequently by many others who followed him, each adding their own interpretations and embellishments so that  " there are as many Ramayanas as there are people who know the tale, or claim to know it. And no two versions are exactly alike". Then Banker proceeds to say what was his motivation to add yet another version of this great epic to the literature. 
    This volume deals with princes Rama and Lakshmana  being sent with Sage Vishwamitra to protect the yagna (sacrificial rites) he is performing from getting disturbed by  the Asuras. The princes successfully accomplish this mission by killing the demons Taraka and Subhahu. 
    Now this is a bare outline of this volume. Banker through his creative imagination and interpretations has added sub-plots and incidents not found in any of the previous versions of Ramayana and has described them very vividly. This has bloated the size of the book to 500 odd pages based on this outline. Yet  not in any point of time while  reading it I was bored. This itself speaks of the author's story telling prowess.
    Visit the Wikipedia entry about this book where plot summary and a section on how it differs from the original Valmiki Ramayana is provided.

    Recommend this book for a light and entertaining reading. But definitely won't  recommend it to highly religious and pious people who look upon  Rama as a God. 

    [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]


    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    High Performance Operations

    Author:        Hillel Glazer
    Published:    2011
    Publisher:     FT Press
    Hardcover:  272 pages

    Buy from Flipkart

    Acknowledgement :
    I thank the author and the publisher for sending me a free pre-publication copy of this book  and seeking an honest opinion of mine through this blog post. It has been a privilege to have read this book before it was released.

    Book Review:
    Many organizations treat compliance requirements like SOX, CMMI , FDA, ISO 9001, which are imposed on them either by clients or regulatory authorities as a necessary evil or a dead weight which needs to be endured as a hygiene factor to sustain their business. 
    But at the same time there are also some organizations (though in minority numbers) who have successfully leveraged the same compliance requirements to enhance their business performance and gained competitive advantage. The author Hillel Glazer has helped several such organizations to achieve this feat by creating process solutions that build compliance into the value stream using a system engineering approach.
    This book provides the essence of this approach called Process Solutioneering (R) [ patent applied for by the author].
    The key points regarding  effective handling of the compliance requirements as described in this book are:
    • To effectively integrate compliance requirements into the operation one must tie in their expectations to performance requirements.
    • Instead of focusing on the compliance practices specified in the standards, one should focus on the values from which these practices are derived. This will enable the operations to address these practices without unnecessary additional work.
    • Any activity undertaken to meet the compliance requirements should contribute to TQ$ (Time, Quality and Money)
    • Compliance requirements must be examined from the two perspectives - risk it is intended to avoid or/and the opportunity it intends to exploit. If an existing operation is already avoiding the expected the risk or exploiting the same opportunity, the effort required to achieve compliance is minimized.
    The author has primarily aimed this book at managers and executives. And it has found its mark right on ! The book can be a real eye-opener for them when they realize how compliance issues can be effectively leveraged to transform their operations to a high performing one  provided they are willing to invest in terms of establishing appropriate leadership, culture, trust, autonomy, learning and communication system.

    As far as the experienced and well read  business process management professionals are concerned they may be already  aware of many of  the concepts discussed in this book.

    A few suggestions  to enhance the utility and popularity of this book - lesser repetitions of the same concept, more diagrams to support the explanations (for e.g. the analogy of  Lift, Drag ,Thrust in an aircraft), inclusion of real life case studies from the organizations where the author had been a consultants.

    Look forward to a second edition or  a sequel which addresses these suggestions.

    Useful Links:

    [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

    Thursday, September 29, 2011

    Understand Statistics

     Author:         Alan Graham 
     Published:     2010
     Publisher:     Hodder Education

    I am always on the lookout for good ideas to enhance my training and consulting   approaches. Therefore I read from time to time, from a purely pedagogical perspective, introductory level books on the subjects which I am quite well versed with. The intention is to study the manner in which authors introduce the nuances of  a subject to the novices. Statistics is one such subject.
    While facilitating the implementation of high CMMI maturity level practices in companies I previously worked for, I felt that the  project managers and senior level management need to have at least a basic knowledge of statistics to properly understand and use the metrics which such organizations churn out. I wish I had read this book then and recommended it to them. I must admit that even I learnt  a few new things in this book.

    The book starts with a very warm and personal introduction by the author, where he sets the expectations from this book very clearly. He says " ...the focus is on understanding the key concepts and principles of the subject" and it "...does not provide a comprehensive guide to statistical techniques".

    Chapter 1 introduces the subject of statistics. It describes the reasons why learning statistics is a worthwhile exercise; provides examples of everyday situations where knowledge of statistics will be helpful; what kind of statistical questions can be asked and how they are investigated.
    Chapter 2 serves as an introduction or a refresher to some basic mathematical concepts which are necessary for understanding statistics.
    Chapter 3 & 4, describes different types of graphs - bar chart, pie chart, histograms, scattergraphs etc. - and provides guidelines for choosing the most appropriate type of graph to represent the data.
    Chapter 5 deals with the concept of central value ( i.e. mean, median, mode) and the spread (i.e. variance and standard deviation) around the central value.
    Chapter 6 entitled Lies and Statistics is perhaps the most useful chapter in this book from a layperson's perspective. In real life we often come across deceptive representation of facts by means of misleading graphs, confusing percentages and inappropriate averages. This chapter tells us how to see through these deceptions and avoid making regrettable decisions based on them.
    Chapter 7 introduces us to the sampling techniques viz; random and systematic and also deals with variations in samples and errors associated with sampling.
    Chapter 8 tells us how to collect data samples and to check and ensure data accuracy.
    Chapter 9 teaches the basics of using a spreadsheet to do data analysis.
    Chapter 10 is about interpreting the data in the tables and reorganize the data to make convey the key information  more clearly.
    Chapter 11 and 12 deal with concepts of Regression and Correlation respectively.
    Chapter 13 and 14 is about Probability. After introducing the concept of probability, probability models like uniform, normal and binomial distributions are discussed.
    Chapter 15, the last chapter tells us how to conduct test of significance in terms of z test and binomial test.
    This book is one of the best introduction to the principles of statistics I have  ever read. Simple and easy to understand language; packed with practical examples and exercises and interesting stories revolving around statistics.

    So if you want to learn statistics, start with this book !

    [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    User Stories Applied

    Author:        Mike Cohn
    Published:    2004
    Publisher:    Addison-Wesley Professional
    Paperback:  304 pages

    The entire business of software development (for that matter any product development) starts with a user need (whether inherent or created by innovative marketing !) which gets expressed in form of documented requirements.  This holds true for both the traditional and the agile methods. But the difference lies in the manner in which these requirements get documented. The traditional methods like waterfall method recommend a Big Requirements Up-Front (BRUF) approach where the entire set of requirements are documented by  the analysts and passed on like a relay race baton to the development team. The agile methods zealously espouse the cause of short and "just enough" documentation of requirements which encourages conversation between the developers and the product stakeholders. User Stories , the subject matter of this book, are one such way of documenting requirements, highly recommended by most of the agilists.
    Mike Cohn, the author of this book, is an oft cited authority whenever the topic of user stories arises in Agile related discussions. Here he provides a very practical approach towards effectively using User Stories in the software development projects.
    The book is in three parts consisting of twenty odd chapters.

    Part I: Getting Started - Introduces the concept of User Stories , describes how they can be used and provides guidelines for writing good user stories.

    Part II: . Estimating and Planning - Deals with estimation of User Stories in terms of Story Points; creation and subsequent refinement of release plans for high priority stories at the start of each iteration; tracking the progress of project and replanning based on the learnings from each iteration.

    Part III: Frequently Discussed Topics— How User Stories differ from other requirements specification methods and the advantage User Stories have over such methods; How to identify the bad implementation of User Stories; How to address non-functional requirements through User stories.
    Part IV: An Example— An extended case study running through five chapters provides an excellent example of how user stories are created, estimated, allocated to release plan and acceptance tested. 

    All the chapters in the first three parts of the book have a set of exercise questions to test the understanding of  User Stories. The answers for these questions are also provided in the appendix. 

    Most of the chapters also have a section on what are the Customer Responsibilities and Developer Responsibilities towards successful implementation of User Stories.

    This book was published in 2004 and does not seem to have an updated edition yet. Therefore a couple of  User Story techniques developed by Mike Cohn which became popular later do not find a mention in this book.
    For e.g., 
    The Planning Poker - though a short description of this method is provided, it has not been named as such.
    The popular template of writing a User Story - As a , I would like to so that .

    But these are very minor limitations. Overall if you want to know anything about the User Stories, this is the GO-TO book !

    Links to Extracts from this book
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    Saturday, September 17, 2011

    Agile Retrospectives - Making Good Teams Great

    Authors:  Esther Derby & Diane Larsen
    Published: 2006
    Publisher: The Pragmatic Bookshelf
    Paperback: 182 pages

    Agile Principle # 12  - At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts  its behavior accordingly.
    The "reflection" part typically  happens in a  retrospective meeting after every iteration . Unless retrospective meetings are well planned, well facilitated and result in clear cut action items for the team to "tune and adjust", they will not be of much value.  But a successful retrospective will enable a team to improve their capability and productivity and increase their capacity to deliver a high quality product. Moreover it will result in better teamwork and job satisfaction.
    And how to get these benefits out of retrospectives is what exactly the authors of this book have attempted to teach us through this book. 

    A 5-step framework based on authors wide experience is proposed for conducting a retrospective  viz; 

    1. Set the Stage
    2. Gather Data
    3. Generate Insights
    4. Decide What To Do
    5. Close the Retrospective
    Retrospectives if always conducted in a same manner can turn out to be pretty mundane exercise. However the variety of tools and activities (more than 30) suggested for each of the above steps will ensure that retrospectives are a fun as well as productive. Every activity is described in detail almost in a cookbook fashion. in five chapters dedicated to the five steps in the retrospective.
    There is also a chapter on leading a retrospective which discusses issues like managing the activities, the time, the group dynamics and even self-management. 
    While the book is focused on iteration retrospectives there is a chapter devoted to end of release and end of project retrospective also.
    Stories from real life retrospectives are also shared in this book.
    A useful and handy book which each team should have !


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    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Does He Know a Mother's Heart ?

    Author:      Arun Shourie
    Published:  2011
    Hardcover: 440 pages


    The author Arun Shourie is a very well known figure in Indian journalism and politics. Yet very few would have known before the publication of this book about the anguish in his personal life. His son suffers from cerebral palsy and his wife from Parkinson's disease.It would have been a real heart wrenching experience for Shourie which lead to the writing of this book where he  raises a very disturbing yet thought provoking question -Why  there is extreme suffering in the world if according to the religious scriptures there is an omnipotent, omniscient , omnipresent , compassionate, all-forgiving and merciful God ?
    This book is  in some parts autobiographical especially in the beginning, mainly dealing with the illness of his son and wife , but mostly a dissection of several religious scriptures to reveal what they have to say about suffering.
    Extensively interpreting several  passages from these scriptures, Shourie argues that they actually give an impression that the God is , vindictive, demands unquestioning obedience, inflicts extreme suffering on innocent victims and also severely tests those who have faith in Him. He does not buy-in to a variety of arguments and explanations of suffering - for e.g. there is an unknown yet valid purpose behind suffering; it  is a test of your faith in God; suffering is due to your Karma; suffering is an illusion etc. etc; - advanced by the strong and faithful adherents of these scriptures. He puts forward counter- arguments to their claims.
    However Shourie , while not fully agreeing with the views of  Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Ramana Maharshi,  is touched and impressed by their attitude towards their own sufferings when they were afflicted with fatal cancer.He says "The equanimity with which the painful and fatal illnesses were borne by these sages is, of course, a lesson and an example to us".

    Shourie eventually finds some solace in the teachings of the Buddha and makes the following observations in the last but one chapter of the book :
    • Suffering is real. To  dismiss it as 'unreal' is to mock the pain of another.
    • For dealing with life and what it sends us, in particular for persons like us who are unlikely to pursue the higher truths of the mystics, the Buddha's teachings are the most helpful.
    • While it is true that some people will find solace in notions like God and practices like prayers, pilgrimages and rituals, they won't mitigate the crisis. One must work out one's own salvation with diligence as per Buddha's last words.
    • All the sufferings are only because of Time and Chance.
    • No cosmic purpose is served by our suffering because there is no "cosmic purpose"
    • In many instances suffering is so intense and so final that one can do little about it. Yet it can be put to work. Sometimes by the person who is suffering by bearing the pain with dignity or by the people who serve the person who is suffering, thus setting an example of how to deal with such a situation.
    • Putting suffering to work requires  -  Deeply reflecting  not about "Why has this happened to me?" but about, "How I may put even this to work - for others as well as for myself?"; Starting immediately; And persevering with the effort of transforming the suffering into a teacher. 
    • We should neither pity nor sympathize with the person suffering. What is required is our Empathy. i.e. "getting into the skin of, and feeling like the person must feel".
    • Even if we cannot serve those who are in pain, we can be of service to those who are serving them.
    • Hence, each of us can serve. But we must do whatever is required by the person we serve, whenever it is required. And we must go on doing so for as long as we and those we serve live.And we must expect no sympathy, no recognition, no special priveleges.
    • We must not let our unhappiness dampen the spirit of the one who is battling the affliction. We must do the chores we have to in good cheer.
    • Unless we are watchful, suffering of those near us and our own suffering can make us less mindful of the pain of others.
    • Also we have to be watchful of acquiring a martyr complex and of despair while serving.
    • Nothing can be done that will undo the primary cause of suffering. But most of us build superstructures of rage, resentment and bitterness on that primary occrrence. The teachers like the Buddha guide us in dismantling these structures.
    • The near and dear ones who are caught in the vice of prolonged suffering serve us by teaching us acceptance to their condition and to let go our reactions to it. They transform us.
    Shourie  concludes this chapter by stating "Everyone struck a blow will find his own ways to cope - if it works for the person concerned, each one of them is valid". He further makes it clear with all humility that the lessons in this chapter ring true to him based on his own limited experience, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he has learnt these lessons fully.

    A few years ago I had started reading  Shourie's book "Worshipping False Gods" but gave up midway, since I found his writing style rather boring and never attempted to read any other book of his after that. However a couple of months back I happened to watch some parts of a TV interview  where he talked about his latest book  "Does He know a mother's heart?", which prompted me to borrow it from Just Books library at the earliest opportunity.

    While the first chapter is quite a moving account of his experience in dealing with the illnesses of his wife and son, the next four chapters are quite dry and repetitive. In these chapters the quotes from the scriptures are rather too long and too many. This I felt was rather unnecessary. A couple of quotes could have made the point. The next chapter dealing with incidents from the lives of  Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Ramana Maharshi makes a better reading. As the next few chapters go by, the book becomes progressively interesting. The last two chapters are the best ones. 

    I am an agnostic and so agree with most of the points which Shourie makes in this book. However I also think that faith in God, religion, prayers and rituals - as long as they don't gravitate towards bigotry and fanaticism or causes inconvenience to others - is of great help to a large number of people in coping with the crisis they face. I don't want the faith of these devoted adherents to be shaken by Shourie's writings. So for such people I recommend them to read only the first chapter and the last two chapters. These three chapters captures the essence of this book.

    Nevertheless this book is  very inspirational and highly recommended read especially for the caregivers who are in similar situation as that of  Shourie. It will serve as a guidebook for dealing with suffering.

    • Media Reviews - Review of this book in  newspapers and magazines.

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    Saturday, September 10, 2011

    Individuals and Interactions: An Agile Guide

    Authors:      Ken Howard and Barry Rogers
    Published:   2011
    Publisher:    Addison-Wesley Professional
    Paperback: 240 pages
    Buy from Flipkart  

    "Individual and Interactions over Processes and Tools", thus begins the Agile Manifesto. It is obvious that the authors of the Agile Manifesto considered "Individual and Interactions" of  foremost importance for  any Agile implementation. Ironically even after ten years, the Agile literature is flooded with books on "Processes and Tools" but hardly any  on individual behaviors and team interactions in context of  Agile projects. Therefore this book is a very welcome addition to the Agile literature.

    This book is in two parts. 

    Part I - This part  introduces  and discuss the concepts of  - Individual Behavior, Team Dynamics, Communication, Collaboration, Team Behavior, Change and Motivators. These concepts are well illustrated through numerous examples from Agile context.
    The authors  recommend  assessment of  the behavioral profile of each individual through  the  DISC (Dominator, Influencer, Supporter, Critical Thinker) framework and sharing the findings with everyone in the team. This they say will lead to better understanding and appreciation of an individual's behavior  and thereby promote teamwork and collaboration. A  typical DISC test is provided in this book. I took this assessment and found the results pretty much in synch with my behavioral pattern !

    The chapter on Communication addresses the Agile Principle - The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. All the key aspects to keep in mind during face-to-face conversation - Empathy, Cultural Awareness, Language (both verbal and body language) - are dealt with. Guidelines to communicate with different behavioral profiles are also provided in this book.

    Yet another Agile Principle - Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done - is also addressed. The chapter on Motivators identifies and discusses  six key workplace motivators -  Theoretical, Utilitarian/ Economic, Aesthetic,  Social,  Individualistic/Political,  Traditional/ Regulatory.  
    Motivation strategies appropriate to each of these motivators  are also suggested.

    Part II  - This part gives detailed guidelines  and instructions on on how to conduct Team Dynamics workshop. It suggests various exercises for the participants which will  enable them to become aware and internalize all the concepts introduced in Part I . Some examples of exercises -  Communication Origami ( for Communication), Bridge Building ( for Team Dynamics), Moon Survival ( for Collaboration). 

    People issues are the most challenging ones in any agile project. This book is an excellent guide for Team members, ScrumMasters, Product Owners, Management, Consultants, Trainers to understand these issues and  successfully address them. A Must-Read !


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