Book review: Slow Productivity by Cal Newport

Slow Productivity by Cal Newport

Cal Newport is one of my favourite authors. An American non-fiction author and full professor of computer science at Georgetown University, Newport has written some of my favourite deeply insightful books:

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (2016),
  • Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (2019),
  • A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (2021)

and now this book Slow Productivity: The Lost Art of Accomplishment Without Burnout (2024).

It took me a little longer to read than I had meant as I was made redundant during the first half of the book and I’ve been focused on my work situation. But I finished reading it this afternoon and I wanted to share my initial thoughts.

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I was a guest on the new Ways of Agile podcast

On Friday evening, adding to my growing list of interesting life experiences, I was a guest on a new podcast from Romania called Ways of Agile.

The aim of the Ways of Agile podcast is to provide a guide for people to discern whether the IT industry is for them, map out different roles, career paths, required skills and accreditations and understand how they might ‘get a foot in the door’.

The podcast is hosted by my friend and colleague (scrum master) Andrei Gliga, and his friend and podcast producer (scrum master) Vlad Skrypnyk.

Continue reading I was a guest on the new Ways of Agile podcast

Be agile not Agile™

In 2014, Dave Thomas, one of the seventeen who met at Snowbird ski resort in Utah and came up with the Agile Manifesto, wrote a blog post with a wonderfully clickbait title: “Agile is dead (long live agility)”.

In the article he laments that too many people focus on ‘Agile’ with a capital ‘a’ as though it was a brand: Agile™. Agile isn’t a noun (a naming word, my primary school teacher would drill into us), agile is an adjective (a describing word). Thomas urges us to think about agility not Agile.

“The word “agile” has been subverted to the point where it is effectively meaningless, and what passes for an agile community seems to be largely an arena for consultants and vendors to hawk services and products.” — Dave Thomas

Agile principles

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about agile principles. What are the fundamental truths that serve as the foundations of agile development—sorry, of development that shows agility?

Agile manifesto

Of course we have the Agile manifesto:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

“That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

Scrum values and pillars

Scrum has five core values:

  • Commitment
  • Courage
  • Focus
  • Openness
  • Respect

and three pillars

  • Transparency
  • Inspection
  • Adaptation

AgilePM (DSDM) principles

I’m fond, too, of the eight principles on which AgilePM (formerly DSDM Atern) is built:

  1. Focus on business need
  2. Deliver on time
  3. Collaborate
  4. Never compromise quality
  5. Build incrementally from firm foundations
  6. Develop iteratively
  7. Communicate continuously and clearly
  8. Demonstrate control

Bertrand Meyer

Bertrand Meyer in Agile!: The Good, the Hype and the Ugly (Springer, 2014) argues for the following principles that promote agility:

  1. Put the customer at the centre
  2. Let the team self-organise
  3. Work at a sustainable pace
  4. Develop miniminal software i. Produce minimal functionality ii. Produce only the code requested iii. Develop only code and tests
  5. Accept change
  6. Develop iteratively i. Produce frequent working interactions ii. Freeze requirements during iterations
  7. Treat tests as a key resource i. Do not start any new development until all tests are passed. ii. Test first
  8. Express requirements through scenarios

Back to basics

Dave Thomas finishes his blog post by showing us how to do something in an agile fashion:

  1. Find out where you are.
  2. Take a small step towards your goal.
  3. Adjust your understanding based on what you learned.
  4. Repeat.

And “when faced with two or more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier.”

That’s it.

Orientate, plan, do, check, adjust, repeat.

Where do we need to focus?

I’ve often found these lists of principles useful to focus the mind on what’s important about working with agility.

Which principles stand out as those we need to focus on

  • as a company?
  • as a team?
  • as an individual?

What is the next small step we need to take?

Originally posted on Vision internal blog.