Today we begin the long-anticipated re-read of Great Big Agile, An OS for Agile Leaders by Jeff Dalton. The book was published by Apress in 2019. The 356 pages (335 pages in Arabic numbers and 21 pages in Roman) are organized into an acknowledgment, foreword, preface, 73 chapters, appendix, glossary, and an index. I called this long-anticipated because the poll before the last re-read, Tame you Work Flow, had such intense competition between three books, I decided to re-read all three. Fixing Your Scrum will be next. 

This re-read will be a little different. We will not cover all 73 chapters. This is not to say that all 73 are not important; as matter of fact, the chapters we are not going to cover are the ones that I use the most. I divide Great Big Agile into three parts, part 1 covers the Agile Performance Holoarchy (Jeff breaks this into 2 parts) and includes chapters 1 – 7. The second part is a wonderful explanation of 65 agile techniques which spans chapters 8 – 72. I use these chapters as a reference and have given the book to several clients as gifts for just that reason. The third chunk is chapter 73 which discusses how to use the Agile Performance Holarchy. We will re-read the front matter, chapters 1 – 7 and 73. My intent is to complete the re-read in 10 installments over the next 11 weeks (I assume I will miss one week due to the holidays). 

One of the parts of the last re-read that I enjoyed the most was the interplay between people as we progressed through the book. I expect that some of the ideas in the APH will elicit a reaction. I want to hear your thoughts as we take this journey. While this is a re-read for me (maybe a re-re-re-read) I am sure many readers of the blog have not yet read Great Big Agile and have not encountered the APH. It is time to rectify that oversight! Buy a copy and read or re-read along.


The foreword is by Murali Chematuri,. As many of you know, Murali and I wrote Mastering Software Project Management (buy a copy) a few years ago. In his foreword, Murali highlights the need to provide structure to an organization that is trying to scale agile. Structure does not mean falling prey to the overhead that stops team level self-management. Murali concludes the foreword by identifying that the word holarchy is from Arthur Koestler’s book The Ghost in the Machine, a book that has influenced many of us. A holarchy is a self-organizing hierarchy — if agile teams self-organize, organizations need to have the same flexibility to address agile at scale. 


The Preface tells Jeff’s story, a story he has shared during one of his many Software Process and Measurement Cast interviews and that I use when I talk about the diversity of thought. Jeff is an example of how diversity of thought and background can provide insights into a topic dominated by highly-trained specialists. Jeff’s early background, education, and training as a musician taught him that process, experimentation, and feedback are critical for delivering a quality product. Processes in product and software development often hit one or two of those attributes but rarely all three which leads to all sorts of organizational problems. The Agile Performance Holarchy is a framework for addressing many of the ills that organizations are struggling with as they adopt agile while dealing with the ghosts in their own machines. 

Remember to buy your own copy and read along!