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Top Five Scrum Master Book Recommendations

Recently I was asked to recommend five books for someone in the Scrum Master role. The first four books were pretty easy to name, but the last book took some deliberation. This is mainly due to the fact that there are so many different Agile paths to explore. Should we look at books that are specific to a certain role (tester, developer, Product Owner) or technique related (testing, refactoring, user stories)?

Below are my top five recommendations along with why they are a must read for a Scrum Master. Those books include:

  1. Coaching Agile Teams (Lyssa Adkins)
  2. Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant-Leadership (Geoff Watts)
  3. The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
  4. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time (Jeff and JJ Sutherland)
  5. Agile Estimating and Planning (Mike Cohn)

Coaching Agile Teams

It’s hard to believe that a book as groundbreaking as “Coaching Agile Teams” was published only eight years ago (2010). Lyssa Adkins brings together a wealth of experience from traditional project management, agile, and professional coaching.

The material is honest, applicable, honest, and inspirational. I refer to this book frequently and try to read it every year. The book does a great job of establishing the role and mindset of an agile coach.

In case you are wondering why this is applicable to a Scrum Master, the author’s assertion is that a Scrum Masters is an agile coach for a single team.

Scrum Mastery

“Scrum Mastery: From Good to Great Servant Leadership” is a wonderful book that looks at the Scrum Master role in depth. There is an amazing amount of knowledge in this book and I like the fact that each chapter is about five to ten pages long. This makes it a great daily reader — just keep a copy on your desk and read a chapter or two on a daily basis.

I would say that “Scrum Mastery” is more pragmatic than “Coaching Agile Teams” but both books are absolute must-reads for anyone currently in, interested in, or aspiring to be in the Scrum Master role.

The Lean Startup

Having the “Lean Startup” on my list might surprise some individuals, but I can say that this book is equally influential as any of the other books on this list. The Lean Startup has instilled a passion and desire to experiment and to validate the learning that comes from those experiments. It was also one of the first books that really helped me to understand Lean and the difference between Lean and Agile.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

Jeff’s latest Scrum book doesn’t tell you how to do Scrum, but what the book does tell you is much more valuable. Instead of talking about Scrum, the book breaks down all of the influences, reasons, and evolution behind the Scrum framework.

Some of the topics include what makes a high-performing team, waste1, multitasking, planning, estimating, sustainable pace, happiness, transparency, priorities, and risk. There are numerous references to scientific studies and data to support and reinforce the points.

In my opinion, this is an invaluable reference on the “why” behind Scrum.

Agile Estimating and Planning

Mike Cohn’s “Agile Estimating and Planning” is one of those classic texts, and for good reason. There is a wealth of information on estimation (how, why, and what) in addition to planning for sprints, releases, and projects.

There are several other gems of information not directly related to estimation and planning, including:

  • One of the best summaries available anywhere on the benefits and usage2 of story points. (page 69-72)
  • A fantastic and indispensable three-page summary (page 254-256) appropriate called “A Dozen Guidelines for Agile Estimating and Planning”
  • A detailed discussion about planning poker3.
  • Financial metrics such as return on investment (ROI), net present value (NRV), internal rate of return (IRR)
  • Prioritization of features using the Kano model (must-haves, linear features, exciters, and delighters)
  • A wonderful 50-page case study that brings all the concepts together in a narrative and context-specific format.


1 Taiichi Ohno listed three types of waste. Jeff includes a fourth waste that is humorous, truthful, and priceless. See pages 107 and 108 for more information.

2 I see teams struggle with the concept of story points and how to use them on an almost daily basis.

3 Planning poker was actually created by James Greening, who was also on the signers of the Agile Manifesto. However, its popularity in the Agile community is mainly due to Mike Cohn


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