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The One Book Every Tech Leader Should Read

Book Review — Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Tech Organizations

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Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations

I am obsessed with this book. It proves all the things I intuitively feel make a great dev team — an agile mindset, a collaborative culture, and continuous delivery — do in fact make great dev teams. This is key for me as I run a 60 person development organization at Arctic Wolf Networks that is growing quickly. I want us to continue to be a high performance development organization as we grow.

An agile mindset is the set of attitudes supporting an agile working environment. These include respect, collaboration, improvement and learning cycles, pride in ownership, focus on delivering value, and the ability to adapt to change.

Susan McIntosh

The format of this book review is similar to that of others I have previously written.

How did you read this book?

Initially I listened to the book in 20 minute chunks while driving back and forth between work and home. I then read parts of it over and over again on my computer using my Arctic Wolf provided O’Reilly subscription. If you plan on reading it I suggest the electronic or hard copy and not audio book. The content does not lend well to the audio format, is very easy to read, and has many interesting tables and diagrams to review.

Finally I would focus on the first and third part of the book along with Appendix A. The second part discusses their research techniques. While interesting, you can glean all of the salient points from the other sections.

What are the major takeaways you got from the book?

My major takeaway is that my intuition about having an agile mindset in a collaborative culture while delivering software continuously is in fact the recipe for success I felt it was. What I found most interesting is that it went much deeper than that. If you have an agile mindset and you follow continuous delivery methods you will not only produce a collaborative culture, but high performance software delivery, as well as high job satisfaction in your employees!

The authors go on to explain that the combination of a collaborative culture, high performance software delivery, and high job satisfaction are the key factors in cultivating a high performance organization.

The outcome is that using continuous delivery methods with an agile mindset will help you produce a high performance organization. This is all great, but how can you tell if you are doing a good job employing continuous delivery with an agile mindset? By measuring the same factors that the authors of the book used to prove these correlations.

To determine organizational performance you must measure your culture, software delivery performance, and job satisfaction.

Measuring job satisfaction is relatively straightforward using the employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). eNPS measures the likelihood that your employees would recommend their employer as a place their friends and family should also work.

Frequency of code deployments, lead time to deploy, mean time to recovery (MTTR), and change failure rates are all measures of software delivery performance.

We can see that the more you deploy, the faster you deploy, the speedier you are able to recover, and the lower your change failure rate, the better organizational performance you will have!

Measuring culture is a little trickier, but the book suggests creating a survey for your employees to respond to using the Likert-Type method along with the following questions.

To calculate the “score” for each survey response, take the numerical value (1–7) corresponding to the answer to each question and calculate the mean across all questions.

By measuring organizational culture, software delivery performance, and job satisfaction and watching the trends over time you can see if you are making progress towards a higher performance organization.

If the numbers aren’t trending in the right direction, then your levers for change are to adjust your agile methodologies and continuous deployment methods.

What was your favourite quote/passage?

To summarize, in 2017 we found that, when compared to low performers (companies), the high performers have:
  • 46 times more frequent code deployments
  • 440 times faster lead time from commit to deploy
  • 170 times faster mean time to recover from downtime
  • 5 times lower change failure rate (1/5 as likely for a change to fail)
  • Finally there is some hard data to show that agile and continuous delivery methodologies produce higher performing organizations!

What is the one thing you want everyone to know about this book?

Our research shows that the technical practices of continuous delivery have a huge impact on many aspects of an organization. Continuous delivery improves both delivery performance and quality, and also helps improve culture and reduce burnout and deployment pain. However, implementing these practices often requires rethinking everything — from how teams work, to how they interact with each other, to what tools and processes they use.

It is fantastic that we now have some concrete evidence on what makes a high performance development organization. The down side is that you will need to put in hard work to make it happen.

You will need to evaluate your agile mindset. Are you actually agile or are you just following agile processes? To understand where you sit, I recommend reading The Human Side of Agile - 3P Vantage.

How well are you following continuous deployment practices? Where do you need to improve? Implementing DevOps practices is one of the best ways to improve your continuous deployment practices. For that I recommend reading The Phoenix Project. It describes DevOps practices in a novel format. A great read for anyone working in technology.

What is the most surprising part of the book? Why?

What surprised me most was how convincing the data was. Once you read this book, you will no longer wonder if having an agile mindset and employing continuous delivery are right for your software organization.

What other books should be on a tech leaders must read list?

For DevOps I recommend The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford and the follow-up The DevOps Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations by Gene Kim, Jez Humble, Patrick Debois, and John Willis.

I recommend #NoProjects — A Culture of Continuous Value by Shane Hastie and Evan Leybourn to improve how you manage your value stream in a continuous delivery environment.

For all things Agile I recommend two books by Gil Broza, The Human Side of Agile and The Agile Mind-Set.

I recommend Essentialism by Greg McKeown and The Subtle Art of Not giving a F*ck by Mark Manson for improving your own performance as well as your leadership skills.


For every new leader in my organization I make sure they have access to a copy of The Agile Mindset and Accelerate. I find it gives us all a common language to talk about how we are going to achieve a high performance organization. When it works I also send my leaders to Gil Bronza’s Agile Mindset leadership course.

This year my organization will start measuring delivery performance, culture, and job satisfaction so we can see how we are trending and make improvements by leveraging the Agile Mindset and Continuous Delivery practices.

Published in Code Like A Girl

Meet the Author

Dinah Davis

Fractional COO
Former VP of R&D at Arctic Wolf & Founder of Code Like A Girl

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