In various lectures I’ve given over the years, I often slip in recommendations for a few of my favourite business books for architects. What sets these books apart is that none of them are actually about or by architects. That’s not to say there aren’t some great books that merge business and architecture, but I believe strongly in the need for us to learn about business from beyond our educational horizon.
As you’ll see, I’m particularly interested in the worlds of technology and startup entrepreneurship, disciplines that relentlessly question their methods of production. I also prefer books with strong narratives, that match the weight of their instruction with equally engaging storytelling.
So here we go, the last of eight of the most influential books on my thoughts about architecture, creativity, business and entrepreneurship:
Scrum by Jeff Sutherland, 2014
Like The Lean Startup, this is a book written by a leader in the tech industry for the tech industry. But its project management principles are universally applicable.
Why I like it:
While the fundamental philosophy of Scrum is fascinating on its own, its true power lies in its practical application. This is essentially an instruction booklet that teaches a business how to get more efficient at doing work: from defining whether a task is ready to commence, measuring its size, declaring it done, and ultimately tracking the speed at which the business ticks off all the tasks on its list.
Sutherland is vocal in his disdain for the waterfall model of task management, which is common in the construction industry and characterised by the ubiquitous Gantt chart. He points out that this model is based on the assumption that “Everything can be planned ahead of time… that things won’t change over the course of a multiyear project.” He adds, “That’s just insane.”
Instead of wasting time trying to predict the flow of a project deep into the unknowable future, Scrum instead teaches us to plan work only across short time periods, and how to get faster and faster at that work.
Why architects should read it:
Ask any architect anywhere in the world how she cuts up her multiyear projects into smaller chunks and she’ll probably say she divides them into a handful of familiar and almost universally agreed upon phases:
- Sketch design
- Town planning
- Design development
- Contract administration
There are two problems with this: first, some of these phases are themselves impossibly large, spanning many weeks or months. This is far too big a task size to track, measure or systematically improve upon. And second, who says this is the right way to chop up a project anyway? Scrum provides an alternative perspective for the way work can be done, and a powerful toolkit to help apply it.
Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in checking out the other seven books on my list, you can access an archive of the series here.
- Jeff Sutherland; Scrum; Random House Business Books; London; 2014; page 37.
- Scrum by Jeff Sutherland, 2014