At this year’s OOP Conference, Diana Larsen gave me a copy of her latest book, “Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams & Projects” and I promised to write her a review. I found myself with some time on a flight to Chicago and finally got around to reading it. I’m pleased that I did. It’s not a very thick book, but it’s definitely packed with great advice for teams from both Diana and her co-author Ainsley Nies.

Roughly broken into two sections, the book covers why teams should do a Liftoff and great recommendations on how to go about doing it. I agree completely with their premise at the start of the book – a lot about the productivity of teams and organisations often get set in the beginning. Whilst there is great value running a Liftoff even in the midst of a project, if one hasn’t yet run, it offers an opportunity for working relationships to start right at the beginning.

Liftoff Book

It many ways, the Liftoff overlaps with several of the activities we often run during a ThoughtWorks Inception (covered a lot in the Jonathan Rasmussen’s Agile Samurai book). During these periods, we try to help businesses shape the project, and even help them question whether or not the project should even run (fail fast!)

The book offers even more value by focusing on, given a project vision, helping align everyone in a way that helps them work towards that vision. The authors often refer to the trio of elements to cover including Purpose-Alignment-Context to which they describe some very practical advice on planning and running a project liftoff.

I like the way that they’ve also used a number of examples, including one for their own book, that shares examples of the positive impact that liftoffs done well can have for organisations. The book is dense with lots of advice such as detailing who should be involved, what sort of activities you might run, and a set of principles to plan and run your liftoff with.

The second half of the book focuses on agile chartering, making it relevant for teams working today in an agile environment, and who will most likely pick up a copy of this book. I see it as a useful example of applying the first section (liftoffs in general), to a particular working environment and making it more concrete as a guided walkthrough backed by even more real life stories throughout.

I see a lot of value in this for many teams. So many initiatives often get started that people forget about spending time on establishing a real sense of culture and purpose. The result is clear – a group of people that constantly “step around” issues, or a group of people all pulling in different directions clearly visible in the final solution.

What I also like about this practice, is that it doesn’t even have to be about software initiatives and is relevant for any group of people working towards a common purpose.

I think a lot of people will like the fact that it is such a short book. If you’ve read Diana’s other book, Agile Retrospectives, you’ll be familiar with a set of activities that are useful in a different context. This book doesn’t detail the activities that you might choose to run – I see this as too much for a book like this, but covers the important aspects around the thinking behind the activities you might run for your project liftoff.