Book Review: To Sell Is Human

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Agile software development is more about people than tools and technology, as books such as The Human Side of Agile make clear. It’s also not surprising that agile developers often find inspiration in sources not explicitly related to software engineering. Some examples of this are the writings about checklists by medical doctor Atul Gwande and, in particular, the book The Checklist Manifesto. Daniel Pink’s recent book To Sell Is Human is also a resource that can benefit agilists.

The main message in To Sell Is Human is how everyone, not just those engaged in commerce, are selling all the time. For agilists, this could mean anything from selling the benefits of agile to skeptical management to making the case for a process change or a new development approach for your team. Learning how to sell agile methods better makes the book worth a read, but there is more.

Another theme in the book is how selling has changed over time from a process where the salesperson is someone providing (scarce) information to someone providing problem analyses and solutions. This was the part of the book where Pink’s relevance to software development became less metaphorical and more direct.

During a discussion on how salespeople focus on “clarity,” I was struck by how much of what Pink described was reminiscent of the discussions of Gerald Weinberg and Donald Gause in the classic book Are Your Lights On? This was also a description of something I do throughout my work as an agile software developer.

The book even touched on the basic agile concept of the user story. Pink suggests that a sales pitch could be written using the same structure as a Pixar movie story. I suspect that some of these rules could equally apply to requirements stories, and I am looking forward to trying this.

This book is a compelling read that is part storybook and part workbook. To Sell Is Human will leave you entertained, inspired, and thinking about all the things you can do to not just sell an idea to your product owner but to deliver the solution that solves a problem.

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Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and ScrumMaster at Fitbit in Boston, MA. He is the author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, and has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT.