Book Review: Agile Faculty

by Jet LeBlanc

If you’re curious about Agile, you may have tried some online research and probably gotten a lot more information than you bargained for. With hundreds (if not thousands) of websites, articles, and training programs clamoring for your attention, it’s hard to know where to start. Besides, most online resources are aimed squarely at the software business. How can you find the best content for using Agile in the Academy with the least amount of searching? Where is the content designed especially for higher education?

Have we got a treat for you. Rebecca Pope-Ruark’s 2017 book Agile Faculty hits the sweet spot. Subtitled “Practical Strategies for Managing Research, Service, and Teaching,” this book contains a wealth of information and approaches whether you are in a multi-investigator lab, in front of students all day, writing a book, or otherwise engaged in academic practices that you wish were more effective.

As Dr. Pope-Ruark points out in her introduction, Agile is a young discipline. Rather than relying on quantitative research, which is somewhat scarce and mostly focused on industry, she has crafted this book around her lived experience in the “classroom, research, and consulting.” This gives her text an immediacy and informality that itself feels very Agile, and her examples, while sometimes simplified for the purposes of clarity and brevity, have a ring of authenticity.

In her chapter “Organizing and Prioritizing Your Personal Research Agenda,” you’re given a thorough guideline for improving the flow of any project, from the early stages of planning through realistic balancing of time and effort, including how to handle roadblocks and re-planning. In other chapters, she covers how to make collaborative projects more Agile, and gives practical tips for “agilifying” committees, courses, and mentoring as well.

I found her Afterword to be especially inspiring, as Dr. Pope-Ruark asks us to imagine a more Agile college and university. Her “what ifs” are bold, creative, and do-able. What if we had the imagination, will, and know-how to make it happen?

Reading this book and using these methods just might be a step in that direction.

Jet LeBlanc spent more than 20 years in the software industry, culminating in a role as an Agile coach for a global team. For ATG, she is a project manager and trainer for using Agile approaches in the research realm.

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