Acceptance Test Driven Book Writing

You may have heard that writing a book is a labour of love.  I didn’t really understand that until I finished the first edition of Lean Change.   I had no idea how to write a book.  I ended up writing a bullet-point outline to frame the ideas and then proceeded to write each chapter one-by-one, typically in one sitting.

The best part about that approach was that I used Leanpub to release it chapter by chapter so within a month, back in September of last year, I was getting feedback.   After all, given Lean Change has its roots in Lean Startup principles, it would be kinda silly to do a big bang approach and write all of it upfront!

Fast forward to the second edition and the launch of Happy Melly Express, I now needed a bit more structured approach.  Neil LaChapelle became my structural editor and he helped improve the continuity of the book.    The hard part for me was to figure out how to take that structure and add my stories and voice without losing the sequencing of the ideas.

Here’s the approach I took to the re-write of the second edition and you can signup to grab the new 1st chapter for free and tell me if you think it worked!

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Step 1: Storymap the Book

I used CardboardIt (created by David Hussman and Jeff Patton) to create a walking skeleton and story map for the book.  I wanted to make sure I knew what ‘done’ was for each chapter and sub-section so I created 4 levels:

Chapter: The chapter title

Stories: What relavent stories I’d weave through each chapter to re-enforce the content

Chapter and Sub-Topic Acceptance Criteria: what ‘done’ meant in a simple “After reading this chapter I want readers to understand…”

Sub-Topics:  Taking Neil’s structural edits, I mapped the major topics in columns and then added more ‘meat’ below each one.

Here’s what the story map looks like:

lean change story map
Using Storymapping for book writing


The devil is in the details and it’s always been hard for me to learn how to dance with the devil.  The idea is the fun part!  And the better idea my brain generates seconds later is even more fun!  Someone else can worry about the details…except now that ‘someone else‘ is me!

Now I have other problems.

The acceptance criteria is written based on what I want people to understand.  How will I know if they understood what I wanted to them to understand?  Does it matter if readers learn something different than what I intended?  What if my primary audience doesn’t get it?

One solution to one of those problems was to create personas for my primary and secondary audiences which Jurgen suggested in one of our coaching calls.  I wrote them in my head but haven’t written them down…until now.  Here’s a straight brain dump of my primary persona:

About Mary: Mary is an Artisan (MBTI temperament) who works in the change management group of a large organization.  Mary loves trying new ideas and sometimes feels handcuffed by ‘big company process’.  Mary has a toolkit full of change management models and organizational theory but finds it difficult to balance the big plans her stakeholders ask for and doing what’s right to implement change. She loves helping people and is well-read and knows how to use creative approaches for managing change programs.  She doesn’t know what Agile is other than there are a bunch of tools and facilitation techniques she could use in her day job.

Implications for the Book: Mary knows tons of models so “modelling her to death” isn’t a problem.  She knows how to apply the model without specifically referencing the model.   She will need to have Agile framed as a trigger for organizational change to make the parallel between the main story in the book and her day job.

This is one persona.  I have 2 more in my brain that I’ll write about later, but essentially taking the same approach I help software teams take is working very well for me.    I haven’t googled “how to write a book” because I think writing a book is more art than it is process.

I’ll close with this:  Chapter 1 – I want people to understand how difficult change is and why it cannot be controlled through process.  You tell me if Chapter 1 meets that criteria by signing up to get a free copy of the 1st chapter.

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