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Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management (Pragmatic Programmers) 1st Edition

46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0976694021
ISBN-10: 0976694026
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Editorial Reviews


"Rothman and Derby bring a clarity and honesty to the craft of software-development management that I haven’t felt since first reading Demarco and Lister’s classic, Peopleware. Their story-based teaching style is engaging, and the tips contained provide a valuable reference for those who find themselves in the world of management."

—Bil Kleb, Research Scientist, NASA

"Five Star Review: All the great stuff is here… Easy to read and understand."

—Robert Pritchett, macCompanion

About the Author

Johanna Rothman helps leaders solve problems and seize opportunities. She consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development. She enables managers, teams, and organizations to become more effective by applying her pragmatic approaches to the issues of project management, risk management, and people management. Johanna publishes The Pragmatic Manager, a monthly email newsletter and podcast, and writes two blogs: Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People. She is the author of several books: - Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management - Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management (with Esther Derby) - Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People - Corrective Action for the Software Industry (with Denise Robitaille).

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Product Details

  • Series: Pragmatic Programmers
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf; 1 edition (September 29, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0976694026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0976694021
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #455,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Heusser on September 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is a book about line management of knowledge work - Programmers, Graphic Artists, CAD Drafters, Chemists, Engineers, Physicists, etc. This kind of management is a relatively new invention, and stands in stark contrast to manufacturing management. Previously, you had to read a host of authors like Drucker, DeMarco, Deming, and Jim Collins and read between the lines. Now you have this short, practical guide by Rothman and Derby. "Behind Closed Doors" is a practical book - Do this, then do that. The writing is clear and tells the story of a newly hired director of software engineering who brings focus and direction to a floundering team.

The writing is not novel-quality, but it does provide real actionable guidance in a way that keeps you awake and thinking. That alone puts it above the typical management text, at least in my book. Plus, the book is small: You will actually remember the points it makes and know how to do them.

Because it is small, the authors focused on that one aspect of management. "Behind closed doors" does not contain a great deal of philosophy. Also, while Project Managers may find it helpful, they will want to use this book to round out a library, not start one.

I give "Behind Closed Doors" five stars, because it does what it says and does it well. All of the other books I know in this space have some painful weakness: They are vague, theoretical, boring, try to cover too wide a subject, etc.

Bottom Line: If you are a direct manager of technical people, you can't go wrong. If you -are- a knowledge worker, buy it for your boss!
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Scott Ellsworth on July 18, 2006
Format: Paperback

This is another Pragmatic Programmers book. As such, it is short (162 pages), and available in electronic form as well as in paper.

The text is a bit of a departure for the Pragmatic Programmers. Typically, this series has discussed techniques for software development, rather than techniques for managing software projects. Still, this kind of books is a must-read even for a neophyte developer, as it discusses techniques that your manager is likely using. Perhaps more importantly, it discusses the kinds of constraints that your manager is laboring under. From either side of the desk, knowing what options are available can make the difference between success and failure in negotiations.

The authors refer to several of Tom DeMarco's classic works, such as Slack and Peopleware, and the format of much of the book is reminiscent of Deadline. In Deadline, we followed Mr. Tompkins through the process of setting up a new software concern in accordance with every then-current software development theory. Rothman and Derby follow Sam, a new and eager senior manager, through taking over an existing development project, using agile techniques, and a variety of management techniques.


The book is structured into an introduction, seven one-week 'to-do' chapters with an illustrative parable about Sam, and a final 'techniques' chapter.

The introduction sets the hook well - in just a few pages, you learn that the authors view management as a people task, though supported by technology, and with technological deliverables. This focus stays through the book - solutions tend to be low tech, such as flip charts, stickies, and index cards, and tasks are resolved through meetings with subordinates, peers, and superiors.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Mark S. Jones on November 12, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have 25 years of IS experience - some as a developer or analyst and some as an IS manager and certainly when I started out as a manager, this book would have been invaluable!!

Perhaps my only issue is glossing over some of the gnarlier situations I believe most IS managers have to confront eventually - for instance what happens when you give negative feedback and the person doesn't relate in any way what you're telling them or perhaps agrees but thinks the issue is unimportant? To me the easy case is when you give feedback and the person agrees or at least comes up with some cogent reasons why they think I'm wrong. At this point I know the person thinks I'm the pointy haired manager and I'm totally certain I'm not the only manager that experienced this. The book says such a person will "not change" - no kidding but where do you go from here?

I actually have a longer list than this - but the point is I think there are a lot of real and challenging situations especially for IT and technical management not covered. OTOH, the suggestions the book does comes up with are mostly excellent well explained and easy to implement and I think anyone with any level of management experience will pick up priceless suggestions from this book - and I'm usually extremely cynical about new management methodologies!!

Maybe a later more intermediate/advanced book will cover some of the more difficult situations? If there's a website, blog, set of seminars etc available I'd be interested in hearing about it!!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Nicole Clark on October 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
Behind Closed Doors confronts the unspoken myth that star individual, technical performers will naturally want to be and, conversely, know how to be star managers. Technically-skilled folks don't transform into gifted managers on their own. They need help. This is an excellent book full of specific tips and pragmatic advice on the most fundamental and key aspects of management. I'd recommend this book to any first-time managers, managers new to a department, anyone managing by the seat of their pants, or anyone thinking of making the leap from technical to management.

I found the narrative style helpful in that it shows managers just how to hold a meeting or discussion with their direct reports. There is plenty of specific advice that can be implemented today, without delay. And should you want to dig deeper into a topic, the bibliographies at the end of each chapter make it easy to find additional resources.
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