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VINE VOICEon October 15, 2012
On any significant size project I am going to have a team of developers reporting to me. Over the years those numbers have varied greatly. I have managed 1 developer and teams of developers. I have the most fun on projects where I have between 4 and 10 developers.

I also prefer to be partnered with a good project manager or none at all. A bad project manager just makes it harder to keep the team motivated and the client happy. I would say less the 5% of the gigs I have been on have provided a good project manager. 25% of them have provided bad ones, and the rest of the gigs the responsibility fell on me, the software architect.

The point of all this is that my job requires me to manage programmers and communicate to stakeholders effectively. Reading books on project management and general management have not been fun, but has been necessary. I was happy to see one come out that targets more of what I have to do, and that is manage programmers.

Below are the chapters in the book.

1. Why Programmers Seem Unmanageable
2. Understanding Programmers
3. Finding and Hiring Great Programmers
4. Getting New Programmers Started Off Right
5. Becoming an Effective Programming Manager: Managing Down
Insert - Rules of Thumb and Nuggets of Wisdom
6. Becoming an Effective Programming Manager: Managing Up, Out, and Yourself
7. Motivating Programmers
8. Establishing a Successful Programming Culture
9. Managing Successful Software Delivery Tools

In the very first chapter the authors hit a nerve. I went to school for electronic engineering and worked in that field before moving into programming. Because of my work in the engineering field I have always been comfortable with the engineering practices that made there way into the programming field. The authors are however correct when they say a majority of programmers today do not have to know anything about software engineering. They are simply programmers because they decided they wanted to be and were lucky enough to get a job with that title.

The point is that you most likely will not have a team of software engineers. Managing and working with engineers is much simpler that working with the self made programmer that was previously an artist, musician, writer, or any other field. This book helps identify different personalities and offers tons of advice on how to work with them in a positive way.

I wish we could put a law in place that in order to hire programmers an organization must follow the guidance offered in the chapter Getting New Programmers Started Off Right. 80% of my starting week have been a complete waste of my time as well as the organization's time. Rarely are they ever ready for you.

One very cool section of the book is the 60 page insert titled Rules of Thumb and Nuggets of Wisdom. It contain short blurbs and quotes from some of the leaders of the programming industry. Cracking open this section you can lose track of time going through them and thinking about them.

The thing I liked most about this book is that it borrowed some of the best processes in the industry, but is absolutely not process centric. Meaning you'll hear some nuggets of Scrum and other processes, but none of them are highlighted in the book. This book is all about understanding the programmer, your environment, and yourself, and how to make the right decisions given your environment.

My belief is that compiled information is knowledge, knowing what to do with the knowledge is wisdom. I see a whole lot of knowledge these days, but very little wisdom. The authors of this book have successfully compiled wisdom. Reading this book will change the way you work with programmers. Every single chapter of this book is a real gem.

This book will become a classic to turn to over time. Every manager interacting with programmers should read this book. That includes CIOs, Software Architects, Enterprise Architects, and Lead Developers. You don't need to have the word manager or director in your title. If in your role you find you are managing a team of developers, you should read this book.
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on December 20, 2012
Technology is easy. People are hard. But Mickey Mantle and Ron Lichty's fantastic book can make the people part of your technology operation significantly less hard. Mantle and Lichty understand that it's typically not technology that determines successful projects: it's human beings that make the difference. Instead of focusing on technical solutions, they explore and reveal the human side of technology projects: who your developers are, what makes them tick, what they care about.

Fred Brooks' "The Mythical Man-Month" defined how to make technology projects work for a generation of developers and their managers. "Managing the Unmanageable" picks up Brooks' mantle (no pun intended) and carries it into the 21st century. If your career depends on working with technologists (and here's a hint: in the 21st century, it does), you owe it to yourself (and to your technologists) to read this book.
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on October 8, 2012
Mantle and Lichty give us specifics on how to manage the different types of programmer personalities. This is the first time I've seen developers categorized like this combined with advice on how to manage each.

Very topical is the offshoring of talent. They state "... if you can make them work 70 percent as effectively as in-house staff, you are either lucky or working tremendously hard to make it happen". This agrees with my own assessment of 50% productivity for offshore resources, concerns around speed-to-market and the wisdom of this economy.

Another quote "If you find yourself giving specific directions often, you are not leveraging your skills well enough or empowering your staff" illustrates the value of this book. It's hard for new managers to learn to delegate. They may even be aware of this tendency and the need to delegate. But what they rarely get are specifics that alert them when a change to their management is needed.

I wish this book were available when I had for my 100 IT staffers.
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on December 13, 2012
We software developers are an odd bunch. I can say that as I've been one for over a decade. We have our personality quirks; are fiercely independent and can be insanely proud of the ugliest code we can write. Managing software developers, so I'm told, are very much like herding cats.

The authors of Managing the Unmanageable share their experiences and techniques managing high-performing software teams at some of the biggest companies in the country. They share what's worked, what's hasn't and why developers are, in general, a strange bunch. They highlight the differences between client, server, database, web and other programmers as well as the different levels, such as system engineers, system programmers and application programmers. Also, Mantle and Lichty document some of the challenges with managing remote developers, including off-shore teams.

The first two chapters highlights the differences between different classification and levels of developers. Chapter 3 is devoted on how to hire developers and Chapter 4 is on how to integrate new developers into an existing team. The remaining chapters are devoted to managing software developers.
Personally, I found the modifications that Mantle and Lichty made to the Herzberg Motivation and Hygiene theory (Chapter 7) to apply to software developers both interesting and very accurate. All in all, this is a very good book for understanding, motivating and managing software developers.

Managing the Unmanageable should rank up there with the Mythical Man Month as required reading for aspiring managers of software development teams. Mantle and Lichty make a compelling case for why managing software developers requires different methods from managing other types of teams. The authors also make some, at times, uncomfortably accurate generalizations about the different types and levels of programmers as well as give insights on how best to motivate and inspire them without burning them out. This book is a very good read that I recommend all software managers, project managers and lead developers read.
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on November 27, 2012
Without a doubt the authors speak from experience and have logically constructed this book to reveal that experience to their readers. Chapter after chapter describe their accumulated wisdom when it comes to managing software developers. After only a few chapters in I found myself wishing I had access to this book at the beginning of my management career. I kept agreeing with the authors' perspectives and chuckling at their humor page after page. I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in a critical look at the success factors associated with managing software developers and software development teams. My only criticism, and it is a weak one at that, is that I didn't uncover any new striking management revelations. Thus, if you new to systems delivery management, you will absolutely learn valuable tips and techniques that took me years to accumulate. If you are a seasoned manager and have invested heavily into the learned depth of your management role, you will find the book a pleasantly refreshing read that will confirm you are balancing the competing priorities associated with software delivery team management.

I've written a more exhaustive review on my blog.
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on August 19, 2013
I found myself needing to build and manage a new offshore development team, split across three cities. If that doesn't qualify as "unmanageable" I don't know what does. Thankfully, Ron Lichty and Mickey Mantle were there to coach me along with their terrific book "Managing the Unmanageable." The book contains lots of concrete advice, explanations, and wisdom, plus a lot of first hand stories and examples. It also spends considerable time on soft skills such as understanding the different personality types on your team and how to leverage these differences. Most importantly though, their advice works. Three months into managing this team, our productivity is up over 200% and still climbing. "Managing the Unmanageable" is a book that I continue to turn to often.
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on April 26, 2015
Software developers really are a different breed. At best, they can be unruly to manage, and at worst they'll go and do something entirely different from what management really needs to have them do. Ron and Mickey bring many years of successful project AND people management skills and experience to this book (full disclosure -- I have worked separately with both Ron and Mickey on projects in past years). But both have built their skills the hard way, through many failures and hard experiences. It's only when you've been through the fire that you can write a book this practical and readable. For those wanting a theoretical tome about management, look elsewhere. For those who want very practical hands-on advice about management software people and projects, this is a great place to start.

And practical advice abounds in this book. I come from a software engineering background and have typically worked in startups so small that we don't have an HR person. So the guidance in Chapter 4 about how to setup a new engineer's first day was incredibly useful, especially as I read it just before we had someone new start. It allowed me to have the smoothest first day ever on-boarding a new employee.

But beyond that, most really great software development managers I know came up from the technology side, not HR, and so this book provides lots of great advice to learn how to handle the people management part of software development. Well worth the read!
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on August 21, 2013
I am a skeptic when it comes to management books, which are often thin on information and about as well-written as a set of stereo instructions. But this book one is written to a high literary standard, thoughtfully constructed and rich in detail. Every opinion or conclusion is supported by the authors' own experience. They have a deep understanding of the software development culture, and of management culture. It is rare for anyone to be this knowledgeable about both of these worlds, making this book a pretty unique resource.
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on December 18, 2013
This is a very low BS, highly actionable description of what it takes to effectively manage a software development team.
The text is about the real-world experience of hiring, leading, managing, all the skills required.
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on July 31, 2013
You can tell these guys know what they are talking about and have been around developers after reading the first few pages. I wish I had these guys as mentors earlier in my career as a developer!
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