230 of 233 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2001
Summed up in one sentence, Peopleware says this: give smart people physical space, intellectual responsibility and strategic direction. DeMarco and Lister advocate private offices and windows. They advocate creating teams with aligned goals and limited non-team work. They advocate managers finding good staff and putting their fate in the hands of those staff. The manager's function, they write, is not to make people work but to make it possible for people to work.
Why is Peopleware so important to Microsoft and a handful of other successful companies? Why does it inspire such intense devotion amongst the elite group of people who think about software project management for a living? Its direct writing and its amusing anecdotes win it friends. So does its fundamental belief that people will behave decently given the right conditions. Then again, lots of books read easily, contain funny stories and exude goodwill. Peopleware's persuasiveness comes from its numbers - from its simple, cold, numerical demonstration that improving programmers' environments will make them more productive.
The numbers in Peopleware come from DeMarco and Lister's Coding War Games, a series of competitions to complete given coding and testing tasks in minimal time and with minimal defects. The Games have consistently confirmed various known facts of the software game. For instance, the best coders outperform the ten-to-one, but their pay seems only weakly linked to their performance. But DeMarco and Lister also found that the best-performing coders had larger, quieter, more private workspaces. It is for this one empirical finding that Peopleware is best known.
(As an aside, it's worth knowing that DeMarco and Lister tried to track down the research showing that open-plan offices make people more productive. It didn't exist. Cubicle makers just kept saying it, without evidence - a technique Peopleware describes as "proof by repeated assertion".)
Around their Coding Wars data, DeMarco and Lister assembled a theory: that managers should help programmers, designers, writers and other brainworkers to reach a state that psychologists call "flow" - an almost meditative condition where people can achieve important leaps towards solving complex problems. It's the state where you start work, look up, and notice that three hours have passed. But it takes time - perhaps fifteen minutes on average - to get into this state. And DeMarco and Lister that today's typical noisy, cubicled, Dilbertesque office rarely allows people 15 minutes of uninterrupted work. In other words, the world is full of places where a highly-paid and dedicated programmer or creative artist can spend a full day without ever getting any hard-core work. Put another way, the world is full of cheap opportunities for people to make their co-workers more productive, just by building their offices a bit smarter.
A decade and a half after Peopleware was written, and after the arrival of a new young breed of IT companies called Web development firms, it would be nice to think DeMarco and Lister's ideas have been widely adopted. Instead, they remain widely ignored. In an economy where smart employees can increasingly pick and choose, it will be interesting to see how much longer this ignorance can continue.
318 of 332 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2000
As summer interns at Microsoft, my friends and I used to take "field trips" to the company supply room to stock up on school supplies. Among the floppy disks, mouse pads, and post-it notes was a stack of small paperback books, so I took one home to read.
The book was Peopleware, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This book was one of the most influential books I've ever read. The best way to describe it would be as an Anti-Dilbert Manifesto.
Ever wonder why everybody at Microsoft gets their own office, with walls and a door that shuts? It's in there. Why do managers give so much leeway to their teams to get things done? That's in there too. Why are there so many jelled SWAT teams at Microsoft that are remarkably productive? Mainly because Bill Gates has built a company full of managers who read Peopleware. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is the one thing every software manager needs to read... not just once, but once a year.
74 of 75 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 1999
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I cannot overstate just how great this book is!
DeMarco and Lister don't mess around. They go right to the heart of project and team management and tell you exactly what makes one company succeed while so many others fail: it's not technology, it's people.
With reckless abandon, they attack cubicles, dress codes, telephones, hiring policies, and company core hours and demonstrate how managers who are not insecure about their positions, who shelter their employees from corporate politics, who, in short, make it possible for people to work are the ones who complete projects and whose employees have fun doing so. The authors use no-nonsense writing, statistical evidence, and even humorous anecdotes to drive their points home.
While the first edition was as appropriate to today's corporate cultures as it ever was, the authors have added analysis of some of the latest trends in management in this new second edition, and show what's good and what's not. The update includes coverage of the dangers of constant overtime, the stupidity of motivational posters, the side effects of process improvement programs, how to make change possible, and the costs of turnover. As with the rest of the book, all topics receive thorough and thoughtful treatment.
Although the book is weighed heavily towards software engineering projects, you'll find that much of what DeMarco and Lister say apply to projects where creativity and analytical skills are required. If you're a manager of such a project, consider this book required reading before you do anything else today. If you're a team member on such a project, buy a copy for your boss, and an extra one for your boss's boss.
One final note: I'd wager that Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, must use this book as inspiration for his comic strip. Dilbert's encounters with his moronic boss and idiotic company policies seem to come right from the pages of Peopleware's advice on what not to do.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Programming languages come and go with an occasional paradigm shift thrown in. However, the thought processes and the mental gyrations needed to complete large software projects remain largely unchanged in the decade since the first edition of this book was published. Unfortunately, management skills also remained stagnant as well. In this book, the authors lay out the ugly truth as to why much of software development fails. It is not a lack of technical or technological competence on the part of developers, but a strong tendency by management to treat programmers as mere code generators possessing accelerator buttons. Simply prod, bribe, threaten, cajole or berate them and the button is pressed causing them to work overtime with a smile, with no associated loss of productivity. The authors lay out examples of all of these techniques.
Quality developers must possess a great deal of originality, creativity and pride in what they do. Destroy that using the techniques listed in this book and the consequences are obvious. Even brown, scorched earth looks green by comparison and the quality people depart. A large percentage, perhaps even the majority, of software development projects fail. Many studies support the position that it is largely a failure of middle management. Millions of dollars could be saved if all who fall into that category would read this book and have the courage to act on what they read. Unfortunately, that will probably not happen. After all, the authors did come out with a second edition, didn't they?
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2001
I was asked to read this book for a Master's degree class. Like many textbooks, I approached it with caution, but was pleasantly surprised by what I found within. Though this book was written primarily for software developers who are often backed against the wall to produce, the content is really universal to most business situations. We usually have to work with people, and we usually have to produce in our various fields.
Peopleware is a book you should read if you desire your business team to reach its full potential regardless of the industry you are in. Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister cover a lot of territory that is totally missed by other leader/manager books. They cover topics such as the workplace environment, the value of fun, and developing a chemistry with your team that is highly productive.
While reading the book it was obvious that they had served in the trenches of American businesses. The universal mistakes that companies continue to make over and over have been catalogued and brought to light in this volume. But they not only highlight the common mistakes, they offer proven techniques to help you avoid these same mistakes.
If you are in the process of forming or leading individuals or a team of people, the ideas found in this book will help you take them the top. You will enjoy the writing style, the humor, and the information contained in this volume.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The main goal of this book is that it encourages the software developers and their management to think deeply about they way they create the software. Software development is the "research", not the "production", and the stimulus and processes that work well in for example metallurgy will harm software development. The authors show the consequences of borrowing organizational processes from other areas to software. They encourage to focus on the people rather than to process. The software developers aren't "replaceable units", "plastic uniformed people".
Although the textual work of the authors is marvelous, the quality of the printed book (paperback edition) is awful. The paper is thin and translucent, showing the lines from the other pages, the interline spacing is too low, turning a page to a big mess. That was the only reason I've rated the book as four-stars.
The information in this book is very accurate, without pure assertions. The authors always are giving full references if they are providing figures or studies. The authors have a good sense of humor, and it is the great pleasure to read this book. The information is given in the very dense manner: the other authors might have needed ten volumes to express what Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister has put in this small book.
I strongly recommend this book to any individual involved in software development, as well as "Agile Software Development" by Alistair Cockburn. These books aren't from "ten steps to success" series. They encourage deep, creative approach to the topic.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 1999
and NOT about managers "getting" people to get their work done. I've read many many books on project management, and they're pretty much all identical at the root: tools and techniques for dealing with the "project" as a thing. Nothing on dealind with the people doing the work. _Peopleware_ is the first book I've seen that's focused on the human dynamic as THE critical componment of project success.
When I read the first edition, I was amazed that a book so deliberately (and so joyfully) positioned against the catalogue of corporate commonplaces had made it into print--and now a second, expanded edition? This is too much to hope for!
Needless to say, I _immediately_ bought three copies of this new edition (one for me, two for friends and colleagues), and I'm drafting a list of everyone else I'll be sending a copy to.
Truly, DeMarco and Lister are iconoclasts of the first order--a trait which in of itself makes them worth reading. But they're also skilled writers and, perhaps most importantly, a POSITIVE and encouraging voice for corporate change. When's the last time you laughed reading a book on project management?
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2004
In his 25th Anniversary Edition of "Mythical Man-Month", Fred Brooks points to PeopleWare as the influential IS book of the 1980's, and says that it was influential for the same reason MMM was: The primary challenges of software development are social, not technical. Companies that forget this are setting themselves up for failure.
If you've seen dilbert style software "management" and want to find a better way, I can't recommend this book more strongly. If you read it, you'll want to find a way to get your superiors to read it as well.
In my experience, a great deal of so-called "management" is really shoft-term optimization: "IF we can eliminate X benefit we can save $Y per year!" and cost control. DeMarco and Lister point out that the real goal is productivity, and suggest numerous ways to treat employees as people to get increased productivity, as opposed to treating them as inhuman "Resources" and managing by spreadsheet.
One story from the book: In my early years as a developer, I was privileged to work on a project managed by Sharon Weinberg, now president of the Codd and Date Consulting Group. She was a walking example of much of what I now think of as enlightened management. One snowy day, I dragged msyelf out of a sickbed to pull together our shaky system for a user demo. Sharon came in and found me propped up at a console. She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a container of soup. After she'd poured it into me and buoued up my spirits, I asked her hwo she found time to for such things with all the management work she had to do. She game me her patented grin and said "Tim, this _IS_ management!" - TDM
This book is all about the manager's role: Not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work. How to do that, how teams jell, etc. It's a pleasure to read and it's ... right. And in a field full of false promises, snake oil, and worthless statistics, that's saying something.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2002
The book was written about software development projects, but is absolutely loaded with insight not just on that subject, but on management styles and workplace conditions and rules. One can read this book and become genuinely excited about the potential explosion of productivity, hand-in-hand with employee job satisfaction, that could occur if managers would simply follow the advice given by the authors on how to be effective workplace leaders.
Alas, it probably won't ever happen. Several years ago, the large (Fortune 20) company I worked for brought in Timothy Lister to present the book and the ideas in it to management prior to the start of a major software project. Lister did an excellent job presenting his and DeMarco's philosophy. The managers nodded sagely and showed every sign of comprehending and accepting the concepts contained in the book. Then Lister left, the project started, and the managers immediately reverted to the old style: setting unrealistic deadlines, pressuring employees to deliver more and more in less and less time, and in general following every tired old management strategy that almost always leads to a failed project -- as indeed, it did in this case.
So read this book, learn from it, and enjoy it (it's an easy, entertaining read) -- even if your managers are too stupid to profit from it.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 6, 2002
If you're a software manager, and you haven't read "Peopleware," stop reading this, and go read that instead. It's that's good. If you're a developer or engineer on a team that's not getting anything done, read it. This book is filled with practical advice on teams, team building, and getting work done.
"Peopleware" doesn't go in for theory. It puts into words what any contemplative manager already knows intuitively. The benefit of this book, however, is that it provides concise, powerful evidence to support each of its statements on team building and managing creative people. "Peopleware" covers it all -- why you have high turnover, why you have low productivity, and how to get your team to "jell."
The design of the book is excellent. There are 34 chapters in 226 pages. The cover struck me as funny on such a thin book: "Eight all new chapters." How did they fit all that into such a thin book? Simple: each chapter is very focused and short -- an entire chapter on a concept can be read in a single sitting -- even by the busiest manager. I recommend you read a chapter first thing in the morning, keep the ideas in your mind all day, and then read that chapter again in the evening. It will help you get the most out of what the book has to offer.
Part one focuses on managing people. It describes how development is different from manufacturing, what motivates people, and some of the pitfalls. It also focuses on you, the manager, and your role in the success of your project. Part 2 zeros in on environment. DeMarco and Lister single out environment as one of the biggest sources of problems in development. As such, they devote more time to this than any other subject in the book. It can get a bit repetitive, but the points they make are important, so it is easy to forgive them for focusing on it so much.
Parts 3, 4, and 5 address people, teams, and work methods. These areas may be of the most immediate value to a beleaguered manager, as it is here that they have the most opportunity to make changes, and where they typically have the least training. The authors focus on how to work with individuals, move on to making teams "jell," and finally on how to make work more meaningful and dynamic to reduce turnover, which "Peopleware" labels as "a cancer."
Finally, part 6 is the new stuff added to the second edition. As a result, they are a set of unrelated essays, not integrated with the rest of the text. However, they are quite a bit more timely than the earlier chapters, which sometimes feel a bit dated. It would have been nice to see these chapters more integrated with the rest of the book, but that's a minor quibble. The section on Process Improvement Programs (such as CMM) is very insightful, and will strike a chord with many people who question the value of the implementation of these programs in their organizations.
"Peopleware" is simply the best management book I have read for the front line technical manager in a development organization. It is a complete course from the school of hard knocks on what works and what doesn't in the real world.