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Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition) Paperback – February 1, 1999
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.