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Software for Your Head: Core Protocols for Creating and Maintaining Shared Vision 1st Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 078-5342604566
ISBN-10: 0201604566
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Aimed at forward-thinking software developers and IT managers, Software for Your Head: Core Protocols for Creating and Maintaining Shared Vision provides an innovative set of procedures and reusable "patterns" for improving the way teams work together.

This book's amalgam of the lingo of software patterns and management theory (and even New Age and popular psychology) helps make the text one of the most challenging you'll ever read about team building. Based on the authors' considerable experience with Microsoft and their simulated developer boot camps run with hundreds of teams, this book eschews providing practical evidence drawn from real projects. Instead, it formulates a unique vocabulary of terms, protocols, and patterns that arguably should allow teams to carry out decisions and build better team focus.

The tour of tools and techniques begins with ways of getting individuals to commit totally to their work in teams. (The authors show how individuals can "check in" to work environments or "check out" as necessary.) They offer a set of techniques that can allow teams to work together more effectively, as well as obstacles (or "antipatterns") that can get in the way. Early sections culminate with a "team equals product" philosophy, arguing that highly calibrated teams will produce insanely great software.

A cluster of tips and patterns for better decision making comes next. Here, the Decider pattern offers a step-by-step protocol for voting and resolving disputed items effectively. For anyone stuck in interminable meetings where egos instead of good ideas triumph, such ideas may well help change things. Alignment patterns come next, which allow teams to overcome perceived shortages of people or time to get the job done. The most far-reaching sections here argue that teams need a long-distance vision to drive their work lives. (This is considerably more ambitious than a standard corporate mission statement and involves a guiding principle that will change the world 20 years into the future.) A final, intriguing group exercise walks teams through a protocol to do something "perfect" in a group setting, with steps to refine the "design."

The text closes with appendices covering Core Protocol terminology, as well as the opening statement delivered to participants at the authors' five-day boot camp (where their techniques are played out). The Core Protocols themselves, wittily released under the General Public License as open source, close out this often fascinating book.

Long on theory but consciously short on any practical examples, this title offers an uncompromising vision for getting teams to work together. Though it's doubtful that your average IT department will be able to commit to such a different set of terms for the everyday workplace, Software for Your Head provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of highly committed and collaborative teams written by two legendary ex-Microsofties. --Richard Dragan

Topics covered: Introduction to the Core Protocols (protocols and patterns for team-based development), the "Check In" protocol (for centering team members on work efforts), the "Check Out" protocol (for individual time-outs), the "Passer" pattern (for not participating in group efforts), the "Connection" protocol, problem behaviors (antipatterns: "Too Emotional," "No Hurt Feelings," and "Wrong Tolerance"), additional "Check In" patterns (including "Team = Product," "Self-Care," and the "Greatness Cycle"), "Decider" protocols (for making team decisions), the "Resolution," "Work with Intention," and "Ecology of Ideas" patterns, "Decider" antipatterns (including "Resolution Avoidance," "Turf," and "Team Quackery"), guide to personal and team alignment, patterns and antipatterns for team alignment (including "Investigate," "Web of Commitment," and "Ask for Help"), building shared vision in teams, patterns and protocols for shared vision (including "Metavision" and "Far Vision"), shared vision antipatterns (including "Blinder," "Technicality," and "Recoil"), the "Perfection Game" protocol (for building team vision), appendices for the lexicon of terms used in the Core Protocols, transcript of the authors' boot camp development scenario, the Core Protocols 1.0 and General Public License.

From the Back Cover

At least once in their lives, most people experience the incomparable thrill of being part of a great team effort. Members of successful teams often feel a unity of purpose, powerful passion and inspiration, and a strong sense of accomplishment. People who have been on a great team know that the difference between being on a team with a shared vision and being on a team without one is the difference between joy and misery.

After successful careers leading software development teams at Microsoft and elsewhere, Jim and Michele McCarthy set out to discover a set of repeatable group behaviors that would always lead to a state of shared vision for any team. They hoped to design a practical, communicable, and reliable process that could be used to create the best possible team every time it was applied.

In 1996, Jim and Michele McCarthy established a hands-on laboratory for the study and teaching of high-performance teamwork, and in a controlled-simulation environment challenged dozens of real-world, high-tech teams to produce and deliver a product. The teams were given a product development assignment and instructed to envision the product, agree on how to make it, and then design, build, and ship it on time. Repeating these simulations time after time, with new teams building on the learning of previous teams, core practices emerged that were repeatedly successful. These were encoded as the patterns and protocols that became the "Software for Your Head" included in this book.

Software for Your Head is the first publication of the most significant results of the authors' unprecedented five-year investigation into the dynamics of contemporary teams. This book will give any team the know-how it needs to create its own compelling state of shared vision.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (January 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201604566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201604566
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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If you loved Demarco and Lister's PEOPLEWARE but were left feeling powerless about what steps to take at work to make knowledge management better. If you ranged as far as Roger Schwarz's SKILLED FACILITATOR or Argyris's OVERCOMING ORGANIZATIONAL DEFENSES but were left at a loss about how you could apply it all in real time. If you resonated with Peter Drucker's POST CAPITALIST SOCIETY but could not apply his generalizations to daily production of knowledge capital. If any of the above, you will devour this book.
Somehow books on releasing the greatness, beauty, and power of teams, always seem to strike glancing blows on real knowlede worker problems. In fact, most books won't come out and say that they want to change the world. Greatness, beauty, power, and such things come wrapped in such a mess of sociological, cultural, and managerial trouble, most books won't try to prescribe greatness et. al.
Not this one. This one wants it all. World domination in catalyzing teams that concquer. The book is worth its price for its "McCarthyized" sound bites alone. But, this is in fact, genius from another dimension. You may disagree with everything it says, and still read it from cover to cover and profit greatly from constant questioning, provocation, and counter intuitive-examples provided. And there is always the chance, that the McCarthys are right.
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Books like Software For Your Head are rare. These are books that are so important, timely, and lucid that they transcend the subject they speak about. In this case, McCarthy is covering team psychology practices (protocols), patterns that lead to the delivery of great intellectual creative works, and the anti-patterns that destroy such efforts.
When I first read this book, I was struck with how silly or unnatural (to me) some of the protocols sounded. Always one eager to subvert the dominant paradigm, I usually feel this a sign that the author's saying something worth listening to. Jim's writing style is so matter-of-fact and direct that it contributed to me chuckling repeatedly thinking, "is this guy nuts?", but at the same time driving me to read further -- for all of which he said resonated with me at a deep level.
As you progress through the book, the reasons behind the patterns and protocols become clearer: we live in a world where it is considered ridiculous to express or leverage emotion in the work place, yet emotion is crucial to our nature & to creating works of high value. So -- use a set of practices that legislate the option of using of emotional information in your collaboration.
Of even more value to myself is the book's description of the anti-patterns. It took me quite a while to read this work as I've had to put the book down several times after reading the anti patterns, being so overwhelmed by the accuracy of what was being said, based on all the prior situations I've been in where leaders forced the team, or sometimes the whole company, down the path of perdition.
I can't think of a more important contribution to software development today. Even the agile methodologies like XP are important developments, but they don't go to as deep a level as this book does.
For any software professional or creative team leader, this book comes with my highest recommendation.
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This book starts with a basic assumption: Team = Product. The basic idea that the quality of your product will be equal to the quality of the team that builds is common sense, but like much else in the IT industry, no one seems to follow common sense.
Form the base assumption that Team = Product, Jim and Michele McCarthy show us how to construct an environment in which teams connect quickly, gain shared vision, and proceed to ship great product. Using the pattern/anti-pattern approach, they show not only the common failings with in a team, but how to take steps to fix these problems.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is feeling the pain of trying to ship a software product on time, on budget. The lessons you learn in this book will set you on the path to vastly improving the quality of your professional life, and the quality of the products you are required to ship.
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Twelve years since I first reviewed this and I can now look back and say unequivocally that this is the most impactful book I have ever read. I think about it often. Some parts of this book are out of date -- the protocols themselves are now at version 3 and have become tighter and simpler -- but much of the content is timeless: insight into the psychology of highly effective teams and an inspiring vision of what is possible.

What is promised is a culture of ideas, of mutual support, flow, and grand ambition which is unlocked when you get everyone in the game. This book proscribes certain behaviors toward that end. Teams that intentionally adopt the Core System together will experience these fruits early and often. I've seen it. It is a system, though, just like a car. While wheels, windows, and engines are interesting and somewhat useful on their own, the best utility happens when it all comes together.

My original review was voted "most helpful critical review." I was critical, but, ironically, one of my criticisms was that I wanted more! I liked the ideas and wanted to learn more about their background. At 464 pages, though, maybe it was wise to leave that out. Another criticism was that it can be hard to read. It is and it isn't. I "got" a lot from it right away, but it does have a unique style which invites deeper exploration -- something that I now appreciate.

There is much to be learned here -- this is a magnum opus -- and I recommend this book to people wanting more from work, for people disenfranchised by bureaucracy and mediocrity, and especially to managers who want to do something about it.
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