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Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

I first read "Peopleware..." in the late 80s while working at a struggling vibration analysis company that was mightily attempting to create chaos out of order. The management was affronted by the book (I had stupidly lent a copy to the V.P. of engineering) and I only retrieved it when I proved that it was a public library book. At the time, I was excited by its approach and readability, and I greatly enjoyed reading it and sharing it with my downtrodden peers.

When I recently found there was a 2nd edition while lurking through the Columbus (Ohio) Metropolitan Library catalog, I looked forward to reading it and its eight new chapters, and freshmeat was kind enough to be interested in my review.

First, a word about the structure of this review: I find that a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book is boring. Instead, considering both a review and a book to be mirrors of the reviewer and author, I'm going to list my favorite thoughts and anecdotes from the book, casting objectivity to the winds and wallowing in my subjectivity.

But, for impatient readers, I'll just cut to the chase and give the book a hearty recommendation. The major insights that DeMarco and Lister give after an enjoyable hour or so of reading is a list of ways to prevent teams from successfully forming and performing their (software development) task and a series of anecdotes that probably illustrate what you already know about how software development and corporations work. The book's style is conversational and anecdotal, and uses simple declarative sentences -- no pretentious turgid writing. If the impatient reader wants to stop reading now, I insist that he or she read the following definition:

Teamicide:
"...to inhibit the formation of teams and disrupt project sociology."

"... a short list of teamicide techniques..."

  • defensive management
  • bureaucracy
  • physical separation
  • fragmentation of people's time
  • quality reduction of the product
  • phony deadlines
  • clique control

Now, for you patient readers... According to my wife, the ace School Librarian, I should give my background to prove the worth of this review. First, I have been doing embedded software development in C, C++, and (gasp!) assembly language for fifteen years at a variety of companies in central Ohio. Second, I have been exposed to a myriad of corporate schemes for product development and corporate improvement ranging from "matrix management" to "team-based organization". Third, I have read a half-dozen or dozen business books (who could remember, they're all the same), usually the best seller of the day. The combination of these has left me skeptical, cynical, and wary of "management by bestseller". The only other good business book that I have read is Scott Adams's "The Dilbert Principle: A Cubicle's-Eye View of Bosses, Meetings, Management Fads, & other Workplace Afflictions".

Things I Like

From Chapter 20: The concept of "teamicide". This is the idea that it is impossible to define what it is that causes a team to form or jell but very possible to define what prevents teams from forming or achieving success. This is just neat. DeMarco and Lister nailed this one.

A quote from Chapter 1 (Somewhere Today, a Project Is Failing): "The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature." Or the way I've always phrased it: "Engineering is easy; communication is hard."

In Chapter 3 (Vienna Waits for You): "There Ain't No Such Thing as Overtime". Marco and Lister suggest a push-me pull-me type of effect. After an extended period of uncompensated overtime, a person will either slack off greatly or, if continuing to work, will start working backwards from fatigue.

Chapter 4 (Quality if Time Permits) presents the idea that quality is a great motivator, that people will work harder if they think they are making a good product. That works for me (if not for my bosses at my previous job).

From Chapter 6 (Laetrile), I've just got to quote the seven sirens, "Seven False Hopes of Software Management":

  1. There is some new trick you've missed that could send productivity soaring.
  2. Other managers are getting gains of one hundred percent or two hundred percent or more.
  3. Technology is moving so swiftly that you're being passed by.
  4. Changing languages will give you huge gains.
  5. Because of the backlog, you need to double productivity immediately.
  6. You automate everything else; isn't it about time you automated away your software development staff?
  7. Your people will work better if you put them under a lot of pressure.

Be sure to read this chapter. It once again uses inversion, this time to show how to not improve project productivity.

Chapter 7 (The Furniture Police). I just love this chapter. Rant ON: Organizations spend more time worrying about status than about letting their people come up with a quiet, organized, well-designed place to work! Rant OFF.

Chapter 8 (You Never Get Anything Done Around Here Between 9 and 5). People are motivated enough to come in early or stay late to work when it's quiet. (Well, duh!)

Chapter 10 (Brain Time Versus Body Time) gives the reader the idea of flow. "Flow is a condition of deep, nearly meditative involvement. In this state, there is a gentle state of euphoria, and one is largely unaware of the passage of time." This is the most productive state, but it comes infrequently at work.

My favorite parable is in Chapter 21 (A Spaghetti Dinner). I won't spoil it for you, but it is similar to the idea of the first game of the season being an easy one, so the team is successful and bonds well.

Things I don't like

Obsolete examples: rotary telephones with bells, and Japan getting ready to take over the world. This is a kind of 80s thing.

The first part of Chapter 13, the "Timeless Way of Building", is too touchy-feely for a pragmatist like me. Maybe you left-coasters might like it.

Unfortunately, I found the eight new chapters to be a repeat of the first 26. The book could instead use a complete refreshing and edit to bring it into the new millennium.

Recommendation

I still heartily recommend the book. Buy a copy and lend it to your boss. It might be a good test. If he or she throws a tantrum, maybe it's time to find a new job.

Recent comments

07 Jun 2004 13:51 Avatar AndrewCates

so many books on this kind of thing
that you really have to have good reasons to pick any one out to take the time to read it.

I still think riding the waves of culture is top for team building but I've always had to build multi-cultural teams...

BozMo (http://catesfamily.org.uk/)

09 Mar 2004 16:15 Avatar fonoro

Still kicking !
It was nice to find a review for this second edition. I can
already tell i won't be buying it, but i would certainly read
again my first edition copy.

Being trained as an Architect (a real brick-n-mortar one) but
having worked the last twenty years mostly as a developer, i
came to love DeMarco's insight: the enviroment (the
architecture if you will...) has VERY MUCH to do with
productivity. And it is not simply about trendy colors, "buzz-
word" decoration, and a few plants here and there.

I also recomend this book above any, soon-to-be-dead
management bestseller. Pass it on.

17 Feb 2004 16:06 Avatar mantick

Re: Great stuff
I think (http://ebooks.die-werbung.de) its super, too ! Very nice !!

27 Jan 2004 05:07 Avatar janet

Re: Great stuff
Very true...


janet - zomilla.org (http://www.zomilla.org)

20 May 2003 02:43 Avatar matte99

Great stuff
I think its super!

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