Thursday, July 21, 2005

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

I’d read this long ago, but a co-worker lent me the second edition which has a few new chapters. I remembered liking this book, and I still do. A lot of good stuff in here, and it reinforced several of my personal axioms. I have often said I believe a team of average people that generate synergy can be more impressive than a group of all-stars that fight for the spotlight. I also believe that you start a planning session by determining how much time the team has to work and then seeing what can fit, as opposed to planning for a particular feature set and expecting overtime or miracles to accomplish the tasks. Both of these ideas are echoed in this text, along with several other gems. It is always nice to find people that agree with you, especially in a best seller!

My favorite chapter is probably The Furniture Police which discusses the idiocy that abounds in today’s corporations about what can be displayed in employee work spaces. If you are thinking about Office Space or Dilbert then you are right on — a lot of humor here. I’ve spent time in places like this which only made it that much better. My current employer is moving us into a cube farm this week so I recommended this chapter to the executives as a reminder. We’ll see what happens.

One of the ideas I’ve had a harder time selling at my company is that the process is more important than the artifacts: why waste time generating a ton of formal UML documents or software specifications when you can use short iterations to iteratively design and demonstrate behavior? While Peopleware doesn’t echo this exactly, many of the examples certainly support this. I’m hoping by asking some of the more reluctant folks to read this we can generate more understanding and discussion of the concept.

In one of the new chapters DeMarco and Lister gain a huge amount of respect from me (I’m sure that comes as a relief to them) for admitting that some of their original metaphors aren’t aging well. It takes a lot for most people to admit they are wrong (I thought I was wrong once, but it turned out I was mistaken) and to do it in print is impressive. They originally used a sports team metaphor to describe a well-oiled team, but in today’s competitive environment the bench warmer is probably secretly hoping for something bad to happen to the star so he can play. Instead they now prefer a choir for this metaphor, because “you’ll never have people congratulate you on singing your part perfectly while the choir as a whole sings off-key.”

In summary, not only should anyone and everyone in management read this book, but as I’ve recently found periodically they should re-read it as well.

First Sentence:
Since the days when computers first came into common use, there must have been tens of thousands of accounts receivable programs written.

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