Peopleware

I am going to cunningly place a copy of Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister on my boss’ desk. Peopleware is an insightful book on software project management and many of the advice on Peopleware resonated well with me. The undertone of the book is aligned with eXtreme Programming (XP), even though the book was written well before XP became a popular methodology. The books explores many elements that are required to manage a successful software development team. For one, the team needs to feel as part of a community, as part of an elite group doing something truly special. For me, the big watershed moment reading this book was when I realized that software development is a social endeavor. We might all romanticize with the idea of the lone hacker working late in to the night, but in practice every software product needs a large community to truly flourish. Even those Open Source developers working on the source code on their own need a community of users.

Peopleware also talks about organization learning. Within an organization, it might seem obvious to have people learn new technologies and skills. But it is equally important, and perhaps not so obvious, it is important to retain those people with new skills. The greatest investment a company has is its human capital, the greatest challenge a company has is to know how to invest it.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

People and Performance

The business we’re in is more sociological then technological, more dependent on workers’ abilities to communicate with each other than their abilities to communicate with machines.

Someone who can help a project to jell is worth two people who just do work.

Two people from the same organization tend to perform alike.

The people who write the Methodology are smart. The people who carry it out can be dumb.

People under time pressure don’t work better, they just work faster.

Count on the best people outperforming the worst by about 10:1. Count on the best performer being about 2.5 times better than the median performer.

People who had ten years of experience did not outperform those with two years of experience.

There was a very weak relationship between salary and performance.

The total cost of replacing each person is the equivalent of four-and-a-half to five months of employee cost or about twenty percent of the cost of keeping that employee for the full two years on the job.

Productivity and Quality

Productivity within the software industry has improved by three to five percent a year, only marginally better than the steel or automobile industry.

Productivity ought to mean achieving more in an hour of work, but all too often it has come to mean extracting more for an hour of pay.

Throughout the effort there will be more or less an hour of undertime for every hour of overtime.

The trade-off between price and quality does not exist in Japan. Rather, the idea that high quality brings on cost reduction is widely accepted.

Quality is free, but only to those who are willing to pay heavily for it.

We all tend to tie our self-esteem strongly to the quality of the product we produce – not the quantity o product, but the quality.

While machines have changed enormously, the business of software development has been rather static. We still spend most of our time working n requirements and specification, the low-tech part of our work.

If you are charged with getting a task done, what proportion of your time ought to be dedicated to actually doing the task? Not one hundred percent. There ought to be some provision for brainstorming, investigating new methods, figuring out how to avoid doing some of the subtasks, reading, training, and just goofing off.

Managment

Most managers give themselves excellent grades on knowing when to trust their people and when not to. But in our experience too many managers err on the side of mistrust.

The manager’s function is not to make people work, but to make it possible for people to work.

Second Thermodynamic Law of Management: Entropy is always increasing in the organization.

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