Thursday, 19 April 2007

Peopleware

Peopleware; Productive Projects and Teams
Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister
Note: This review is of a software development book, not a work of fiction. The book that is; the book's not a work of fiction. Neither is the review, I hope.

I've heard about this book very often from Joel, of JoelOnSoftware.com. He recommends it very highly, in fact one of his recommendations is on the back. This is also one of the first 'software development process' books that I've ever managed to read cover-to-cover, all the way through, and in only a day and a half. Usually these sorts of books are very dry, kind of suck and end up just annoying me.

This book is different, however.

Essentially, Peopleware is saying that any attempt to project manage software development is doomed to (painful) failure if it focuses on issues like technology or process and policy. The point is that like most things humans do, the problems are usually sociological. It's all a matter of getting different people to work together - understanding how they think and what is important to them at a very personal level is how you achieve this.

Joel makes a big deal of how important the office environment, particularly a quiet space with a door that shuts, is to any software developer. This book really makes that very clear. All 'knowledge' workers need some level of quiet and privacy, or there really is no point in having them around. The book took the discussion further and points the reader off towards Christopher Alexander, as the entire environment from the building down to the angle of the desk matters.

As an aside, if you haven't heard of Christopher Alexander, then go read about him. He has nothing to do with software development. He's a real architect. Not one of those pretentious software ones. Anyone who ever lives or works in a building should have some idea of what Alexander is on about.

I can't overstate this, if you currently manage software development; would like to some day manage software development; or are a software developer being managed, you really should read this book.

And the thing is, if you aren't in software development but can ignore the references while reading this book, you'll find it useful. The principles apply to any job where the workers are required to think independently to get anything useful done. If you think while working, this book is for you.

2 comments:

Adam said...

Joel makes a big deal of how important the office environment, particularly a quiet space with a door that shuts, is to any software developer. This book really makes that very clear. All 'knowledge' workers need some level of quiet and privacy, or there really is no point in having them around.
You know what... you're a real introvert! Sure this requirement makes sense to you. But some of us like human interaction and contact to motivate and energise us. For me the level of quiet required is about 65dB and the amount of privacy usually just means I don't like other people being able to see my screen directly while I'm 'working' :-D

aquaman said...

Yeah, I am an introvert, but... The whole 'developers must have private offices with doors that close thing' never quite rang true with me. It always sounded so damn lonely!

Introverts need human contact too ;-)

So I read this book in an attempt to be convinced. And it turns out it isn't really about lonely private offices. The book actually comes down more in favour of isolated team spaces. So if you work on a team of four people, then you could all share one large room of roughly 120 sq.m.

There's a continuum of office space. On one end is the private office, on the other is the vast open plan space of cubicles, or dividers at desk height.

A large office of 2 - 4 people is actually equivalent to a private office of one, as long as you're all working on the same project.

Anyway, it's all about flow. It's a precious state, don't let it be disrupted. So share with people you work with and shut outside the outside world every now and then. The book also explains why putting on your headphones when you need to concentrate has some drawbacks. You become less creative. Didn't know about that one, did you? :-)

But in the end, read the book. I think you'll find you are convinced as well, especially when you realise they don't really advocate being all alone. Remember, most of the world are extroverts, most things just work for you guys... :-)