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Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams - Book

April 10th, 2017

peopleware-book

Overall 7/10 - May have been more revolutionary when first released but large parts of the book would now be common knowledge

The book has 6 parts:

  1. Managing the Human Resource
  2. The Office Environment
  3. The Right People
  4. Growing Productive Teams
  5. It’s supposed to be Fun to Work Here
  6. Son of Peopleware

On first read-through I struggled with this book, perhaps it’s not ideally suited for a straight read from start to finish. There is no single narrative or clear progression from chapter to chapter. It’s more of a , here’s rough hidings and these two software guys are going to rant and deliver wisdom in this general area. On first read the points they made seem a very mixed bag of common sense, useful, interesting and some parts..impractical. It’s like two hardcore software guys got in a room and said, oh man if we could do this perfect what, how would we run things.

It was only when I reflected back that a more coherent picture came together, that I couldn’t fault most of what they said and I had an increased if begrudged respect for the book. Maybe the world just isn’t ready to embrace as high a quality of software as they suggest nor the lovely self-chosen offices. I feel like I’d love to apply their ideas to places I’ve worked but that the distance between ideal and current standard company policies are too great. I do think I would re-read this book every few years and see if I can nudge places I work towards some of those ideals that I hope are true.

My Reading Notes:

Managing the Human Resource

We are not making burgers, mistakes will happen, in fact there should be an error quota and projects/attempts get canned. A project in steady state is dead but not all things requested should be done, think about them and if they should even be started.

ch4 Quality if Time Permits

Quality far beyond that required by the end user is a means to higher productivity. “. “Quality is free, but only to those willing to pay heavily for it.” How many projects have we seen get bogged down with technical debt, have low morale and slowly die due to porr quality. Question is knowing what level of quality where. The book proposes always letting the builders decide.

“We all tend to tie our self-esteem strongly to the quality of the product we produce–not the quantity of the product, but the quality.” Even if the project would benefit from a huge amount of mediocre work, morale will suffer. They accept that the market does not need or want quality as much as the builders but that “Quality, far beyond that required by the end user, is a means to higher productivity.”

Parkinsons Lay - “Work expands to fill the time alloted”. Book claims this law is entirely wrong. That given knowledge work and high calibre employees that people want to complete stuff. Also makes a good point that bad estimates can demoralise. e.g. Didn’t make the last three sprint goals well 23 never make it so who cares. Small dataset shows builders most efficient setting goals themselves.

The Office

To me, half this chapter is obvious but useless within very large companies where avoiding cube farms is all but impossible. Some points it makes are:

  • Most offices are designed by furniture police that want neat layouts, optimising most people per room
  • Raises a fun meme you do hear a lot “Never get work done between 9-5″. I’ve worked with some offshore people that loved when everyone else went home.
  • An employee costs X, office costs fraction of X. Attempting to save $1 of office costs risks productivity of employee.
  • Data from their wargames showed quiet area with sapce essential. Space important as noice increases exponentially to volume.
ch10 - Brain vs Body Time

Consider how useless/sloppy time recording systems are. They don’t even account for what matters, FLOW. Interesting formula presented:

Efficiency-Factor = (uninterrupted hours) / (body present hours)

Books suggests some obvious but difficult things: dont answer phones, bring back small offices with doors, allow workers to organise office space.
ch13 Taking Umbrella Steps - basically says offices should be grown organiccaly and end up looking like university campuses, with many small focussed areas and lots of small offices with windows looking out at open areas. This is a far cry from most banking offices!

People

Managers unlikely to change employees personality in any major way. For short work duration, people unlikely to change. How they are at start is very similar to how they are when they leave. I personally have seen a few people change but yes it’s been the minority, this suggests hiring people is crucial step.

ch15 - Hiring a juggler .. then ask to see him juggle. Don’t just ask the theory. Favour auditions/small pieces of work with the team to see if he fits in. Rjecting people can also be a team bonding experience as it lets a good team realize how elite they are. Can you afford not to hire the best? What message would that send to your current team? This isn’t so terrifying as you’d think, you want the best for the team not necessarily smartest self centred person.

ch16 - happy to be here

What’s your annual employee turnover rate? How much does a replacement cost?

Your goal should be to instil that this is the best place to work and you would be crazy to leave. Turnover = more turnover as creates a “passing-through” mentality. If people are treated disposably, then they act like they are. You must trust people to get to know one area well and that way many will actually stay.

Self-Healing System

Methodolgies seek to enforce conformance through statute. Better to achieve convergence using:

  • Training - teach certain methods = they use it as they know it best
  • Tools - automated aids encourage use
  • Peer Review - Spreads training and tools people may have missed and encourages using same methods

Growing Productive Teams

ch18 Sum of the whole is greater than the parts

A jelled team works towards a SHARED COMMON GOAL. That goal may be arbitrary or boring (100% test coverage) but its essential to have. Notice that goal may not correspond to firms overall goal e.g. icnreased profits Q4. A jelled team will have: strong ssense of Identity and Eliteness.

Teamicide - things that Destroy Teams
  • Buracracy
  • Physical Separation
  • Fragmentation of Peoples Time
  • Defensive Management - trust your team
  • Quality Reduction of Product
  • Phoney Deadlines
  • Clique Control
ch23 - Chemistry for Team Formation
  1. Cult of Quality
  2. Provide Lots of satisfying Closure
  3. Build a sense of Eliteness
  4. Encourage Heterogenity
  5. Preserve and Protect Teams
  6. Provide Strategic not Tactical Direction

It’s supposed to be Fun to Work Here

ch24 - Chaos and Order - People crave some disorder and unexpected fun. Suggestions include: hackathons, wargames, pilot projects.

ch30 Making Change Possible

How change happens:

change

People emotionall hate change and react in number of ways:

  1. Blindly Loyal and follow
  2. Believers but Questioners - Sceptics, passive, opposed due to fear
  3. Militantly Opposed (and will undermine)

Only the “believers but Questioners” are worth trying to affect and intellectual arguments will not win out. You must celebrate “old way” as helping change happen. Point out that “You never improve, if you can’t change at all”.

Later chapters had some interesting points:
- Middlemanagement is only palce where learning can happen AND change be implemented.
- Learning is limited by Orgs ability to keep its people

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