Monday, April 18, 2005

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

I recently had the chance to read Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, a timeless classic (1st edition published in 1987, still relevant today) about managing software development projects and more. It was recommended to me by Microsoft as part of a list of "suggested reading" they sent over when I accepted a job offer back in November.

Lately, I've gotten into the habit of tabbing pages I find make interesting, inspiring, revolutionary, and/or controversial points as I read. Psychobabble generally comes in at 0 booktabs. Brand Harmony came in at 6. Peopleware came in at a whopping 10, which as you can probably imagine, made for a rather great read.

The book's underlying message is convincing and undoubtedly understood by anyone who's worked in software development:

The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.

I'm not going to write a full review, because I'd rather get on with reading more books. But, Peopleware got an impressive 5 star rating on, and you can undoubtedly find a great review on their site (or even on /.).

I will, however, post a few quotes from sections I really liked:

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. (p. 22)

Projects on which the boss applied no schedule pressure whatsoever ("Just wake me up when you're done.") had the highest productivity of all. (p. 29)

The top quartile, those who did the exercise most rapidly and effectively, work in space that is substantially different from that of the bottom quartile. The top performers' space is quieter, more private, better protected from interruption, and there is more of it. (p. 50)

Even if there is a higher cost per worker to house people in the more agreeable space, the added expense is likely to make good sense because of the savings it provides in other areas. The real problem is that the cost is in a highly visible category (space and services), while the offsetting advantage is in poorly measured and therefore invisible categories (increased productivity and reduced turnover). (p. 88)

In the spring of 1932, efficiency experts ran a series of tests at the Hawthorne Western Electric Company to determine the effects of various environmental parameters on productivity. They tried raising the light level, and they noted that productivity went up. Then they tried lowering the light level, and they noted that productivity went up higher still. They speculated that turning the lights off entirely might send productivity through the roof. What seemed to be happening was that the change itself wasn't as important as the act of changing. People were charmed by differentness, they liked the attention, they were intrigued by novelty. This has come to be called the Hawthorne Effect. Loosely stated, it says that people perform better when they're trying something new. (p. 119)

Companies that downsize are frankly admitting that their upper management has blown it. But wall Street still applauds. Why is that? Part of the reason is that it looks so good on the books. A few thousand employees gone, and every penny they would have earned goes right to the bottom line, or at least it seems to. What's conveniently forgotten in this analysis is the investment in those people--paid for with real, hard-earned dollars and now thrown out the window as if it had no value. (p. 207)

Read this book. You won't regret it.

No comments: