Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Book Series - Peopleware

Peopleware is simply an amazing piece of writing that despite its age (published in 1987) still rings true to this date. The message of the book is crystal. When a tech team is put together, it is common to believe they will face and solve primarily technical problems. But before they are developers, architects, or managers, they are people and they will have people problems more often than process or technical ones. The work of a manager is to first and foremost understand these sociological challenges. Agile methodologies, cutting-edge technologies, and whatnot are built on the foundation of people enjoying working with each other. Thinking any differently is akin to building a castle on sand.

Building a team is not a great analogy because building implies a strong level of control over the shape and form of the final delivery. Whereas how a team goes through its formation stages depends much more on its goals, the environment, and the team itself than what any manager gets to say. Creating a team in that sense is much closer to growing a tree. One can be diligent in choosing the right tree for his spot of land, controlling the soil pH, and watering adequately without spoiling the root but much of the actual growing is done by the tree. Similarly, one cannot make a team perform, he can only remove all malicious elements that harm the development of the team, and give the team the time it needs to form its identity and culture. This is essentially the thought model DeMarco and Lister came up with and spent the rest of the book to propagate.

The Mythical Man-Month established that a software project was fundamentally different from a typical manufacturing - "9 women cannot deliver a baby in 1 month". Peopleware laid out the elements that made a team great and a project successful. Management 3.0 explained how these elements work with the modern understanding of complex systems. There are certainly more profound books that I haven't known, but I think these three books make a great example of standing on the shoulders of giants in management methodology. Over 35 years, management has gone from a myth to a well-studied field.

I came across Peopleware when I was an intern. I was too junior to make any immediate use of the book, but it gave me thoughts. The thoughts made me see that every project was more than just an application of technologies and it took more than professionalism to make people work well together. Thoughts and experiences then became opinions. Today I am quite opinionated when it comes to running a tech company. All because of a little book I picked up in the office some 15 years ago.

The Book Series is a collection of books that in one way or another affects the person I am today. The books are not necessarily good or popular, though some of them certainly are, they simply came to my life at the right time and left a dent. The books are listed in the order I skim through my bookshelves, which is completely and utterly whimsical.

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