Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I finished reading Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. It's about the human factor of conducting projects. Which according to the book completely overshadows any other aspects of the project, even though it's often ignored completely.

The way the book is written it's addressing project managers. But don't let that fool you. If you're somehow involved in a software project, you're also involved in the management of it. If you're not, there's something wrong - read the book to find out why.

I think the main message of the book is that you should focus on keeping the people involved in a project happy to make the productive.

Make their work fun, go to great lengths to ensure they can work together well as a team, stay out of decision making that others are in a better position to do in spite of what hierarchy suggests and avoid interrupting everyone all the time.

In doing so, you're likely to have increased their productivity by an order of magnitude more than any Methodology (as they put it) can give you. The reason is that people are not machines. If you expect them to be and make them feel that way, and this is easier to do than you might think if you come from a software background where it's all about the logics, then it shifts from high gears to low gears, the magical stuff that makes a design or a program uncover itself from nothing just by the help of human mind.

There a lot of interesting tidbits in the book too. For example, it's often postulated that you need a deadline to make people work efficiently. So okay, people are not machines, they're much worse, they need a bit of whipping to make them work hard. The book cites a study which found that people are almost twice as productive on projects without a deadline compared to projects where the project manager sets one.

Another example is that people tend to react to change in unpredictable ways. For instance, if you do something different from what you use to do, you might be more productive, not necessarily because the new way is better than the old, but simply because you expect it to be better (I guess this is the Placebo effect) or because it's new and exciting and you're generally more productive when you're excited. The authors call the phenomenon the Hawthorne effect after an experiment with illumination in a factory. Increase the lighting and people are more productive, decrease the lighting and people are also more productive.

Anyway, if you're somehow involved in software projects, or any other kind of mind-worker projects for that matter, I recommend you read this book. You won't regret it. It taught me more about my work than any other book I've ever read.

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