📅 February 5, 2023

Book Review | Peopleware

Last Updated: February 8, 2023

Peopleware was first published in January 1987. I read this book for the first time in January 2023, 36 years later. The relevance of this book all these years later is remarkable. The truths this book conveys are timeless. I found myself skimming some sections, but the majority of the chapters were fantastic. The message I took from the book was that when building software, it's people and interactions that ultimately decide the outcome of projects. Something that stood out was the author's claim that "Parkinson’s Law almost certainly doesn’t apply to your people." Parkinson's law claims that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. This is sometimes referenced in software development for setting deadlines. I liked the author's standpoint, which I have found to be true in my experience, that people can have lots of job-derived satisfaction. People are eager to get the job done, provided they don't have to compromise their standard of quality. Bad estimates and hopelessly tight estimates stifle builders' energy.

Some of my favorite highlights from the book are below.

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

The main reason we tend to focus on the technical rather than the human side of the work is not because it’s more crucial, but because it’s easier to do.

Human interactions are complicated and never very crisp and clean in their effects, but they matter more than any other aspect of the work.

The catalyst is important because the project is always in a state of flux. Someone who can help a project to jell is worth two people who just do work.

The more heroic the effort required, the more important it is that the team members learn to interact well and enjoy it. The project that has to be done by an impossible fixed date is the very one that can’t afford not to have frequent brainstorms and even a project dinner or some such affair to help the individual participants knit into an effective whole.

We all tend to tie our self-esteem strongly to the quality of the product we produce—not the quantity of product, but the quality.

Any step you take that may jeopardize the quality of the product is likely to set the emotions of your staff directly against you.

Managers jeopardize product quality by setting unreachable deadlines. They don’t think about their action in such terms; they think rather that what they’re doing is throwing down an interesting challenge

Quality, far beyond that required by the end user, is a means to higher productivity.

People have the possibility of lots of job-derived satisfaction. That leads to a simple truth worth stating: Parkinson’s Law almost certainly doesn’t apply to your people.

They are as eager as you are to get the job done, provided only that they don’t have to compromise their standard of quality.

Bad estimates, hopelessly tight estimates, sap the builders’ energy.

When the schedule for a project is totally unreasonable and unrealistic, and no amount of overtime can allow it to be made, the project team becomes angry and frustrated ... and morale drops to the bottom.

The decision to apply schedule pressure to a project needs to be made in much the same way you decide whether or not to punish your child: If punishment is rare and your timing is impeccable so the justification is easily apparent, then maybe it can help. If you do it all the time, it’s just a sign that you’ve got problems of your own.

Measurement schemes tend to become threatening and burdensome. In order to make the concept deliver on its potential, management has to be perceptive and secure enough to cut itself out of the loop. That means the data on individuals is not passed up to management, and everybody in the organization knows it. Data collected on the individual’s performance has to be used only to benefit that individual.

By regularly noting uninterrupted hours, you are giving official sanction to the notion that people ought to have at least some interrupt-free time. That makes it permissible to hide out, to ignore the phone.

The creative leap involves right-brain function. If the right brain is busy listening to “1,001 Strings” on Muzak, the opportunity for a creative leap is lost.

A dress standard might be understandable if you worked in the Customer Relations Department or in Sales. But in any other area, it makes no sense at all. There is seldom if ever a client wandering through such space. These “standards” have nothing to do with the organization’s image as perceived by outsiders. It’s the image perceived by insiders that matters.

In order to lead without positional authority—without anyone ever appointing you leader —you: • Step up to the task. • Be evidently fit for the task. • Prepare for the task by doing the required homework ahead of time. • Maximize value to everyone. • Do it all with humor and obvious goodwill. It also helps to have charisma.

The propensity to lead without being given the authority to do so is what, in organizations, distinguishes people that can innovate and break free of the constraints that limit their competitors. Innovation is all about leadership, and leadership is all about innovation. The rarity of the one is a direct result of the rarity of the other.

An expense is money that gets used up. At the end of the month, the money is gone and so is the heat (or whatever the expense was for). An investment, on the other hand, is use of an asset to purchase another asset. The value has not been used up, but only converted from one form to another. When you treat an expenditure as an investment instead of as an expense, you are capitalizing the expenditure.

The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment.

Good managers provide frequent easy opportunities for the team to succeed together. The opportunities may be tiny pilot subprojects, or demonstrations, or simulations, anything that gets the team quickly into the habit of succeeding together. The best success is the one in which there is no evident management, in which the team works as a genial aggregation of peers. The best boss is the one who can manage this over and over again without the team members knowing they’ve been “managed.”

The structure of a team is a network, not a hierarchy.

Hawthorne Effect. Loosely stated, it says that people perform better when they’re trying something new.

The technology that is so evident at meetings today does not facilitate the meeting at all; it merely provides an escape for people from the pointlessness of what’s happening around them.

Working meetings have a charming characteristic. You know when they’re done. When the decision has been reached, there is no further need to meet. Before it’s been reached, the meeting is not yet complete.

If you can say definitively what group action terminates the meeting, then it’s a working meeting.

Apply the “What ends this meeting?” test at each meeting.

# development | book-review