Best software book ever.

January 2, 2008

Ok, it’s not got anything about Moustaches from what I can remember, but this is probably the best software book I have ever read.

It depresses me greatly that I am typing this post with headphones on because the people behind me are hellishly noisy. At least I have an Aeron Chair.


If you are a developer, project manager, ISV or just an average office worker, there’s some great stuff in this book. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy for yourself, and one for your boss.

Some Highlights:

  • Open Plan Offices are a disaster for developer productivity.
  • People work better in teams when they have scope to set their own agenda and are trusted.
  • Your job as a manager is to let people get on with their work and enable them to do the thing they do best. This is basically Joel’s “Abstraction Layer”.
  • You are more productive the quieter your surroundings and the more space you have. You should have an office all to yourself.
  • “Flow” is key, anything that disrupts a developers Flow is the Enemy. Everyone knows this one already though.
  • Methodology and Coding Guidelines are no replacement for quality people and jelled teams. Are you listening CMMI?
  • Putting on headphones and tuning everyone out isn’t the solution.
  • It’s all backed up by cold hard numbers.

4 Responses to “Best software book ever.”

  1. Hi Matt,

    1. I agree with all your points about productivity – Joel Spolsky says pretty much the same things abut the working environment as well as (as you pointed out) the function of management.

    2. Since this is an external blog I guess you are referring to the canonical CMMI framework rather than any particular organisation’s implementation of it. In which case, I don’t see anything in the CMMI framework that says you can replace high quality teams with commodity developers. That’s not what it’s about.

    Do your cold hard numbers include any reflection of the increased costs of (a) giving developers a more productive working environment and (b) allowing each team to manage their projects differently?

  2. mrmattwright said

    Dom reader from “any particular organisation”. Welcome. About the CMMI thing, I’m saying (Well, my interpretation from Peopleware) is not that process is bad, in fact sometimes it’s good, but standards are good only if they are good standards, if you see what I mean. The point is more that concentration on process is great if the output of that process is valuable. It’s no good touting your CMMI level all over town if you projects are consistently organised on time but at the end of the day producing rubbish. I don’t think the organisation we are talking about is anywhere near that, but sometimes the process can override the really important issues. People. People, and that applies to all knowledge workers (not just the developers) are the assets and notoriously difficult to metric. Concentrate on your people, and your process.

    I’ll dig out some numbers for you if you want, but I have followed my own advice and lent my copy of the book to my boss. I’ve ordered some more copies though. Your question about numbers and productive working environments deserves a whole post, so I will try and get one together.

  3. Fair enough.

    I’ll leave you with two further thoughts:

    1. If everybody uses the same process then they all benefit from process improvements

    2. If the process improvement mechanism is effective then it’s less important how good the first iteration of the process is.

    The thing to consider about the “particular organisation” is how good is the ongoing process improvement mechanism? That should be the central concern of anybody who cares about *how* we do things. Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis.

  4. mrmattwright said

    I would say for 1) If everyone _contributes_ to the same process and then 2) Those improvements are regularly actioned and reviewed, then you have yourself a formula. Kaizen baby, Kaizen! That still puts people first, people driving improvement. It also garners trust and involvement.

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