On Peopleware

11 Feb

Peopleware is a term popularised by classic management book called “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. It was published in 1987, with the 2nd edition published in 1999, by Dorset Horse. I have since been a fan of their management goods including goodies like The Psychology of Computer Programming by Gerald Weinberg and Becoming a Technical Leader: An Organic Problem-Solving Approach also by Weinberg.

Basically what the book talks about are the authors’ experiences managing project team in the software industry. Despite that, many management gems arise that are applicable to most if not all parts of the IT industry and even those outside. Many management books talks about control, delegation, budgeting and managing people, however, “people management” is usually more theoretic and a token sum in their books.

I encourage everyone, especially those in the IT industry to read it, whether or not you are a team lead or manager. You will find yourself nodding away with agreement as you read it. It is actually a scary because this book was written in 1987 and the management mistakes mentioned in the book are still relevant today! Its telling how little IT managers know about managing teams. This is not the fault of the IT manager sometimes. Many of them join the IT industry because of one love, technology, not people. Unfortunately, sometimes the way senior management sees it, the more success you are are managing technology the higher the chances they are at getting promoted away from your core strength. That is probably why many IT managers continue to manage their teams like the hardware or software components.

The premise of peopleware is that during the initial age of computer, people put the blame of hardware for project failures because they are slow, expensive and hard to use. With improvements in hardware, projects continue to fail and the blame is now put on software. They are slow, not easier to use, expensive. Then with the rise of rapid software development, projects continue to fail. Even standard and modularized software like an accounting system continue to suffer from project failures. Thus it dawn upon the industry that it is actually the people who should have been the focus and determines the successful project; the people who does the projects, the managers, the environment, the process and the tools and thus the name peopleware.

I shall not talk too much about the book itself in this post, but hope to be able to continue posting a few more articles based on each chapter of the book around my own experiences. However, I would like to shall the very first lesson that I ever learned from the book and that is what has shaped how I have had manage teams and would continue to do so.

The role of a manager is not to make people do work.

The role of a manager is to make it possible for people to do work.

Many people see being a manager is to kick ass; if you don’t watch over your team, they will do anything but work. This probably comes from seeing how other [bad] managers work and those being “promoted”, a lack of proper training and a lack of self confidence. If you team only works if you kick them, than you have the wrong team or you are not doing it right for sure.

One problem with assertion above is that “production minded” senior manager tend to like to see their managers “working”. That is they look busy hawking over their teams, poking questions at them, jumping into every work out there, practically doing everyone elses’ work and thinking for them instead of managing. This is probably how they got promoted in the first place. However, one must ask, what should the real job of a manager or even a team lead be?

In fact, it is a rather unglamorous work. A good manager helps to clear the road blocks so that the team can continue marching towards its goal. He [I use “he” for laziness, replace with “she” as you wish] resolves the political and process issue that prevents the team from marching towards its goals. He sets up the shades, shelters, tools and, yes, even nourishment, in other words fosters an inviting environment, so that the team continues energetically towards its goals.

One thing managers don’t realize is that members of IT teams are self-motivated by themselves. Other than a rare disinterested person, most of them are in this industry because they enjoy working on technology and solving problems. One practically don’t have to do anything to make them work, in fact, sometimes you cannot even stop them from working. However its the environment, tools, process and politics that demotivates them and prevent them from giving their best. Unfortunately, IT managers don’t see or know that and end up blaming them for a poor performance instead.

Managing people is hard because it takes a lot of self-reflection, self-confidence, sensitivity and humbling. A lot of manager would like to say “I did that; I made it successful, without me it won’t work”, but It takes a lot more guts to stay in the background as you allow your team to flourish, grow and achieve their goals and sometimes even to outshine you as a manager.

What kind of managers and team lead do you see around you?

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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Peopleware


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