Peopleware – A Book Review

June 27, 2007

Today I completed Peopleware Productive Projects and Teams by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister. If you go to Amazon and look at the customer reviews, you will find a five star rating. The second edition of this book was released in 1999 yet the subject matter of the book is just as relevant today as it was then. Demarco and Lister know the software industry and how the process of software development can be improved. They expose problems in the software development industry that hurt productivity and try to provide solutions to improve the process.

The two items I found to be most interesting were:

1. The project estimation section.
2. The importance of the software development work environment.

The premise of the project estimation section is Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law is the thought that project deadlines need to be set impossibly tightly to create a sense of urgency. The theory is that developers will increase the project work to meet the time allocated for the project. Demarco and Lister cite a University of South Wales study that measures programmer productivity when people in different roles are responsible for estimating the project. It compares projects that were estimated by the programmer hisself/herself, prepared by the supervisor, the programmer and the supervisor or a system analyst. Given these options the projects estimated by the Systems Analyst yielded the highest productivity. The astounding metric is that the highest productivity was achieved when a fifth option was added – no project estimate. It amazes me that in spite of the common wisdom that we must estimate the project or it will not be productive, the most productive method was when no project estimation was performed!

The other subject in the book was about the software development working environment. The summation of the section was that programmers are most productive when they have adequate space, quietness and less distractions such as phone calls and colleagues visiting with needless questions. They also work better when people doing similar work are placed in the same area. Offices with doors are much preferred to open cubicle spaces that increase distraction. I think most programmers would find these conclusions to be common sense. How many of us can say that employers are sensitive to these needs?

There are many other interesting subjects in this book and I highly recommend it to programmers and programming managers alike.

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