I just finished reading that old software classic, Peopleware. The first chapter is “Somewhere Today, a Project Is Failing,” and hooked me immediately.

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, by Tim Lister & Tom DeMarco

Chapter 15 talks about Leadership as Work Extraction v. Leadership as Service. This ties into what I know of management spans. For years MBAs thought that the ideal number of direct reports was around 5-7 (which matches what psychologists know about working memory), but the idea of increasing that number means that managers have to start leading instead of micromanaging. See this HBR paper: More Direct Reports Make Life Easier by Ron Ashkenas (HBR).

I’ve always believed in the impossible triangle of quality, price, and speed, but this book says that it’s not an impossibility at all, that, ultimately, quality is an overriding determinator of speed and price.

I’ve decided to never talk about my overtime again. It used to be a weird badge of honor, a proving ground, to say “I’ve done XXX hours/week.” But if I believe that overtime is harmful (and I do), then saying something like that is like being an alchoholic (which I am) and bragging about how much I drank that one time. It encourages that wrong culture.

The mental exercise in chapter 11 is my favorite: Why would anyone invent a telephone that kept ringing? Why not ring exactly once, and let someone choose to ignore it without bugging them?

Some arguments have been internalized by modern companies. Every place I’ve worked at knows their cost to hire a new programmer.

Some arguments have not been internalized by modern companies. They talk about how effective programmers have ~70 square feet of space, and less effective ones have ~40, and their measurement goes down to 20. I have 16 and am, currently, sad.

Their talk about useless meetings being actually just ceremonies-in-disguise is fun to read coming from a Scrum world. We do have regular meetings, and they’re just called ceremonies. My dream is to one day run a retro that ends early. (Ceremonies-In-Disguise is the name of my upcoming Transformers-As-An-Agile-Metaphor whitepaper.)

One of my biggest takeaways is drawbacks of enforcing culture through methodologies, and the power of enforcing culture through peer reviews, training, and mentoring.