Thursday, September 05, 2013

Book Review - Peopleware, 3rd Edition

Peopleware cover
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I have been a fan of this book from the first edition in 1987 because it brings weight to the human factors in computing. Peopleware, first edition, caused me to think about the relationship between workspace and productivity.

Unfortunately, these “people issues” are prioritized at the bottom of the stack in IT. However, most people in the trenches know that people make or break what we do in IT both long-term and short-term. The most critical and chronic problems are not technology-related, they are people-related!

A minority of managers fully understand the impact of people in IT projects. The rest of the management population tends to treat people like interchangeable components that can be located anywhere in the company and become instantly productive.

This is one of those books that you wish your manager would read and adopt. The problem is that too often, the management solution of people issues is reorganization or layoffs. A few rare and valuable companies that do value people and their long-term value have learned that people require time, care and feeding to be productive.

The value in the third edition of Peopleware is that DeMarco and Lister have had about 25 years to validate the insightful book they originally wrote in 1987. For sure, a lot has changed in the workplace since the 80’s, especially the IT workplace. Cubicles come and cubicles go, and some dysfunction is very much the same. The third edition clarifies many key issues in short and concise chapters that not only point out the problems, but also offer solutions. The third edition is definitely a value-added update to a classic.

One insight in particular I took away from the book is the long-term cost and effectiveness impact of employee turnover. Some companies seem to totally ignore this impact. DeMarco and Lister start with a learning curve assumption of three months for a role with moderate complexity. This is in addition to the existing experience and knowledge a person might have. The curve can be from six months to two years in some companies, which places the net capital investment at $200,000 per person.

So when a valuable person (like yourself) leaves a company, most managers won’t do what it takes to keep you, or even to fix the issues after you leave. Instead, they continue to pay out this cost without even knowing the actual costs incurred. And this doesn’t even include the cost of delayed projects, mistakes made by the replacement person, etc.

In case I haven’t made the point - In my opinion after 35 years in the IT profession, this is the one book I think every IT professional should own, read, and hopefully, apply.

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