Book Notes : Peopleware

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco , Timothy R. Lister
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bigger projects have a higher probability of failure, typically 25% compared to 15% for smaller projects.  The biggest cause of failure is sociology.  We worry about the technical but rarely about the sociology issues.

In a production environment, it’s convenient to think of people as parts of the machine. When a part wears out, you get another. The replacement part is interchangeable with the original. You order a new one, more or less, by number.

This might be the case in a production line but this is far from the case in creative or knowledge based industries.

Easy management

  • Get the right people
    • Aptitude tests can be good at screening out unsuitable individuals
    • Get people to audition, don’t hire someone because they say they can do something
  • Make them happy so they don’t want to leave
    • If you have low turnover people tend to be happier and do a better job
    • Loosing people results in more than just a loss of a replaceable resource – knowledge, experience etc are all lost too which take time for it to be recovered from.
    • An organisation that succeeds in building a satisfying community tends to keep its people. When the sense of community is strong enough, no one wants to leave.
  • Turn them loose


  • Defensive management
    • Open Kimono attitude is the exact opposite of defensive management.
      • You take no steps to defend yourself from the people you’ve put into positions of trust.
      • And all the people under you are in positions of trust.
      • A person you can’t trust with any autonomy is of no use to you.
  • Bureaucracy.
    • As organisations age they become more standard and the sameness pervades, meaning lack of excitement and enjoyment.
    • Self healing systems – you can over systematise your work which removes flexibility
    • Big M Methodology is for teams that you don’t trust, these don’t work in creative environments and always result in paperwork and bureaucracy
      Better ways of methodology – training, tools and peer review tend towards to consistency
    • Pilot projects should change just one aspect to see how that changes things.
    • Hawthorne Effect – people perform better when they are doing something new
    • The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment
  • Physical separation
  • Fragmentation of people’s time
  • Quality reduction of the product.
    • Developers enjoy producing a high quality product, getting them to produce a lower quality product will be demotivating and reduce productivity.
    • Should developers be able to veto deployments if they were not happy with the quality?
  • Tight deadlines.
    • Who is pushing for things to happen quicker and what are the implications?
    • The manager should not be pushing for dates, if this is really needed it should be motivated by the team.
    • People are more productive when there are no estimates and as such no scheduling pressure.
  • Phoney deadlines.  The reasons that some people don’t perform are lack of competence, lack of confidence, and lack of affiliation with others on the project and the project goals.  In none of these cases is schedule pressure liable to help improve performance.
  • Clique control
  • Motivational posters
  • Overtime – getting people to do extended hour is equivalent to fraud, it results in under-time and disgruntled employees
  • Competition
  • Annual salary or merit reviews
  • Management by objectives
  • Praise of certain workers for extraordinary accomplishment
  • Awards, prizes, bonuses tied to performance, in fact performance measurement in almost any form

Keep an eye on staff turn over is one way to identify if Teamicide is happening.

Office environment

A key impact on performance

  • If you want better workers you need better work space which they enjoy working in.
  • People need space, 9.3 m2 minimum
  • Noise plays a part of flow and thus errors
  • People want to work, so will hide or book meeting rooms so that they can
  • Everything can be measured
  • People spend 30% of their time working alone, 50% working with one other person, 20% working with two or more people.
  • Flow is key to people concentrating on things.
    • One measure of flow is E-Factor = Uninterrupted hours/Body-present hours
      • Measuring the E-Factor improves the E-Factor
  • Phones are interrupting and break flow, use them as a last resort
  • Even worse then phones are tannoy announcements
  • Treating noise means choosing isolation in the form of noise barriers—walls and doors
  • Group offices make sense and improve performance
  • Give people ownership of their space and arrange it as they want
  • Natural light keeps people awake and motivated, it is perfectly possible to have an office where each team has access to a window in the same way as hotels
  • The challenge is that office space costs are very visible and the benefits are much less tangible
  • Communal space is important
  • The idea that people will stick with you if you move the office is dead, your best employees need to consider their partners and their careers, children etc and all of these are not easy to move

Jelling a team

Jelled Team

  • Low turnover
  • Strong sense of identity
  • Sense of eliteness
  • Joint ownership of the product
  • Obvious enjoyment

People use team when the tight bonding of the jelled working group is pleasing to them. And they use clique when it represents a threat. Fear of cliques is a sign of managerial insecurity.

Someone who can help a project to jell is worth two people who just do work.

When it comes to management practices, if it sounds too good to be true it likely is – there is no silver bullet.

Chemistry-building strategy for a healthy organisation

  • Make a cult of quality.
  • Provide lots of satisfying closure.
  • Build a sense of eliteness.
  • Allow and encourage heterogeneity.
  • Preserve and protect successful teams.
  • Provide strategic but not tactical direction.
  • There is too much order.
  • Constructive reintroduction of small amounts of disorder
  • Pilot projects
  • War games
  • Brainstorming
  • Provocative training experiences
  • Training, trips, conferences, celebrations, and retreats


  • If there are changes or things wrong in your organisation then there is a “sleeping dragon” which will be woken which is the voice of sensibility.
  • Risk aversion kills creativity and ultimately your bussiness.  People who are blindly loyal or military opposes are both bad at change, the people in the middle “Believers but sceptical” are those who will buy into things once they are convinced but won’t blindly follow or oppose ideas “just because”.
  • Changing to a better Status Quo always goes via chaos while people adjust, but care has to be taken not to go back to the previous Status Quo before the new one has actually reached stability
  • Wall Street care about short term gains not long term one and as such don’t like larger changes as they might impact the results for the next quarter etc.
  • Some organisations learn and some don’t either by: Instilling new skills and approaches in its people and/or the organisation redesigns itself to operate in some different manner
  • These learning happen in the middle management, in the white space between teams and people – getting teams to compete kills this creativity and learning plus if companies down size these middle managers are first to go – which strips the organisation of learning.

The ultimate sin

is wasting people’s time

  • Status meetings are about giving senior managers status and wasting other people time.
  • Staffing projects incorrectly – over staffing at the start in the hope it will speed up the project. This is political because if the project does not finish on time and externally people see the team being small then there will be blame.

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