An excellent book

I just finished reading “The Deadline” by Tom deMarco, an excellent novel about project management. Here’s a good review by Richard Mateosian, and the first chapter is offered for preview here.

A few words on the plot: Webster Tompkins, a systems manager who has just been laid off from a giant telecommunications company, is kidnapped by a charming spy and brought to the fictitious state of Morovia to organise its software development industry and put to work about 1500 software engineers who are supposed to re-produce six carefully chosen (already existing) software products in a two years period.

From Tompkins’ perspective, the four most essential ingredients of management are:

  • people selection
  • task matching
  • motivation
  • team formation

– and he calls all the rest Administrivia.

Because he has too many people that have to be given some work to do, Tompkins decides to try a controlled experiment, running three parallel projects with teams of different sizes and using different methods. He envisages a sort of world’s first project management laboratory.

Tompkins is seconded by Belinda Binda -a bag lady who used to be the world’s greatest
project manager in her day, and who eventually recovers from her burn-out after embarking upon this experiment. She had also been kidnapped and offered Tompkins’ position before, but she declined and found refuge on the Morovian beaches searching in containers.

Reading the book was a delight, I was looking forward to the evenings and to travel time when I was able to continue reading.

I particularly liked this conversation between Tompkins and Belinda Binda, where Belinda explains that management involves heart, gut, soul and nose.

The ‘heady’ leader can lead, but people won’t follow. You can’t do much about the heart you’ve got, and maybe you have to be born to it. However, there are people who grow into management ; they start awkward and become confident and eventually make wonderful managers.

The soul has to do with the fact that projects prosper to the extent that people learn to work together effectively. If they work entirely apart, a bunch of piece workers in different places who didn’t even know each other, then soul wouldn’t matter. Management would be a simple matter of coordinating their efforts. It would be an entirely mechanic process.
..the real world requires close, warm, and almost intimate interconnections between team members, and easy, effective interaction through the whole organization.

And Belinda emphasizes that the manager can’t make this happen – he has to let it happen, to create an atmosphere where it can happen. If he’s lucky, it does happen. That’s what she calls building soul into the organization.

She also speaks about a team’s need for a shared vision (could be a cult of quality work, the feeling of being an elite or simply integrity): …the group desperately wants to be unified. The human creature has – built into its firmware – a need to be part of a community. And, in today’s rather sterile modern world, there isn’t much community to be had.

The scene is absolutely fantastic – a top manager getting advice from a bag lady in a Morovian park on soul and community;-)
And it relates to my current work – how to create this atmosphere where flow can actually happen ? From user-centred design to team-centred design – isn’t this what CSCW is all about?!

April 08 2006 12:48 pm | Uncategorized

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