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416 pages, Hardcover
First published January 16, 2007
My view is that we should train developers the way we train creative people like poets and artists. People may say, ‘Well, that sounds really nuts.’ But what do people do when they’re being trained, for example, to get a master of fine arts in poetry? They study great works of poetry. Do we do that in our software engineering disciplines? No. You don’t look at the source code for great pieces of software. Or look at the architecture of great pieces of software. You don’t look at their design. You don’t study the lives of great software designers. So you don’t study the literature of the thing you’re trying to build.”Brilliant, right? So why do they study great code? (A snarky answer might be "because there isn't any?") Algorithms, yes, but so many languages and systems have those algorithms already embedded. On the insistence of my advisor, I took a grad school class on finite element analysis that turned out to be building the code ourselves, not using it for analysis. And no, all we had was the textbook and a professor who cut the semester short to go on a speaking tour in India. Anyway, this is an idea with merit.
The informal approach to managing technical projects achieved its most famous incarnation at Hewlett-Packard with the concept of “management by wandering around,” which was later popularized by Tom Peters’s In Search of Excellence. This rigorous methodology requires managers to leave their offices, visit workers in their dens, and chat them up. “How’s it going?” may not sound like the most incisive or analytical line of inquiry, but management by wandering (or walking) around was revolutionary in its way: It suggested that it was less important for managers to pore over ledgers than for them to get out and observe what their employees were actually doing. It placed a premium on human observation and contact.It is an excellent management method.
Getting Things Done suggests that modern life and work leave us mentally beset by a host of incomplete tasks: physical objects lying around us waiting to be dealt with, incoming emails that need to be answered or filed, documents and publications that we’re supposed to read, things we’ve promised other people we will do. This heap of “open loops” collectively constitutes what Allen calls our “stuff.” GTD proposes that we can stop feeling overwhelmed by our stuff and take charge of it by creating a “trusted system”—on paper or digitally, it doesn’t matter.Oh, dear. Awful awful book and methodology. My review is here, but the short of it was “You have a choice: you can Get Things Done, or you can actually get things done.” Seems that Chandler opted for the former… and died.
Mitch Kapor is spending millions of dollars a year and does not want to have responsibility for little details. He wants to find someone to make sure his money is being well spent. And that’s a level of detail that I could not provide. And a level of assurance that I could not provide. Mitch was really patient in just saying, ‘I will help you get better at these things.’ So I have no complaints about the position I was in. But in the end, I was just being asked to provide a service that I wasn’t very good at.Get someone NOT in the business. This is the trap almost every organization falls into - they think you have to know everything about the business to succeed in managing it. My wife edited English versions of Samsung phone and copier/printer user manuals and made them better because she wasn’t an engineer … she asked why do you have this button? Or how it that a new feature? (True life example. The engineers’ answer? We moved that button to the right side from the left.) The key in that was that she was an end user and thought like one, not like the engineers.
In another essay he writes: “Beware of Methodologies. They are a great way to bring everyone up to a dismal but passable level of performance, but at the same time, they are aggravating to more talented people who chafe at the restrictions that are placed on them. It’s pretty obvious to me that a talented chef is not going to be happy making burgers at McDonald’s, precisely because of McDonald’s rules.”