Book Notes – Peopleware

Book cover of Peopleware

Part 1: Managing the Human Resource

Initially a bit skeptical of this chapter title, but lets see.

It will talk about the “very nonmodular character of the human resource.”

1. Somewhere Today, a Project Is Failing

General theme of the book:

The major problems of our work are not so much technological as sociological in nature.

By noting the true nature of a problem as sociological rather than political, you make it more tractable.

The researchers who made fundamental breakthroughs in those areas are in a high-tech business. The rest of us are appliers of their work.

Because we go about this work in teams and projects and other tightly knit working groups, we are mostly in the human communication business.

2. Make a Cheeseburger, Sell a Cheeseburger

Development is inherently different from production.

If you’re doing production, it can make sense to squeeze out error, optimise the steady state and standardise procedure.

To manage thinking workers effectively, you need to take measures nearly opposite those listed above.

The lost effort of the dead end is a small price to pay for a clean, fresh start.

Fostering an atmosphere that doesn’t allow for error simply makes people defensive. They don’t try things that may turn out badly. You encourage this defensiveness when you try to systematise the process, when you impose rigid methodologies so that staff members are not allowed to make any of the key strategic decisions lest they make them incorrectly.

Encourage people to make some errors. Ask how many they’ve made recently. “None” is not the best answer.

You may be able to kick people to make them active, but not to make them creative, inventive and thoughtful.

We pay far too little attention to how well each of them fits in to the effort as a whole.

He just didn’t recognise the role of catalyst as essential to a project. The catalyst is important because the project is always in a state of flux. Someone who can help a project to jell is worth two people who just do work.

If an excuse is needed for the lack of think-time, the excuse is always time pressure–as though there were ever work to be done without time pressure.

The more heroic the effort required, the ore important it is that the team members learn to interact well and enjoy it.

3. Vienna Waits for You

The Spanish Theory: held that only a fixed amount of value existed on earth, and therefore the path to the accumulation of wealth was to learn to extract it more efficiently from the soil or from people’s backs.

The English Theory: held that value could be created through ingenuity and technology.

You can’t be everything you want to be before your time.

The process of improving productivity risks motivating employees to look for more satisfying work elsewhere. You must take turnover in to account. You may achieve an “improvement” that is more than offset by the loss of your key people.

Productivity has to be defined as benefit divided by cost.

People under time pressure don’t work better – they just work faster.

4. Quality - If Time Permits

We all end to tie our self-esteem strongly to the quality of the product we produce – not the quantity of product, but the quality.

You may be right about the market, but the decision to pressure people into delivering a product that doesn’t measure up to their own quality standards is almost always a mistake.

The minimum that will satisfy them is more or less the best quality they have achieved in the past. This is invariably a higher standard than what the market requires and is willing to pay for.

In the long run, market-based quality costs more.

Quality, far beyond that required by the end user, is a means to higher productivity.

The trade-off between price and quality does not exist in Japan. Rather, the idea that high quality brings on cost reduction is widely accepted.

5. Parkinson’s Law Revisited

“Work expands to fill the time allocated for it”

Parkinson was not a scientist. He collected no data.

Even on the rare occasion when leaning on someone is the only option, the manager is the last person to do the leaning. It works far better when the message comes from the team.

Projects that had no effort estimated had a higher average productivity.

Part 2: The Office Environment

It wouldn’t be so bad if all these diversions affected the manager alone, while the rest of the staff worked on peacefully.

TL;DR: Give people plenty of space and quiet, uninterrupted focus time.

7. The Furniture Police

As long as workers are crowded into noisy, sterile, disruptive space, it’s not worth improving anything but the workplace.

8. You Never Get Anything Done around Here between 9 and 5

Productivity non-factors:

  • Language
  • Years of experience
  • Number of defects
  • Salary

While this 10 to 1 (10x) productivity differential among programmers is understandable, there is also a 10 to 1 difference in productivity among software organisations.

9. Saving Money on Space

Those who make such a judgement are guilty of performing a cost/benefit study without benefit of studying the benefit. They know the cost but haven’t any idea what the other side of the equation may be.

Workers who reported before the exercise that their workplace was acceptably quiet were one-third more likely to deliver zero-defect work.

Intermezzo: Productivity Measurement and Unidentified Flying Objects

Anything you need to quantify can be measured in some way that is superior to not measuring it at all.

Given that there are ten to one differences from one organisation to another, you simply can’t afford to remain ignorant of where you stand. Your competition may be ten times more effective than you are in doing the same work. If you don’t know it, you can’t begin to do something about it. Only the market will understand. It will take steps of its own to rectify the situation, steps that do not bode well for you.

…data on individuals is not passed up to management, and everybody in the organisation knows it. Data collected on the individual’s performance has to be used only to benefit that individual. The measurement scheme is an exercise in self-assessment, and only the sanitised averages are made available to the boss.

10. Brain Time versus Body Time

You can’t turn on flow like a switch. Takes 15 minutes or more to get in to it.

During this immersion period, you are particularly sensitive to noise and interruption.

The state can be broken by an interruption that is focussed on you or by insistent noise.

Each time you’re interrupted, you require an additional immersion period.

During this immersion, you’re not really doing work.

For any productivity assessment or analysis of where the money went, this record (body-present hours) is too badly tainted to be useful.

If a project is projected to require three thousand flow hours to complete, then you’ve got a valid reason to believe you’re two thirds done when two thousand flow hour have been logged against it. That kind of analysis would be foolish and dangerous with body-present hours.

Whenever the number of uninterrupted hours is a reasonably high proportion of total hours, up to approximately 40 percent, then the environment is allowing people to get in to flow.

E-Factor = Uninterrupted Hours / Body-Present Hours

By regularly noting uninterrupted hours, you are giving official sanction to the notion that people ought to have at least some interrupt-free time.

11. The Telephone

…or Slack…

People who are charged with getting work done must have some peace and quiet to do it in.

“Acceptable” means the corporate culture realises that people may sometimes choose to be unavailable for interruption by phone.

12. Bring Back the Door

The most obvious symbol of success is the door. How do we create a virtual door? Do Not Disturb?

There is that occasional breakthrough that makes you say “Ahah!” an steers you toward an ingenious bypass that may save months or years of work. The creative leap involves right-brain function. If the right brain is busy listening to “1,001 Strings” on Muzak, the opportunity for a creative leap is lost.

The inconvenient fact of life is that the best workplace is not going to be infinitely replicable.

Part 3: The Right People

You are taught to think of management as playing out one of those battle simulation board games.


  • Get the right people (and set the right direction)
  • Make them happy so they don’t want to leave
  • Turn them loose

For most efforts, success or failure is in the cards from the moment the team is formed and the initial directions set out.

14. The Hornblower Factor

The people who work for you through whatever period will be more or less the same at the end as they were at the beginning. If they’re not right form the start, they never will be.

The term unprofessional is often used to characterise surprising and threatening behaviour.

Entropy is always increasing in the organisation.

That’s why most elderly institutions are tighter and a lot less fun than sprightly young companies.

15. Let’s Talk about Leadership

“The speed of the leader sets the rate of the pack” – this kind of leadership is a work-extraction mechanism. Its purpose is to enhance not the quality of the experience but the quantity. The reason you are being led is to get you to work harder, stay longer and stop goofing off.

The gun, in the workplace, is replaced with delegated authority and positional power.

The best leadership is most often exercised by people without positional power.

Leadership is not about extracting anything from us; it’s about service.

Sometimes set explicit directions, their main role is that of a catalyst, not a director.

The propensity to lead without being given the authority to do is what distinguishes people that can innovate.

Since nobody ever knows how the next innovation may alter the organisation, nobody knows enough to give permission to the key instigators to do what needs to be done. That’s why leadership as a service almost always operates without official permission.

16. Hiring a Juggler

You need to examine a sample of those products to see the quality of work the candidate does.

Successful lecturer: He described how his students had been coached to show off their portfolios as part of each interview.

The aptitude tests we’ve seen are mostly left-brain oriented.

The aptitude test may give you people who perform better in the short term, but are less likely to succeed later on.

Frequent interesting opportunities for private self-assessment are a must for workers in a healthy organisation.

The business we’re in is more sociological than technological.

The hiring process needs to focus on at least some sociological and human communication traits.

Ask a candidate to prepare a ten minute presentation on some aspect of their past work. Make sure the candidate speaks about something immediately germane to the work your organisation does.

17. Playing Well with Others

Diversity: They complemented our tired old sports analogies with new images from ballet, child rearing and family dynamics.

The capacity of a team to absorb newness has its limits.

Team jell takes time, and during much of that time, the composition of the team can’t be changing.

18. Childhood’s End

Alan Kay defines technology as whatever is around you today but was not there when you were growing up. What was already around you when you were growing up has a name: It’s called environment. One generation’s technology is the next generation’s environment.

The new generational divide in your organisation is about attention: Young people divide theirs while their older colleagues tend to focus on one or possibly two tasks at a time.

They suggested that I text them if I had placed something they’d need to look at in their (email) inboxes.

The younger your people are, the more likely they are to see email as a verbose and dreary waste of time. The terseness of texting is much more to their taste.

19. Happy to Be Here

It costs one-and-a-half to two months’ salary to hire a new employee.

A reasonable assessment of start-up cost is therefore approximately three lost work-months per new hire. The total cost of replacing each person is the equivalent of four-and-a-half to five months of employee cost or about 20 percent of the cost of keeping that employee for the full two years on the job.

In companies with high turnover, people tend toward a destructively short-term viewpoint.

If we ran our agricultural economy on the same basis, we’d eat our seed corn immediately and all starve next year.

From the corporate perspective, late promotion is a sign of health.

Why people leave:

  • Just passing through mentality
  • Feeling of disposability
  • A sense that loyalty would be ludicrous

Turnover engenders turnover.

The best organisations are not of a kind; they are more notable for t heir dissimilarities than for their likenesses. But one thing that they all share is a preoccupation with being the best. It is a constant topic.

People tend to stay at such companies because there is a widespread sense that you are expected to stay. The company invests hugely in your personal growth. It’s hard to miss the message that you are expected to stay, when the company has just invested that much in your formation.

A common feature in companies with the lowest turnover is widespread retraining. You’re forever bumping into managers and officers who started out as secretaries, payroll clerks, or in the mailroom.

20. Human Capital

When you treat an expenditure as an investment instead of as an expense, you are capitalising the expenditure.

This human capital can be substantial; thinking about it erroneously as a sunk expense may lead managers toward actions that fail to preserve the value of an organisation’s investment.

When we oblige our clients to put a figure on ramp-up time for new workers, most have to allow far longer than six months.

…it can’t possibly afford to lay off such a valuable resource (because of the investment in the employee).

Part 4: Growing Productive Teams

What’s in the foreground of most of our prized work memories is team interaction.

21. The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

Many of these groups just don’t seam like teams.

Once a team begins to jell, the probability of success goes up dramatically.

They don’t need to be managed in the traditional sense, and they certainly don’t need to be motivated. They’ve got momentum.

Teams by their very nature are formed around goals.

Believing that workers will automatically accept organisational goals is the sign of naive managerial optimism.

As boss, you have probably accepted the corporate goal.

Throughout the upper ranks of the organisation, there is marvellous ingenuity at work to be sure that each manager has a strong personal incentive to accept the corporate goals.

There is very little true teamwork required in most of our work. But teams are still important, for they serve as a device to get everyone pulling in the same direction.

The purpose of a team is not goal attainment but goal alignment.

Signs of a jelled team:

  • low turnover
  • sense of identity
  • joint ownership of the product
  • eager for peer review
  • obvious enjoyment

Things that matter enormously prior to jell (money, status, position for advancement) matter less or not at all after jell.

Managers are often not true members of their teams.

23. Teamicide

You can’t make teams jell. You can hope they will jell. The process is much too fragile to be controlled.

We stopped talking about building teams, and talked instead of growing them.

When you’re stuck trying to solve a problem, deBono suggests that rather than looking for ways to achieve your goal, look for ways to achieve the exact opposite of your goal.

  • Defensive management
  • Bureaucracy
  • Physical separation (except they mention a lot about distraction -free environments earlier…)
  • Fragmentation of people’s time
  • Quality reduction of the product
  • Phoney deadlines
  • Clique control

If your staff isn’t up to the job at hand, you will fail.

But once you’ve decided to go with a given group, your best tactic is to trust them.

If you’re the manager, of course you’re going to feel that your judgement is better than that of the people under you. You have more experience and perhaps a higher standard of excellence than they have; thats how you got to be the manager. But if the staff comes to believe it’s not allowed to make any errors of its own, the message that you don’t trust them comes through loud and clear. There is no message you can send that will better inhibit team formation.

The only freedom that has any meaning is the freedom to proceed differently from the way your manager would have proceeded.

The most obvious defensive management ploys are prescriptive Methodologies (“My people are too dumb to build systems without them.”)

Their self-esteem and enjoyment are undermined by the necessity of building a product of clearly lower quality than what they are capable of.

Motivational posters: Management here believes that these virtues can be improved with posters rather than by hard work and managerial talent.

When you take into account the way that the team members’ differing abilities to work overtime tends to destroy teams, the case against it becomes persuasive.

25. Competition

When you observe a well-knit team in action, you’ll see a basic hygienic act of peer-coaching that is going on all the time. Team members sit down in pairs to transfer knowledge.

It provides coordination as well as personal growth to the participants.

The act of coaching simply cannot take place if people done’t feel safe.

Any action that rewards team members differently is likely to foster competition. Managers need to take steps to decrease or counteract this effect:

  • Annual salary or merit reviews
  • Management by objectives
  • Praise of certain workers for extraordinary accomplishment
  • Awards, prizes, bonuses tied to performance
  • Performance measurement in almost any form

What matters is helping all parties understand that the success of the individual is tied irrevocably to the success of the whole.

26. A Spaghetti Dinner

Success breeds success.

The common thread is that good managers provide frequent easy opportunities for the team to succeed together: tiny pilot sub-projects, demonstrations or simulations.

The best success is the one in which there is no evident management.

27. Open Kimono

Managers of well workers are careful to respect that autonomy, once granted. They know that a worker’s failure will reflect badly on the boss, but that’s just the breaks of the game. They’re prepared to suffer the occasional setback a direct result of failure by one of their people. When it happens, they suspect it will be a failure that they themselves would never have caused, had they been doing the work rather than managing it. But so what? You give your best shot to putting the right person in the position, but once he or she is there, you don’t second-guess.

A person you can’t trust with any autonomy is of no use to you.

Make it clear to everyone that the boss was assuming and depending on competence around him.

How can you know, they’ll ask you, that your people aren’t loafing this very minute? How can you be sure they won’t knock off for lunch at eleven and drink away their afternoons? The simple answer is you’ll know by the product they come back with. If they come back with a carefully thought-out and complete result, they worked. If they don’t, they didn’t.

What seemed to matte was the chance for people to work with those they wanted to work with.

In the best organisations, there is a natural authority working in all directions. The manager is known to be better at some things and is trusted to do those things. Each of the workers is known to have some special area of expertise, and is trusted by all as a natural authority in that area.

28. Chemistry for Team Formation

  • 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

The human creature needs reassurance from time to time that he or she is headed in the right direction.

Particularly when the team is coming together, frequent closure is important. Team members need to get into the habit of succeeding together and liking it. This is part of the mechanism by which the team builds momentum.

The chemistry-building manager takes pains to divide the work in to pieces and makes sure that each piece has some substantive demonstration of its own completion.

It has come to my attention that some of you, when travelling on expenses, have been travelling economy class. This is not an economy-class organisation. This is a first-class organisation. When you fly on business from now on, you will fly first class.

– Xerox Memo

If you could effect some change in the people you manage and make them much more productive and goal-directed but also less controllable, would you do it?

There are lots of examples of teams that comply with institutional standards of appearance. Military specialty teams and most sports teams dress alike. But as long as they are allowed to feel unique in some sense, they can conform in others.

On the best teams, different individuals provide occasional leadership, taking charge in areas where they have particular strengths. No one is the permanent leader.

The structure of a team is a network, not a hierarchy.

Part 5: Fertile Soil

29. The Self-Healing System

When you automate a previously all-human system, it becomes entirely deterministic. The new system is capable of making only those responses planned explicitly by its builders. So the self-healing quality is lost.

Automators spend much of their time thinking through situations that are so unlikely or occur so rarely that the human elements of the old system never even bothered to consider them unless they actually happened. If the business policy governing the new system has a sufficient degree of natural ad hoc-racy, it’s a mistake to automate it. Determinism will be no asset then; the system will be in a constant need of maintenance.

The project workers are the ones most familiar with the territory of the project. If a given direction doesn’t make sense to them, it doesn’t make any sense at all.

The Covert Meaning of Methodology (or Process): The idea that project people aren’t smart enough to do the thinking.

If your people aren’t smart enough to think their way through their work, the work will fail.

Methodologies can do grievous damage to efforts in which the people are fully competent.

A fixed mould guarantees:

  • A morass of paperwork
  • A paucity of methods
  • An absence of responsibility
  • A general loss of motivation

They encourage to build documents rather than do work.

The message in the decision to impose a Methodology is apparent to all. Nothing could be more demotivating than the knowledge that management thinks its workers are incompetent.

Convergence of method is a good thing. But Methodologies are not the only way to achieve convergence:

  • Training
  • Tools
  • Peer Review

Gently guided convergence.

Even the best imaginable Methodology may give only a small improvement in the technology. Whatever the technological advantage may be, it may come only at the price of a significant worsening of the team’s sociology.

The standard would be for at least one part of the effort to be run in a non-standard way.

Hawthorne Effect: People perform better when they’re trying something new.

30. Dancing with Risk

The risk we tend not to manage is the risk of our own failure.

By the time the risk materialised and the system wasn’t available on opening day, it was too late to start mitigation planning. If, on the other hand, the mitigation had been ready, the airport would have opened with old-fashioned, temporary guys-plus-little-trucks moving the baggage, and the lateness of the software system would have been nothing more than a minor disappointment.

People rise to a challenge (in a bad way – overconfidence).

The more the schedule matters, the less time for mitigation planning and the less people are inclined to do it.

If the manager and his or her team aren’t going to do risk management, someone else has to.

Look, we’re willing to take on this challenge, this scary delivery date, and we’ll do our best to meet it. We’ll have no time to manage the risk that we won’t make it in spite of our best efforts, but somebody has to manage that risk. Unless we see that specific plans are being made for the eventuality of our late delivery, we’re not going to be able to think of this as a challenge; it’s more of a stupid, desperation crapshoot.

Unrealistic Deadlines: What they really mean is, “This work is so unimportant that we don’t want to fund it beyond January 1st.”

31. Meetings, Monologues, and Conversations

Bad meetings:

  • Number of vested parties to any action increases
  • Meetings give visibility
  • You don’t get noticed by listening thoughtfully, so anyone who’s there for visibility is likely to be a talker

A working meeting is typically called to reach a decision.

It’s essential that the working meeting have an agenda relevant to its purpose and that it stick to that agenda. Thus, no one risks anything by not attending because they come to have confidence that off-agenda matters won’t be discussed.

Working meetings have a charming characteristic: You know when they’re done.

Ceremonies: At any given moment, two people are involved. The others are nominally listening.

The ceremony is a series of conversations, and conversations are a good thing. What’s not such a good thing is all the non-listeners locked in.

The cost of the meeting is directly proportional to the number attending.

An Apple manager makes a point of releasing at least one person at the start of each meeting. She makes it clear that her choice of who gets released is not the person’s relative uselessness, rather it is the importance of the work he or she will be doing instead of sitting in.

Your goal should be to eliminate most ceremonial meetings and spend the time in one-on-one conversation.

Apply the “What ends this meeting?” test.

In place of ceremonies, encourage Open-Space networking.

32. The Ultimate Management Sin Is…

Wasting people’s time.

You have some needs of your own as a manager, and these needs may run squarely against your intention to preserve and use wisely the time of the people working under you.

When design is important (which it is for anything but a simple formula project), it can require as much as half the full project duration.

There is a natural inclination to take the effort lopped off the end and apply it back at the beginning. This time will be wasted, because the design is not complete yet.

Fragmented time is almost certain to be teamicidal, but it also has another insidious effect; It is guaranteed to waste the individual’s time. A worker with multiple assignments will spend a significant part of each day switching gears.

The waste is concealed in the slow restart of his or her design work, the direct result of interrupted flow.

Fragmentation is particularly injurious when two of the tasks involve qualitatively different kinds of work habits.

33. E(vil) Mail

Email problems:

  • Corporate spam
  • FYI’s
  • Repeal passive consent

It’s nice if people allow you to pull information from them about what they’re doing, but less nice if they push it on you.

Do the need-to-know test on your incoming email, but do it, too, on the messages you send out.

Thing about what steps you have to make to coach that person to self-coordinate.

34. Making Change Possible

People hate change.

Everything works, and everything fails.

The success of your change will depend on how you manage the Believers But Questioners.

William Bridges, in Managing Transitions, suggests that we never demean our old ways. Instead we need to celebrate the old way as a way to help change happen.

Satir Change Model:

Naive Model: Old Status Quo —> New Status Quo Satir Model: Old Status Quo —> Chaos —> Practice and Integration —> New Status Quo

Without a catalyst, there is no recognition of the desirability of change.

The catalyst can be an outside force or that the world changes.

The reason the Satir model is so important is that it alerts us that Chaos is an integral part of change. With the more naive two-stage model, we don’t expect Chaos. When it occurs, we mistake it for the New Status Quo.

35. Organisational Learning

The first thing to realise about organisational learning is that it is not the same as simple accumulation of experience.

Experience gets turned into learning when an organisation alters itself to take account of what experience has shown.

  • The organisation instills new skills and approaches in its people.
  • OR
  • The organisation redesigns itself to operate in some different manner.

Learning is limited by an organisation’s ability to keep its people.

The locus of early change activity – the learning – has to be located somewhere on the organisation chart. Where?

Tops of organisations are not so much focused on day-to-day operations.

People at the bottom are typically too constrained by the organisational boundaries and might be blind to important possibilities. They rarely have the power to effect change.

Our observation that successful learning organisations are always characterised by strong middle management.

IN order for a vital learning centre to form, middle managers must communicate with each other and learn to work together in effective harmony.

Part 6: It’s Supposed to Be Fun to Work Here

Work should be fun.

37. Chaos and Order

What chaos is left in modern society is a precious commodity. We have to be careful to conserve it and keep the greedy few from hogging more than their share. We managers tend to be the greedy few.

He or she is willing to leave small packets of chaos to others. The manager’s job in this approach is to break it up and parcel it out. The people down below get to have the real fun of putting things shipshape.

Constructive reintroduction of small amounts of disorder:

  • Pilot projects
  • War games
  • Brainstorming
  • Provocative training experiences
  • Training, trips, conferences, celebrations and retreats

Won’t we further complicate downstream activities (if running lots of pilot projects and new tech)?

This is true anyway in even the most standardised shop. Usually nothing approaching meaningful functional consistency. Don’t experiment with more than one aspect of development technology on any given project.

War games help you to evaluate your relative strengths and weaknesses and help the organisation to observe its global strengths and weaknesses.

For the purpose of stimulating creative disorder, the most effective form of war game calls for participants to take part in teams.

Look for opportunities to make everyone a winner in some sense. Make a big fuss over any and all accomplishments

Invest a lot of time in making the problem specification particularly solid, bringing your facilitators up to speed, and building in lots of milestones and checkpoints.

Invest some effort to assure the project’s scope is about the right size for the amount of time allocated.

39. Holgar Dansk

The key to success in fostering the kind of change we’re advocating is that you not try to wrestle the bull.

It takes very little to raise people’s consciousness of it. Then it’s no longer just you. It’s everyone.