DeMarco and Lister “The Human Factor”

I read the book by Demarco and Lister “The Human Factor”. It’s about project and team management. But not so much about the harsh Methodology itself, but about the important principles that should guide our work as middle managers.

To be honest, I’m delighted! The book left a very good impression. In general, a wise and humane view is very rarely found in the literature on management. Rather, on the contrary: each author strives to be somehow especially stubborn on one or several theses, pile up a bunch of theory, give many necessarily successful examples, etc.

In The Human Factor, the focus on teams in projects was especially touching. Not on performance, cost, learning curve, transparency and God knows what else, but on the most important thing – that essence, which itself is greater than the sum of its components.

In the modern corporate world and in IT in particular, I’m frozen out by the fashion for “matrix subordination” and the obligatory turnover of people between teams from project to project. Actually, this does not allow you to create teams as such: what is now called teams in IT is the essence of temporary meetings of people, each with their own personal development (or survival) plan, with the firmware of corporate rules rigidly set by the authorities and with almost zero influence on what is happening inside the company.

You will be told that your team is self-managed, that inside you are free to choose any stack, any approaches, you will have a passing leadership, and so on. But here, by the decision of top management, one day they simply scattered you across different floors, because a new project, and the memory of the “team” quickly disappears.

When I worked at the Utkonos company, this very “matrix” got me the most, that is, subordination to two leaders at the same time. I didn’t see how it would improve my life from the very beginning. I did not see anything good until the very dismissal. By and large, this was the only strong demotivating factor in working for a generally good company.

Demarco and Lister write about the “crystallization of teams” and also give examples of anti-patterns: what to do to destroy or reduce the team’s performance. Simultaneous involvement of employees in different teams is a sure way to stop the growth of productive teams in general. People create social ties around themselves, they are complex, each team has its own history, its own contexts. An employee who is already doing hard intellectual work simply cannot fit into several teams at the same time: there is not enough time or energy. There can be only one true strong identity in the workplace, and you will never have great teams of professionals per se when you “share experiences”.

In addition, I’ll add from myself, from the experience of the same Platypus: every leader naturally pulls the blanket over himself. No one likes to share an employee with another manager in a 40/60 ratio, everyone wants at least 60/40. As a result, you want to make a quality product in your product team, where smart guys have crept up, and everyone without words understands what it is to do well, but you constantly serve your duty on common projects that can simply be cut in half without harm to the company.

What else is good about the book? – Her simplicity and direct view of things. There are not so many pages in it, the authors are concise in Chekhov’s way, but manage to touch on a lot of really important aspects. It’s like a prophet or a sage comes to a community of people who are drowned in their meta-projections, resentments and complex interdependencies, erases the dust with a simple movement, points the right path.

For example, let people in your department rearrange their desks as they see fit. Is it difficult or dangerous? But why then do many companies have “furniture police”? Or another tip: turn down the noise level. Trite, but true: inside many offices, this problem seems to be of no concern to anyone. Although she secretly worries almost everyone.

Or here is a thesis that surprisingly resonates with some aspects of the organization of military affairs in one warring northern country: do not skimp on equipment and office space if this sharply reduces the productivity of employees engaged in intellectual work. Any simple calculator will tell you: the return of labor with its comfortable organization will at times cover the increased costs of providing.

Competition. It seems like everyone in the corporate world loves this word, but is it really needed inside the company? Is it necessary to single out the best employees? What about setting deliberately unrealizable deadlines in order to motivate people for “high achievements”? The culture of IT still seems to be very supportive of overwork and results beyond expectations. But the first version of the book was written back in the 80s, and these questions were already raised there.

Who in the company acts as an agent of change, a motor that moves the company forward? Charismatic leader? A specially hired “evangelist” who makes some funny passes with his hands? A simple engineer submitting his ideas to corporate mail? All companies verbally want to reproduce changes for the better, but in fact, not everyone even guesses under what conditions they are possible.

And finally. At the end of the book are the words that can be carved in golden letters on so many offices: “The worst sin of a leader is to waste someone else’s time.” Fortunately, I have mostly managed to avoid working in such companies, but I know from numerous stories of colleagues and friends: in IT, where the hour of work of an engineer is expensive compared to other sectors, and the “state of flow” is one of the factors of production, more Too many executives find it normal for their teams to spend 2-3 hours a day on mandatory phone calls.

The poverty of leaders’ ideas about their own role, multiplied by the constant press of newfangled rules, trends and just fads that are designed to drown out the feeling of that same impostor complex. For such colleagues, this book can be a great help, a tuning fork in some cases. There are people who look at things soberly. Their work is universally recognized, the book has stood the test of time.

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