Thursday, March 18, 2010

BOOK: Managing Humans

[This was originally posted at]

About two Christmases ago, I was shopping for a gift for a tech buddy. Browsing through the local Barnes & Noble, I saw this yellow book "Managing Humans". I thought to myself "what technical geek doesn't need to know better people and management skills?" Relieved to have found the perfect gift, I never thought much about that book since. Then a coworker suggested Michael Lopp's Rands in Repose blog. I was impressed with Michael's take on how "software engineers" meet "people skills", saw that it was the same guy who wrote "Managing Humans", and figured that two (indirect) endorsements for the same book, combined with my quest to improve my people skills, meant I should buy it. $16.49 and 8 days later, I had the book in my hands, and could barely put it down. With each chapter, I thought to myself "this guy really gets it".

The book is divided into 34 small chapters, each based on insightful stories based on in-the-trenches experiences. Lots of people-books offer fluff: "be nice to all your coworkers", "work hard", "always brush your teeth so your bad breath doesn't alienate your coworkers", etc... Michael bypasses the obvious and gets to the good stuff. Some of the big points I took away:

Blunt Truths

  1. "Your manager is not a manager until they've participated in a layoff." (pg. 15)
  2. "If you're sitting in a meeting where you're unable to identify any players, get the hell out." (pg. 23)
  3. "Remember that for every person on the team who has a strong opinion regarding the decision, there are probably four other coworkers who just want someone to make a decision so that they can get back to work." (pg. 28)
  4. "you aren't a company until 1.0 is done." (pg. 77)
  5. About reacting vs. thinking, and being too busy: "when you're busy, you're not thinking, you're reacting." (pg. 83)
  6. About "Malcolm Events" - "Seemingly insignificant events that are intent on screwing you in an unlikely way." (pg. 93) "The only way you're going to learn to identify potential Malcolm events is by going through some horrible, horrible experiences." (pg. 96) Part of avoiding these events is clear and tough communication that most people want to shy away from, such as team status reports that say "We're not doing Phil's favorite feature."
  7. "nothing gets everyone's attention like a deadline." (pg. 107)
  8. About finding the anchor in a meeting - "Just wait for someone to say something controversial and see who everyone looks at." (pg. 148)
  9. "Like it or not, your boss has as much effect on your career as you do" (pg. 163)
  10. "A reorg isn't over until someone important has printed out a new organizational chart and presented it in front of the entire company." (pg. 174)
  11. About outsourcing your job - "You could be outsourced because your job is so richly defined that it can be documented and explained to any reasonable professional on the planet..." (pg. 179) "Jobs that can be 'well specified' are being shipped offshore." (pg. 183)
  12. "A micromanager does not trust." (pg. 189)
  13. "Guy who knows the people are the business." (pg. 190)

Other misc quotes

  1. "you are not talking to a person when you talk with your manager; you are talking to the organization." (pg. 11)
  2. "understanding your manager's place in the political food chain is the trickiest because you're often not in the meetings where he is interacting with his superiors." (pg. 14)
  3. "In any freakout, there is normally a very noisy preamble which is designed to get your attention." (pg. 18)
  4. "your job is not just management of people, it's management of information." (pg. 105)

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