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Book Review: Reflections on Management

Posted by on April 27, 2010

If you know me, you know that I am passionate about managing software development teams and the projects they work on. So I was very interested when Addison Wesley wrote me and asked me if I wanted to review their latest offering “Reflections on Management: How to Manage Your Software Projects, Your Teams, Your Boss, and Yourself” by Watts S. Humphrey. (I was even more excited when they sent me the ePub version as I’m trying to justify my purchase of an iPad.)

The book is only 288 pages long (539 if you set the point size to a readable size on the iPad) but honestly it is jammed packed with things that managers of software development teams and projects need to know. I really am at a loss for where to start reviewing it because I feel the need to simply reiterate all the points that Mr. Humphrey made in the book.

Who it is for

This but is a must read for anyone managing a medium to large size software development team. Actually, I would say that it is a must read for any C-Level or VP level at a company who either develops software as their primary function or their business is built around software that is built in house. It is that good.

Who it is not for

If you are managing a small shop or working with small teams, this book won’t give you much in the way of practical advice. It gives you some great big picture advice but nothing that you can readily apply on a day-to-day basis.

What is in it

First off, here is my favorite quote from the book.

When projects go badly, our reaction is often to work harder—by which
we mean work longer hours. But it’s rarely that simple. Projects often
go wrong at the very start, and their problems are generally symptoms
of a deeply dysfunctional organization.

Looking back at the projects I’ve been on, managed, or discussed with clients, I can attest to this gem of wisdom. That quote is from Bill Thomas and comes from the preface of the book. Even so, it indicative of the wisdom that is sprinkled liberally throughout the book.

Mr. Humphrey goes on to touch on just about every one of my hot buttons in the rest of the eight chapters. His advice runs the gamut from “how to manage a project”, to “how to manage a team”, to “how to manage your boss”. All of it drawing from his 60 years of experience in IT.

Unlike most modern management books that tend to be pithy with pull-quotes, and written in a style reminiscent of motivational speakers, “Reflections on Management” is written in a much more formal style. (I’d say like you would expect form an old white guy but I am told these days that I am an old white guy.) It’s not stuffy at all but it can be a bit dry at times. What keeps your attention though are his liberal sprinkling of real-life examples of the points he is making.


The ideas and principals espoused by Mr. Humphrey are solid. Even if you disagree with this methodologies, it is difficult for anyone to disagree with the principals. Personally, I think it that a copy of this book should be presented to every management candidate at least 3 weeks before their promotion. Reading this book will help them either determine that they don’t want to be in management or get started on the right foot. Either way, the company and the candidate wins.

Cal Evans is a veteran of the browser wars. (BW-I, the big one) He has been programming for more years than he likes to remember but for the past [redacted] years he's been working strictly with PHP, MySQL and their friends. Cal regularly speaks at PHP users groups and conferences, writes articles and wanders the net looking for trouble to cause. He blogs on an "as he feels like it" basis at Postcards from my life.
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Responses and Pingbacks

How would you define “medium to large size software development team?” I’m always looking for good material like this (sorry I missed your webinar!), but my biggest team is 5 people. Would it be a good fit?


No doubt you would get something form the book and it would be worth the money but the author spent many a year at IBM running bit teams and projects.

So I don’t think the advice would be so much practical as much as it will be inspirational.


[…] Addison-Wesley on more of a “soft topic” than the usual code/tutorial content – Reflections on Management (How to Manage Your Software Projects, Your Team, Your Boss and Yourself). The book is only 288 […]

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