#MindMatters: Peopleware

About this month’s #MindMatters spokesperson

Name: Jeremy Kratz
Team: DoneDone
Role: Front-end developer
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Favorite place to eat/chill/drink: My current favorite local spot is Little Rock’s Local Lime – home of the best chorizo tacos in town!

What’s good and plentiful in life for you lately?

My wife and I are gearing up for an across-town move, so we’ve spent the past few weeks packing up our little house in the suburbs. We’re excited about the move, which is good, but we’re currently living between stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes, which are plentiful.

What did we read as a group this month?

This March, we read Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. Tom and Timothy have consulted with hundreds of software companies over the past 3+ decades, and have found that the biggest problems in the software development process are caused not by technology, but by humans. Peopleware collects their experiences and recommendations on subjects like overtime, office environments, team building, and which work cultures foster happy and healthy teams.

While Peopleware was first published in 1987, its lessons have been updated in 1999 and 2013 to keep up with constant changes in the software industry. The book covers a huge number of topics, so it’s definitely not a quick read. But luckily, the authors’ conversational writing style and short anecdotes from their consulting experiences keep it from dragging. We found this to be an excellent comprehensive resource for anyone who wants to help make their workplace healthier and more productive.

Here are a few points our team is taking away from the book:
  • Peopleware first introduced the concept of “jelling” – that hard-to-describe feeling that close-knit teams develop. Jelled teams love their work, their coworkers, and their workplace, and produce great results. The book regularly assesses the factors that can produce jelled teams, and which policies can actively prevent them from forming.
  • When you’re working, pay close attention to your “flow” – the periods when you’re so focused on your task that work becomes nearly effortless. Also pay attention to the distractions that interrupt your flow, and take steps to reduce them.
  • Tom and Timothy’s studies on physical office environments were super interesting to us – they discuss topics such as the ideal amount of workspace for each worker, the effects of open vs closed floorplans, the psychological effects of ambient light and sound, and much more. Did you know that the Danish legislature passed a law that each worker must have his or her own window?
  • Bad work environments can foster a fear of embarrassment – you might not want to admit your mistakes or ignorance to your coworkers. Good workplaces make it clear that everyone makes mistakes and no one knows everything – failure can actually make your team stronger.

What notable discussions happened in the #MindMatters HipChat room over the past month?

We had a great discussion in the #MindMatters HipChat room this month on what makes a good team member. Jennifer shared a link to an article from Chad Fowler titled Who I Want to Hire, which outlined the qualities he’s looking for in an ideal developer candidate. While it’s easy to create job posts that simply list desired technical qualifications, it’s much harder to find candidates who have specific attitudes and qualities that will make them jell with your team.

We also talked about a few design- & development-related topics, including Bloomberg’s radical new redesign, Google’s upcoming mobile-first search algorithm updatesMicrosoft’s decision to scrap Internet Explorer, a great article from Frank Chimero on The Web’s Grain, and a discussion on the Apple Watch from Design Observer.

Personally, this month I really enjoyed a link from Craig: Astro Teller’s SXSW keynote on How to Make Moonshots. Astro talks about how the Google[x] team has developed projects like high-altitude balloons that provide Internet access, driverless cars, Google Glass headsets, and airborne wind turbines. Specifically, he talks about their cycle of planning, implementing, failing, problem-solving, and restarting. It’s a fascinating look at a team building some crazy ideas, and how they embrace failure rather than fear it.

What are some other interesting things you’re reading, listening to, or learning from lately?

I recently read Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel. Thiel talks about how to find and build a world-changing idea, and challenges a lot of the conventional advice typically given to startups.

I’ve also been re-living my adolescence recently by re-watching the entire run of The X-Files, along with a podcast featuring cast, crew, and fan interviews for each episode. It’s really fun to revisit a show that’s so specific to the 1990s after 20 years, and I couldn’t be more excited that it’s coming back next year!

What are we reading as a group next month?

In April, we are reading Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, who is most famous for inventing the Internet.

#MindMatters is a book group, a chat room, and an exchange of ideas, books, links, podcasts, and rants. It’s a simple way for our distributed team to share what we’re learning. Each month, we read a book and pick 3-4 other topics to discuss as a group (drawing from life, our chat room, or suggestions from friends and coworkers). Then, someone in the group writes up this lovely blog article to share the month’s experience.