Graduate Book Review 6: Antipatterns: Managing Software Organizations and People

Book Information

Book Title: Antipatterns: Managing Software Organizations and People
Author: Colin Neil, Phillip Laplante, and Joanna DeFranco
Publisher: CRC Press

Book Review

By PhD candidate Austin Gardner

Introduction to the Book

It is common for books on project management to present an idealistic, best-case scenario approach to managing projects and project teams. Unfortunately, this is often far from the reality of what project managers face in their workplaces, leaving them left wondering how to bridge the gap between an ideal situation and reality in order to successfully implement the best practices they have read about.

This book successfully deviates from this approach, instead presenting readers with recurring problems commonly faced by project teams, and providing them with the tools needed to combat these “antipatterns”. The authors weave advice and real world anecdotes together with humor and relevant pop-cultural references, making this an enjoyable read, useful both as a primer on how to lead project teams as well as a desk reference for when your team is struggling to achieve its full potential.

Overview of Book’s Structure

The primary focus of this book is to present readers with a catalog of antipatterns, which have been divided into two categories based on the root of the recurring problem. The authors introduce this concept in the introductory chapter of the book, which also provides a reference table that can be used to help readers identify which antipatterns may be at play in their workplace.

The next three chapters paint the backdrop for the antipatterns, providing an overview of human interaction and management theories. Depending on the background of the reader, these chapters can be equally effective whether used as an introduction to these theories or a helpful refresher for the experienced project manager.

The next two chapters catalog the antipatterns and are the primary focus of the book. The first of these covers management antipatterns, which are rooted in negative patterns of behavior resulting from subpar management styles. The second chapter contains environmental antipatterns, which result from the overall culture of the organization or project team, rather than a particular individual.

Finally, the last chapter in the book provides general advice for how to be an effective manager, as well as how to create positive change within one’s workplace.

Highlights: What I liked!

One of the best parts about this book is simply the format that the antipatterns are presented in. To explain the antipattern, the authors describe the concept, explain why it causes a problem, and give an example of an organization facing this issue. This thorough description of the problem, coupled with the introduction on human and team behavior, helps the reader to truly understand the core cause of the problem, enabling them to be more effective at fixing the problem.

This is followed by the author’s advice on how to combat the problem, which is broken down into three sections. The first is a ‘quick-fix’ for how to work effectively despite the antipattern, followed by how to fix the problem in the case where it may be your fault, and then how to go about creating change within the larger organization if the scope of the problem exceeds that of your position. These sections are relatively succinct, while still providing tangible advice for making the changes needed to improve the situation.

As previously mentioned, the humor and cordial tone of the book help make it a very enjoyable read, without detracting from the advice being presented. By purposefully avoiding an overly academic tone, the authors ensure that the book will appeal to a broad audience, serving as an effective quick-reference when problems crop up long after the reader has finished reading the book.

Shortfalls: What was Missing!

While the book presents a great breadth of antipatterns, it would have been nice if the authors had cut down on the sheer number and instead provided greater depth in their analysis of how to combat the situations presented. Another downside to the number of antipatterns included in their catalog was the inevitable number of similarities between them. While the authors acknowledge these similarities and try to clarify what makes each pattern unique, it often comes across as redundant.
At times there also appear to be minor contradictions within the provided advice. Within one antipattern, the authors state that “[it] is not a knock on telemanagers”, but then go on to advise the reader to “forget about telecommuting”, since you can’t be an effective leader that way. While this issue is not prevalent throughout the book, it does take away from the advice at times, as the reader is left trying to decipher which piece of advice to actually take.

Who might benefit from the Book

I would definitely recommend this book for any project or program managers, regardless of what industry they are working in. While managers working in IT or software engineering will likely benefit the most from this book, the advice provided on how to deal with the antipatterns can easily be applied to other fields as well. This book could also prove useful for non-managers who feel that their team is struggling, and want to try and turn things around.

Conclusion

This book provides no-nonsense advice that can be put to use almost immediately to help improve the efficiency of project teams. For new managers, this book will help prepare you for dealing with problems that your teams will inevitably face. For more seasoned managers, this book will provide a great reference to help fix recurring issues that your team can’t seem to move past.

Produced in cooperation between CRC Press, PM World Inc. and The Project Management Center for Excellence at the University of Maryland, USA

PM World Today is a global project management eJournal – published monthly at http://www.pmworldtoday.net

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