Monday, June 08, 2009

Book Review: Beautiful Teams

Beautiful Teams, by Andrew Stellman & Jennifer Greene. Published by O’Reilly, ISBN 0596518021.

This book’s a good read and a nice addition to your bookshelf, although its uneven writing style and fractured voice detract from some great tidbits.

Beautiful Teams is a collection of interviews and essays by various folks in and around the software industry.  Each chapter is a great interview with folks like Steve McConnell or Scott Ambler, or an essay-like article from Mike Cohn or Corey Doctorow. Chapters are slotted into broad sections dealing with individuals, goals, practices, obstacles, and music – as in how parallels can be drawn between musicians in a band and members of software teams.

The uneven writing style and fractured voice can be somewhat expected since each author wrote their own articles, but tighter editing could have really polished up the chapters and made the book more cohesive. The tone of many of the articles made it seem they were drawn directly from the authors’ blogs – another point for having had some tighter editing. I also wished that each chapter had an introduction/bio about the author. While these people are supposed industry leaders, there were quite a few authors I wasn’t familiar with, so I was left wondering what their accomplishments were that made them a target to get in the book.

Complaints aside, I got very good value from reading the book. The wisdom in several articles around dealing with team dynamics was exceedingly useful, and I also found it good backup to read industry leaders pointing out it’s important to move poor performers or negative influences off teams.

Several chapters really stood out for me: Grady Booch’s interview on creating team cultures, James Grenning’s article on implementing extreme programming (XP) in a heavily bureaucratic shop during XP’s early days, and Steve McConnell’s interview about improving team skills, morale, and practices.

Booch’s interview really struck home due to his discussion of working on geographically distributed teams. I’m a remote worker and am far away from everyone I work with at Telligent, so this was particularly interesting to me.  Booch’s comments on the importance of trust between team members and dealing with cultural issues really struck home – he emphasized that technology isn’t the limiting factor on poor-performing distributed teams.

Greening’s experience pushing for change was a great read. The tone and style are clunky, but the content’s gold. Greening was learning XP in its earliest days and worked hard to get an XP team going on a project in a very tight-laced, policy-ridden company. The number one takeaway from me from this article was something I’m already a huge believer in: culture change will utterly fail if you don’t have management and leadership that actively supports the change.

I’ve yet to read anything from Steve McConnell that wasn’t ridden with great wisdom, and his interview in this book certainly kept that tradition.  His points on helping establish a team identity were highly useful. I loved his commentary on the asinine failure (my words) of companies to budget funds for team and morale building. It makes no sense that companies will spend millions on payroll, yet do nothing to build and grow team morale.

Overall I’ve really enjoyed reading this book. It’s one of the few I’ll keep around on my bookshelf.

1 comment:

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