Theatre & Films Productions

Managing Humans…

An interesting read from the book: Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager

Here is a Book Review and Here is a Google Preview of the book. Managing Humans is a selection of the best essays from Michael Lopps web site, Rands In Repose. Drawing on Lopp’s management experiences at Apple, Netscape, Symantec, and Borland, this book is full of stories based on companies in the Silicon Valley where people have been known to yell at each other. It is a place full of dysfunctional bright people who are in an incredible hurry to find the next big thing so they can strike it rich and then do it all over again. Among these people are managers, a strange breed of people who through a mystical organizational ritual have been given power over your future and your bank account. Whether you’re an aspiring manager, a current manager, or just wondering what the heck a manager does all day, there is a story in this book that will speak to you. You will learn:

  • What to do when people start yelling at each other
  • How to perform a diving save when the best engineer insists on resigning
  • How to say “No” to the person who signs your paycheck

Among fans of Michael Lopp is the incomparable Joel Spolsky, cofounder and CEO of Fog Creek Software:

“What you’re holding in your hands in by far the most brilliant book about managing software teams you’re ever going to find”.

This book is designed for managers and would-be managers staring at the role of a manager wondering why they would ever leave the safe world of bits and bites for the messy world of managing humans. The book covers handling conflict, managing wildly differing personality types, infusing innovation into insane product schedules, and figuring out how to build a lasting and useful engineering The Author: To read more of Michael Lopp try his Blog or follow @rands on Twitter. Some of my favourite quotes from the book:

A manager’s job is to take what skills they have, the ones that got them promoted, and figure out how to make them scale. They do this by building a team that accentuates their strengths and, more importantly, reinforces where they are weak. Managers who don’t have a plan to regularly talk to everyone on their team are deluded. Ideas will not be discovered, talent will be ignored, and the team will slowly begin to believe what they think does not matter.


Real work is visible action managers take to support their particular vision for their organisation. The question you need to answer for your manager is simple: does he do what he says he’s going to do? Does he make something happen? The CEO in question is not a prick. Good guy. Straight talker. Good financial sense. Many failing companies did a lot worse than ours, but that isn’t the point. The reason we sat there drunk and uncomfortable was because we had absolutely no connection with this guy. He was the mechanical CEO.

My definition of a great manager is someone with whom you can make a connection no matter where you sit in the organization chart. What exactly I mean by connection varies wildly by who you are and what you want and, yes, that means great managers have to work terribly hard to see the subtle differences in each of the people working for them. Meanwhile, you need to constantly assess your colleagues, determine what they need, and figure out what motivates them. You need to remember that what worked one day as a motivational technique will backfire in two months because human beings are confusing, erratic, and emotional. In order to manage human beings in the moment, you’ve got to be one.

A successful organization is built of layers of people that are glued together with managers. Each layer is responsible for a broad task, be it engineering or QA or marketing. Between each layer is a manager whose job it is to translate from one layer to the next . . . in both directions. He knows what his employees want. He knows what his manager wants, and he’s able to successfully navigate when those wants differ.

Management is chess. When you’re presented with a problem, you sometimes need to sit back and take a look at the board, figure out the consequences of each of move, and, most importantly, pick a move. In my experience, the move and how you pick it does not involve 48 laws, it’s only 3 words: subtlety, subterfuge, and silence. Managers lead, and a lot of managers translate that into “managers lead by talking.” Combined with the tendency of employees to not say no to these managers, you can see why a lot of us have turned into professional windbags. We think we’re guiding you by filling the air with our thoughts. There’s a time and place for that, but in order to fill the air with something relevant, you’ve got to gather and process data. In silence, you can assess.


Managers are hubs of communication. The better they communicate across these sphere boundaries, the more people they can communicate with, and the more data they have, which consequently leads to better decision-making. Ultimately, stronger communicators make more informed decisions, and hopefully are more successful because they waste less time wondering what to do. How you will be judged as a manager by your team is based on how you communicate with them. That’s not just taking the time to have that quarterly all-hands, it’s understanding what they need to hear and being able to say it in a way they’ll understand.

When I see a new manager fall back to coding, I tell the manager, “I know you can code. The question is, can you manage? You’re no longer responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for the team, and I want to see you figure out how to get the team to solve this problem without you coding. Your job is to figure out how to get yourself to scale. I want lots of you, not just one.”

4 responses

  1. I prefer the image in the post.

    An image is worth 1000 words, its a fact, but this one is worth 1 million words 😛


    3 August, 2009 at 8:08 pm

  2. Ha!
    the chess picture… couldn’t find a better one on Flickr! 😀

    4 August, 2009 at 8:27 am

  3. Naizlah

    STRIP CHESS MATCH Interesting idea, maybe I’ll try that one day, the article shows the role,reality of manager however, not everything is written in books experience brings a lot more.. 😉

    8 August, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    • ha, Chess…. had cool sessions of chess match with a Gold Medal Winner at LCRH at work… 😀

      got to learn new stuff from the book. I like reading such books…

      8 August, 2009 at 8:33 pm

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