With his first software novel, Tom DeMarco delivers a highly entertaining and subtly educational book all about project management. The plot centers around Mr. Tompkins, a downsized project manager who is kidnapped and whisked away to the fantasy Republic of Morovia. There, he is asked to manage a huge staff of developers to deliver six software products with impossible deadlines. Using different size teams and different methods, Mr. Tompkins tests his project management principles and shares with us his insights along the way. This book must be one of the easiest and most fun "reads" in the professional developer's library.
Review By: Wayne Middleton 10/30/2002The subtitle ("A Novel about Project Management") succinctly describes this engaging yet unconventional book about software project management issues. In a dream story format, the author takes the reader on a journey to the make-believe country of Morovia in the former Soviet Union. Webster Thompkins, a soon-to-be-laid-off experienced software project manager, is whisked off to Morovia to advise the country's leader on how to make Morovia the first and leading software exporter.
Throughout the novel, Thompkins employs his project management experience and skills to advise project leaders and management on how to deliver successful software projects. Along the way, Thompkins keeps a journal and shares with us what he has learned on his journey. For example, after reviewing a failed project, Thompkins summarizes what he has discovered:
- threats are an imperfect way to motivate performance
- no matter how serious the threat, the work still won't get done on time if the time originally allocated for it was not sufficient
- worse still, if the target doesn't get met, you actually may have to make good on your threats
Using the device of Thompkins' journal, the author delivers his important messages for the book's audience. Using both positive and negative examples, the author teaches us his philosophy of software project management and entertains us at the same time. Topics covered in the story include positive and negative reinforcement; risk management; process improvement; project teams and how they jell; the use of models; the politics of projects; metrics; ambiguous specifications; staffing levels; and much more.
In my first reading of the book, I simply read and enjoyed the story, not trying to learn anything particular about project management. Then I went back through the book, studying the excerpts from Thompkins' journal and relating his thoughts back to the story. Using this sequence, I was able to see more clearly the messages underlying the story line. Others may want to use the book differently.
Through the millennia, people have learned important lessons through allegories. The author does a good job of delivering his messages in the form of a light, easy-to-digest story. Unlike typical books about software development, he does not have to defend his messages with logic and experience; rather, he lets the story line demonstrate the good, the bad, and the ugly of software project management.
At about 250 pages, this book can be a quick, fun read. Alternatively, you can study it, slowly absorbing the story while relating Thompkins' experiences to your own. I recommend both!