“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Life is too short to learn everything from our own mistakes. Good advice costs money and is limited by the availability of other resources. A good book helps in the meantime.

But what is a “good” book? This will certainly depend on one’s view. I have picked some books from my overcrowded shelves which I enjoyed as good, useful, and gainful. These books offer insights that add value to knowledge in important fields such as leadership, process improvement, software design, marketing, and technology management. The recommendations are based on my own reading. I am not associated with authors or publishers of these books.

Enjoy the reading!

The Effective Manager (Mark Horstman, ISBN-10‏: ‎1119244609)

What does it mean to be an effective manager? And: why bother? Frequently, you just “get the job” and are told to “make it work”, since “you’re paid for that now.” Yes, being a manager often means a better compensation, but it can also lead to frustration, confusion, and burn-out. It seems as if everybody wants to become a manager, but few know how to behave and what it means to lead others.

Mark Horstman explains in a well-narrated way how to be successful as a manager. He recommends practicing the following vital activities (he calls them “effective management tools”):

  • building a great relationship with your directs,
  • communicating with your team using frequent one-on-ones,
  • constantly expecting continuous performance improvements, and
  • teaching your directs how to delegate work.

He explains every one of those aspects in great detail, including many useful, practical recommendations, on how to overcome resistance, make difficult management decisions, and retain talent. Following these practices makes a manager effective.

“The Effective Manager” is an excellent book for both experienced and recently promoted managers and an outstanding source of hints and recommendations for leadership mentors.

Leading Change (John P.Kotter; ISBN-10: 0875847471)

What should be considered when a comprehensive process improvement measure is about to be developed and implemented? In a modern factory, the human resources, not the automated assembly line, make it a successful enterprise. The same goes for software companies. For that reason, the introduction of new processes is a perilous exercise. Certain rules must be followed, otherwise, a disaster is inevitable.

In his classic book Leading Change, John Kotter introduces a proven strategy for a successful organizational change. Stressing the clear distinction between management and leadership, the process is very intuitive and straightforward to implement. In our consulting practice, we have repeatedly proven the effectiveness of Kotter’s strategy.

Surviving Object Oriented Projects (A. Cockburn; ISBN-10: 0201498340)

Learning from others’ mistakes – this book makes it possible. The authors offer highly interesting, real case studies about implementing object-oriented technology. The (partially anonymized) reports are both entertaining and highly educational. The object-oriented hype is long gone, but even today, new technologies are introduced repeatedly in a way that is very reminiscent of the cases presented here.

If you are a project manager confronted with the challenge of setting up a new project, and you are being asked if EAI/SOA/MDI/whatever-the-current-hype-is should be considered and how to go about it, you should read this book in the first place.

Software Fundamentals (Collected Papers by David L. Parnas; ISBN-10: 0201703696)

A book for true connoisseurs! David Parnas, one of the most famous personalities in the computer science world and the inventor of the infamous Data Hiding principle (data encapsulation), has put together various articles from various sources that handle a variety of interesting topics. Some may seem a bit nostalgic, but all contributions offer timeless insights. May interesting subjects will catch the reader’s attention, including very serious titles like “Structured Analysis, Requirement Analysis in Complex Systems”, “Software Engineering Principles”, as well as a refreshing article with the ominous headline “A Rational Design Process: How and Why to Fake It”.

The first-rate reading for all software professionals.

Mind over Machine (Hubert L. und Stuart E. Dreyfus; ISBN-10: 0743205510)

What is an expert? Can the term “expert” be effectively defined at all? How does one become an expert? If we knew the answer, then experts might become easily interchangeable. Experts could be described by a set of rules, the rules could be fed into a computer and the computer would become a cheap replacement for expensive human experts.

Written in the eighties, when artificial intelligence (AI) was a popular hype, the book offers the conclusion that a computer will probably never replace a human expert. Marketed under the misleading term “expert systems”, complex computer systems fail to perform trivial tasks ordinary people handle every day with ease. Even today, computer science still struggles with the task of designing artificial experts. Despite the ability of modern computers to beat nearly all human chess masters or to more-or-less reliable recognize human faces and number plates, we are still light years away from emulating a human being.

However, the book offers much more than just a realistic assessment of the AI fiasco. The reader will find many exciting social experiments and their explanations. The authors also comprehensively describe their famous, five-stage skill model, from “novice” to “expert” explaining the role of “intuition” in the human learning process. Many concepts presented in this book can be found in various today’s trendy publications. More than worth reading.

Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software (Gamma et al; ISBN-10: 0201633612)

A must-have classic for all software designers. Anyone who works with object-oriented technology must read it. It contains practically proven solutions to common design problems arising in the everyday life of a software designer. The authors offer comprehensive and useful examples for each design pattern.

Design patterns are a basic vocabulary that facilitates communication, reduces the number of unnecessary debates, and thus saves time and money. There is no way around this masterpiece.

The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management (Tom DeMarco; ISBN-10: 0932633390)

The Deadline – This is the absolute classic in the area of IT project management. This novel (!) from the famous management guru Tom DeMarco is a fictional journey through a giant project management laboratory in which multiple project teams pursue different management approaches with the same goal: the successful development of a new software system. The author offers what is impossible in the real world: a comparison of concurring organizational approaches.

Even if it occasionally becomes obvious that Tom DeMarco is, by heart, a manager and not a professional fiction writer, the book is fun to read and contains many useful insights on the art of IT project management. The Deadline – a cult book and a highly recommended reading for all aspiring project managers.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely; ISBN: 0007256531)

Are we rational human beings? If so, why do so many of us drive a more expensive vehicle while a much cheaper alternative would meet all of our practical needs? Did you know that the first price mentioned in a sales negotiation demonstrably affects the final price? Why does a can of beer in a student dorm fridge quickly disappear, while a dollar bill lies there for weeks? And why is the “culture of free”, the freebie movement, so popular? There must be a catch to it, right?

Daniel Ariely, economist, and MIT professor offers interesting answers to these questions. The book is entertaining and very interesting for readers who work in the marketing and sales professions.

The Wisdom of Crowds (James Surowiecki, ISBN 978-0385721707)

When dealing with complex problems, asking prominent experts for help is common sense. James Surowiecki shows in his book that this is not always the best choice. For certain problem classes, groups of independent individuals provide (under certain circumstances) significantly better results than expert teams.

This startling insight has broad consequences for the world of innovation, marketing, and technology. The often unexploited potential of employees, citizens, or even anonymous internet users can be unleashed to the maximum benefit of commercial businesses. “Prediction Markets” or Google’s PageRank algorithm are famous examples of this “wisdom of crowds principle”.

The book is a worldwide bestseller, is written in an entertaining and pleasant language. We recommend it to all audiences.

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