“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, helpful, and gainful. These books offer insights that add value to knowledge in essential fields such as leadership, process improvement, software design, marketing, and technology management. The recommendations are based on my 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 “get the job” and are told to “make it work” since “you’re paid for that now.” Being a manager often means better compensation, but it can also lead to frustration, confusion, and burnout. 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 overcoming resistance, making difficult management decisions, and retaining talent. Following these practices makes a manager effective.

“The Effective Manager” is an excellent book for 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 being 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 strenuous exercise. Specific rules must be followed. Otherwise, a disaster is inevitable.

In his classic book Leading Change, John Kotter introduces a proven strategy for successful organizational change. Stressing the clear distinction between management and leadership, the process is intuitive and straightforward. 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 fascinating, 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 exciting 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. A set of rules could describe experts; the rules could be fed into a computer, which would replace expensive human experts cheaply.

Written in the eighties, when artificial intelligence (AI) was a popular hype, the book concludes 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 designing artificial experts. Despite the ability of modern computers to beat nearly all human chess masters or to more-or-less reliably recognize human faces and number plates, we are still light years away from emulating a human being.

However, the book offers much more than 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 in this book can be found in various trendy publications. It’s more than worth reading.

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

It is 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 valuable 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 IT project management. This novel (!) by the famous management guru Tom DeMarco is a fictional journey through a giant project management laboratory. Multiple project teams pursue different management approaches with the same goal: successfully developing 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 evident that Tom DeMarco is, by heart, a manager and not a professional fiction writer, the book is fun to read and contains many valuable insights into the art of IT project management. The Deadline – is 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 exciting answers to these questions. The book is entertaining and fascinating 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 specific problem classes, groups of independent individuals provide (under certain circumstances) significantly better results than expert teams.

This startling insight has broad consequences for 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 written in an entertaining and pleasant language. We recommend it to all audiences.

The Story of Human Language (John McWhorter, The Great Courses [Audobook])

“The Story of Human Language,” available on Audible, isn’t just an audiobook. It is a series of lectures about languages that takes you on a journey through the history of human language, showing you the changes and twists it has gone through to become what it is today.

It answers many interesting questions you might have wondered about, such as:

  • It’s a well-known fact that bees can communicate with each other. But is it a language?
  • Why can’t monkeys speak like humans?
  • Is language a genetic predisposition? Or is it a result of a cultural development?
  • About 6000 languages exist. How many of them exist in a written form?
  • Why is the Chinese language so difficult for Europeans to master?
  • Why is the English spelling seemingly so illogical?

One of the best parts about this audiobook is how it’s presented. It’s perfect for non-native English speakers. The narration is clear and straightforward, making it easy to follow along and pick up new information without getting bogged down by complex terms or dense academic language. It’s like having a friendly chat with an expert who is passionate about the topic and excited to share his knowledge.

This audiobook is a fantastic tool for anyone looking to grasp better how languages work, especially if you’re working in an international team or dealing with different cultures. Understanding the roots and evolution of language can help improve how we communicate, making our work and personal interactions smoother and more effective.

Our tip: listen to it more than once. You’ll catch the details and insights you missed every time you go through it. It’s packed with so much exciting content that it’s almost impossible to soak it all in with just one listen.

“The Story of Human Language” is a must-listen for anyone interested in the why and how of human communication. It’s enlightening, accessible, and downright fascinating. Give it a listen, and then another. Trust me, you’ll hear something new and exciting each time.

The Mythical Man-Month (Frederick Brooks; ISBN: 9780201835953)

“The Mythical Man-Month” by Fred Brooks is a classic book on software project management that has been shaping the world of software development since its first publication in 1975. This book is an absolute must-read for anyone involved in software development, no matter your role.

Fred Brooks analyzes why software project planning often fails and presents insights that are as relevant today as they were when the book was first written. One of the key takeaways is the concept of the “man-month,” the idea that you can’t simply speed up software development by adding more people to a project. Brooks explains why this approach leads to more delays and complications, insightfully and practically breaking down the complexities of software engineering. The often-quoted phrase “adding more people to a late project makes it even later” originates in this book.

What makes “The Mythical Man-Month” so crucial for professionals across all methodologies—the V-Model, agile frameworks, or any other—is its timeless wisdom on project management and its challenges. Brooks’ essays encourage us to rethink our approaches to software development, highlighting the importance of understanding the human elements (“the human factor”) in project planning and execution.

Whether deeply entrenched in Agile methodologies, swearing by the V-Model, or exploring new frameworks, this book offers invaluable perspectives on managing software projects effectively. It emphasizes the need for clear communication, realistic scheduling, and the understanding that no process ideology can substitute for these fundamental principles.

“The Mythical Man-Month” is not just a book; it’s THE book everyone in a leading project role must have read. This book continues to influence how we think about and execute software projects. Its lessons apply across different process ideologies, making it an essential read for anyone looking to excel in software development.

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