Edinburgh Castle
Beautiful Teams : Inspiring and Cautionary Tales from Veteran Team Leaders
AuthorsAndrew Stellman & Jennifer Greene
DateMarch 2009
ReviewerRoger Spooner
Cover image for Beautiful Teams

This book builds upon two noble traditions. Andrew Stellman and Jennifer Greene have worked togther on several books about project management, while O'Reilly has been releasing a series of "Beautiful" books about the real world application of theories we have read so much about.

This substantial volume (weighing in at over 482 pages) is a set of personal stories from great people in the software engineering industry. Many of them have been through tough challenges, worked on major projects, or dealt with difficult people. The stories span several decades, across which object oriented design matured, agile methods were born and dot-coms boomed.

Because each of the articles has been written by a different author, they all have a different tone. The editors were clearly very broad in their intentions for this book, and so while some make specific points about practices on a particular project, others are anecdotes about a team an author had been a member of.

Summarising so many topics is hard, but a number of familiar topics do come up. The politics and emotions of people are important. Some people don't listen enough to understand each other; some put a lot of pressure on their juniors; some are just liars. The traditional tasks of requirements capture and testing are still important. In one pharmaceutical project, two previous teams had begun a project but forgot to note any of their requirements before giving up, so the internal customer was frustrated when the third team started asking what he wanted the system to do. In another project that was not allowed any testers, pressure was applied by a senior manager to drop the code reviews and unit testing that was holding it to its requirements. Another emphasised the importance of tools; peer review of source commits was far more common on a project where the diff was included in the email announcing who made a change. Moving the diff onto a web page or another email is sufficiently hard that almost nobody bothers to inspect work, and so quality is at risk.

Perhaps another reason why summarising the topics is hard, is that most of the articles tend to ramble without a focused topic. Some are interviews with experts who simply can't tell you why they are great in ten minutes. One is a personal account of escaping from the World Trade Centre in 9/11 which make a gripping read but like other chapters, is pretty straightforward in leadership content. Several are descriptions of working environments which must have been fascinating places to work, but the book might still leave you wondering how to make yours a better place.

Each of the chapters is an enjoyable read; not long, and quite light-hearted. Such a book could make good spare-time reading or be a nice coffee table piece. It certainly doesn't ram theory down your throat. But sometimes the theory was rather hard to see at all, and the conclusion might almost be "stuff happens".

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