‚Peopleware‘ – a book by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

Every year between Christmas and New Year's Day it has become a tradition of mine to reread favorite books or articles that have impressed me. While articles and books have changed over the years depending on what stage of my life I was in, a constant always has been and probably will be for the foreseeable future is ‚Peopleware‘ by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. Let me tell you why.
Fri, 24 Dec 2021

A friend of mine recommended me to read this book when I finished school and got my first summer intern job in the IT department of a local company. While Peopleware mainly focuses on IT related topics (DeMarco and Lister are software consultants) many concepts or situations are also applicable to non-IT teams and offices. While originally published in 1987, with the 3rd edition (2013) the book picks up on many of todays’ challenges people face in the office.

Especially in the early years of me working in big offices this book helped me realize I was not the only who thought that the way managers handled their employees was neither smart nor sustainable. And the more years I worked, these sentences became more truer with every time I read them:

Most managers are willing to concede the idea that they’ve got more people worries than technical worries. But they seldom manage that way. […] They are forever on the lookout for a technical whizbang that promises to automate away part of the work. The most strongly people-oriented aspects of their responsibility are often given the lower priority.


Because we go about this work in teams and projects and other tightly knit working groups, we are mostly in the human communication business. Our success stem from good human interactions by all participants in the effort, and our failures stem from poor human interactions. The main reason we tend to focus on the technical rather than the human side of the work is not because it’s more crucial, but because it’s easier to do. Getting the new disk drive installed is positively trivial compared to figuring out why Horace is in a blue funk or why Susan is dissatisfied with the company after only a few months. Human interactions are complicated and never very crisp and clean in their effects, but they matter more than any other aspect of the work

A big part of the book deals with office culture, especially in regards to office design. Sure, every hip company wants shiny new offices they can flex on Instagram with. But were they ever thinking about the people who actually have to get work done in there? It’s not about the managers who often have their own office, but the people who actually put in the work and have to manage these circumstances.

Almost without exception, the work space given to intellect workers is noisy, interruptive, un-private, and sterile. Some are prettier than others, but not much more functional. No one can get much real work done there. […] Staying late or arriving early or staying home to work in peace is a damning indictment of the office environment. The amazing thing is not that it’s so often impossible to work in the workplace; the amazing thing is that everyone knows it and nobody ever does anything about it. […] The bald fact is that many companies provide developers with a workplace that is so crowded, noisy and interruptive as to fill their days with frustration. That alone could explain recuded efficiency as well as a tendency for good people to migrate elsewhere. Workers who reported before the excercise that their workplace was acceptably quiet were one-third more likely to deliever zero-defect work. Your people bring their brains with them every morning. They could put them to work for you at no additional cost if only there were a small measure of peace and quiet in the workplace

The are also many great chapters about how meetings are killing productivity and wasting everones time and how FYI emails are in fact signs of organizational or personal dysfunction.

Every time I reread this book I am able to find a new situation that I experienced since last reading and can apply to a theory or a statement in it. That’s what makes it such an important book in my life as it further assures me, that many things in the working life are not going well and need improvement. It also makes sure, that I never want to be one of those people described as a negative example in the book.