New book review for Amplifying Your Effectiveness: Collected Essays, edited by Gerald M. Weinberg, James Bach, and Naomi Karten, Dorset House Publishing, 2000, reposted here:
This book is a collection of "pre-cedings" written by 17 software consultants for a conference of the same name. In the introduction, Weinberg explains the frequent ineffectiveness of proceedings typically distributed at the end of conferences. These essays (the entire text is less than 150 pages) present a preview of the hosts participating in the first "Amplifying Your Effectiveness" conference by demonstrating the diverse styles and interests of the authors. Weinberg explains that within any organization, improvements in effectiveness can occur at three levels - the individual ("the Self"), the team ("the Other"), and the organization as a whole ("the Context") - and that this collection attempts to address all three levels. In addition, there are three fundamental abilities that contribute to the effectiveness of a manager or any other technical leader: "the ability to observe what's happening and to understand the significance of your observations", "the ability to act congruently in difficult interpersonal situations, even though you may be confused, or angry, or so afraid you want to run away and hide", and "the ability to understand complex situations so you can plan a project and then observe and act so as to keep the project going according to plan, or modify the plan". These three abilities are also addressed in this collection because the least developed among them prevents one from amplifying effectiveness the most.
The essays are presented in four parts: "empowering the individual", "improving interpersonal interactions", "mastering projects", and "changing the organization". Based on the number of dog ears following the reading of this book, this reviewer especially enjoyed parts one and four, and essays "Do I Want to Take this Crunch Project?" by Sharon Marsh Roberts and Ken Roberts, and "Modeling Organizational Change" by Esther Derby. In the first, Roberts and Roberts draw a distinction between "crunch projects" and "pseudo-crunch projects" and how to navigate the circumstances surrounding each type of project. While Edward Yourdon's "Death March" (see my review) discusses crunch projects at length, the authors here simplify the definition of crunch project by explaining that these types of project exhibit two requirements or constraints: (1) "there are major negative consequences if the project's deadline is not met", and (2) "given the constraints of the project, the allocated resources (time, money, or people) are significantly smaller than those required to fulfill the needs of the sponsor and the customers". The ability to distinguish between the crunch project and pseudo-crunch project is important because commensurate recognition is awarded to those who complete crunch projects, but few will acknowledge efforts of the team toward a pseudo-crunch project. Not only do pseudo-crunch projects typically exhibit "pseudo-deadlines" where internal management picks a date, but there are no significant impacts on profits or external relationships if the date is missed, pseudo-crunch projects bring by their very nature personal loss and no balancing gain.
In "Modeling Organizational Change", Derby explains that when a problem exists in the way a work group functions, confronting that problem necessitates organizational change, and "by taking a critical look at your process and using some theories from organizational design, you can fix that problem - and improve your organization's ability to deliver high-quality results". Because even small systems are very complex, any action in this regard can affect more than one variable in the system, so understanding the interplay of these factors and identifying the manner in which one desires to guide the system in a particular direction are important when designing organizational change. The relatively simple examples that Derby provides to explain circular causation and corrective action are written well, and the example and accompanying diagrams that she walks through are effective in explaining her points. Other essays that this reviewer especially enjoyed were (3) "Solving Other People's Problems" by Don Gray, where the author explains "The Pause Principle", "The Pay Attention Principle", "The Partnership Principle", "The Passion Principle", and "The Person Principle", (4) "The Perils of Parallel Projects" by Johanna Rothman, where the author discusses context switching alongside a table from Weinberg's "Quality Software Management, Volume 1" that exhibits data on how much time is truly available to an individual splitting their time across multiple projects, and (6) "Life as a Software Architect" by Bob King, where the author offers a discussion of the software architect role that explains what helps him avoid what he calls the "technical trap" - three metrics called "The Visibility Ratio", "The Conflict Metric", and "The Anxiety Metric".