OnRef – The Mythical Man-Month

One of the first books I was ever recommended in my first job was Frederick P Brooks’ The Mythical Man-Month. In this book, the former development manager for IBM’s System/360 mainframe, offers a series of essays on software development.

Though some of the technology and processes in these essays may seem odd to modern developers – dating between 1975 & 1995 as they do – many of their concepts are still insightful and refreshing. Indeed, as my understanding and experience of software development grows, it is a book I find myself returning to again and again.

Good cooking takes time. If you are made to wait, it is to serve you better, and to please you.

– Menu of Restaurant Antoine, New Orleans

More software projects have gone awry for lack of calendar time than for all other causes combined. Why is this cause of disaster so common?

First our techniques of estimating are poorly developed. More seriously, they reflect an unvoiced assumption which is quite untrue, i.e., that all will go well.

Second, our estimating techniques fallaciously confuse effort with progress, hiding the assumption that men and months are interchangeable.

Third, because we are uncertain of our estimates, software managers often lack the courteous stubbornness of Antoine’s chef.

Fourth, schedule progress is poorly monitored. Techniques proven and routine in other engineering disciplines are considered radical innovations in software engineering.

Fifth, when schedule slippage is recognized, the natural (and traditional) response is to add manpower. Like dousing a fire with gasoline, this makes matters worse, much worse. More fire requires more gasoline, and thus begins a regenerative cycle which ends in disaster.

– Frederick P Brooks, Jr. The Mythical Man-Month

Read more about Fred Brooks here.

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