Author: Frederick Phillips Brooks
Publisher: Addison Wesley, 2010
Aimed at: Everyone in software industry
Pros: A highly enjoyable read
Cons: Not as focussed or incisive as Brook's magnum opus
Reviewed by: Mike James
When you have written a classic is it possible to repeat the success?
If you don't know who Fred Brooks is then you have never read The Mythical Man Month - a ground-breaking and influential book published in 1975 and now, rightly, regarded as a classic on software project management. If you haven't read it then there is still much to enjoy between its covers. That book was based on Brooks' involvement in managing the IBM 360 operating system OS/360 - one of the biggest software projects of the time. His experiences with OS/360 also figure in this latest collection of writings on the science and art of design.
Brook's new book is designed with all the trappings of an intellectual coffee table book. It has a picture at the start of each chapter and relevant quotations. The style of writing isn't academic but it isn't plain and direct either. Overall the result is very readable and no matter what comments follow in this review you need to keep in mind that I enjoyed reading it.
The first part of the book is on the waterfall model and if you have read any books on methodology you will already know much of the content and conclusion - but it is a story well told and you will learn something if only about the history of the ideas and how things developed. If you are also an agile devote you will also find that much of what is said shadows the agile/extreme ideas without actually making direct reference.
The second part o the book is about collaboration and this was, for me the best part of the book. Its an interesting account of how collaboration works and be made to work better. Again the echo of agile ideas are there in the background. For example, Brooks points out the a collaboration of two is different and potentially the best - I couldn't help but think of pair programming.
The last part of the book is a collection of case studies and this is certainly the weakest part of the book. The examples used come from the OS/360 project but the majority come from the remodelling of the Brooks' house and these don't ring true and don't seem very relevant. They read more like retrospective justifications for what happened. Also physical design - which figures thought out the book - has elements that are generalisable to software design but it would have been better to have focused software case studies.
Overall the book is not without its flaws. Some readers might find the account lacks focus and rambles from on topic or example to another. I found nearly all of the examples, including the OS/360 examples which are admittedly dated, interesting and engaging. Occasionally I also got the impression that Brooks was missing an idea or two - for example the agile philosophy - but the wealth of experience still manages to shine through.
Recommended but not as much as the The Mythical Man Month and more for the pleasure of reading it than for any important insights or learning experiences.