The Mythical Man-Month

Posted by Brian Sat, 13 Feb 2010 02:04:02 GMT

The Mythical Man-Month By Fred Brooks


The Mythical Man-Month is the most influential software project management book ever and I am not conceited enough to think that I will have any original thoughts on its contents, but here goes.

The most widely known item to come out of this work is Brooks’ Law, which states that adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. This is a very counter-intuitive statement to the non-programmer, but makes perfect sense to those who practice the craft. Every project is different and the time it takes new team members to get familiar with the project pushes the rest of the project behind schedule even more. This of course causes management to add even more manpower and the project enters a death spiral.

He also gave a citation of the oft-mentioned 10:1 programmer productivity ratio, which states that an excellent programmer can be ten times as productive as a mediocre one. It comes from a study by Sackman, Erikson, and Grant.

While the core is still strong, around the edges he book is showing its age. Whenever Brooks talks about specific technologies, programming languages, or methodologies everything feels dated. At this time it was still a big debate as to the usefulness of languages like FORTRAN over assembler. He also pushed what I felt was a heavy-handed organizational concept that he called a “surgical” team. The team involved a large number of support people around a a central architect who made all the final decisions. A number of these people wouldn’t be needed today because of technological advances, but I still wasn’t sold on the idea.

Overall, this is of course a must read for any programmer or manager of. It is important that Brooks is talking about management in the context of very large projects though. My work comes no where near to the scope he is used to and the ideas can seem heavy-handed because of this. With that being said, any book that has this much staying power has to have something to it. While everything here is not gold, a large chunk still applies.


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