Governance, Product Management and Technical Project Management Books

Software is everywhere; in your phone, microwave, car and airplane. Everywhere.

If your business depends on software and you have any kind of authority, you are responsible for treating software engineering with respect and making sure that you understand what it takes to utilize it efficiently and reliably. Human lives may depend on it.

We are turning the U.S. Air Force into a software company that happens to deliver airpower.
– Adam Furtado, Chief Product Officer at Kessel Run / U.S. Air Force, UXDX 2018

If the world’s largest bureaucracy can undergo such a significant digital transformation, then so can your business.

If every CTO, VP, director, product stakeholder, manager and engineer were to read even a subset of books in this list, our industry would be in a much better shape, whether you realize that your organization is a technology one, or still kid yourself that is not.

Full disclosure: the following are Amazon affiliate links. Using them to purchase a book won’t cost you extra, but will help me buy more books.

Anastasios Piotopoulos
Written by Tasos Piotopoulos
Software Engineer, M.Sc.

Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations

Although the software industry has been booming for years and competition in the marketplace is tougher than ever, an increasing number of organizations suffer from slow software delivery performance.

How do we end up moving the slowest the critical moment we need the exact opposite? What could be the root cause, and what can we do to find it, eliminate it, and finally accelerate?

The authors spent four years performing intensive research on measuring software delivery performance and discovering the elements driving it. This book stands out because it doesn’t just present the authors’ valuable findings; it also makes the science behind their research accessible, so that the readers can apply the same reliable scientific methods to their own organizations.

Clean Agile: Back to Basics (Robert C. Martin)

Many teams and companies have attempted to adopt agile development but failed. Although they follow all the business processes and rituals involved with agile, the result couldn’t be farther from what the agile manifesto describes.

For agile to succeed business processes are only half of the story. There are several engineering practices that need to be embraced and mastered, and these are almost always ignored or underestimated.

The belief that quality and discipline increase speed is a courageous belief because it will constantly be challenged by powerful but naive folks who are in a hurry. – Robert C. Martin

Uncle Bob’s latest released book is packed with useful advice of how to properly approach agile development, free of its misconceptions or marketing-friendly bells and whistles. By the end of the book you will know about all the elements you need to master in order to succeed.

The Lean Startup

There is incredible failure that precedes every entrepreneurial success. Even the most promising idea can be doomed from day one if the entrepreneur is not familiar with a suitable process needed to turn that idea into a successful company.

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries lays out a scientific method for building a sustainable business and minimizing the time needed for a desired product to reach the customer’s hands. This method provides a solid foundation for driving a startup, understanding when to change course (pivot), when to persevere and ultimately learning how to achieve growth in the fastest pace possible, along with avoiding the waste of development talent, energy, and effort.

It’s a marvelous book that have totally transformed my way of thinking in terms of designing a new product or adding features to an existing one. I’ve also written an extensive review on the Lean Startup.

The Devops Handbook: How to Create World-Class Agility, Reliability, and Security in Technology Organizations

DevOps is in the heart of every digital transformation story. Within a true DevOps culture, Development, Operations and Product work closely together towards a common goal: delivering high-quality, reliable software that enables an organization to conduct its business in an agile, reliable, secure and effective way.

The DevOps Handbook is addressed to both technical and non-technical leaders and stakeholders. It provides a rich context about what DevOps is, the problems it tries to solve, plus a number of recommended strategies for adopting it.

It is worth to mention that Gene Kim and Patrick Debois are also co-authors of Accelerate: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations (Amazon affiliate link), and Gene Kim is also a co-author of The Phoenix Project: A Novel about It, Devops, and Helping Your Business Win (Amazon affiliate link). For more information about DevOps you can also check my article 10 indicators that your tech culture is broken (and what you can do about it).

The Phoenix Project: A Novel about It, Devops, and Helping Your Business Win

The prelude to the DevOps Handbook is a humorous novel that will entertain you and and leave you with lots to think about.

Our protagonist, Bill, is tasked with delivering a project critical to the future of the business. But The Phoenix Project is already over budget and past its deadline. Bill has just 90 days to deliver it, otherwise his whole department will be outsourced.

The story’s characters are sort of exaggerated representations of people you meet and interact with in real companies, facing the usual IT problems; mismanaged projects, managers with personal agendas, arbitrary and unachievable deadlines, and above all the failure to understand and respond to customer needs.

Bill’s quest will reveal a number of approaches and tools which essentially are the basis of DevOps. Although in real world scenarios the adoption of such ideas would take significantly longer compared to the book, the lessons are clear and important.

Continuous API Management

A central idea of the book is using Design Thinking to better understand your customers and build APIs that better suit their needs.

It’s not a hands-on technical book, but rather portrays the importance of understanding APIs and their landscape within your organization, explains numerous challenges they pose, and provides solid advice oh how to better manage them and build a governance story around them.

APIs are one of these components that can make or break products, teams, even whole organizations. Investing in understanding as much as you can about the subject is time well spent.

Release It! 2nd Edition

The title is a bit misleading. This book is not so much about the act of releasing software, but rather designing systems that you feel comfortable releasing.

It’s a common trap to design a system and focus only on the happy paths, but that’s only the first (and often easiest) step. Good software is reliable, resilient, and ready to overcome a series of difficulties that may arise.

The book is thought-provoking, engaging, and full of real-world experiences that can really change the way you think about delivering working software.

User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development

The concept of user stories stems as one of the main elements of Extreme Programming.

User stories represent an efficient means of gathering requirements from the customer. This book gets into the elements of good user stories, and describes how they can be used to properly plan, manage, and test software projects.

The book comes packed with examples of both fruitful and unsuccessful practices of the concept, as well as plenty of questions and exercises to solidify its points.

If you are in any way involved with writing on working with user stories, you need to read this book.

Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager

This book is perhaps one of the most impactful birthday gifts I’ve ever received. I might not be a people manager (at least at this point in time) but making technical decisions for teams requires a fair share of human interaction which is, ehm, hard.

Michael Lopp has a rich management background in companies like Apple, Pinterest, Palantir, Netscape, Symantec, Borland and Slack, and has distilled his experience in humorous and sometimes unexpected stories.

To my surprise, many of the stories felt more familiar than I’d like to admit. I got hooked and finished the book in about two weeks during my daily commute. About half a year later I got promoted, and I strongly believe that the book was instrumental to achieving that.

The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition)

Technologies may change, but people don’t. This book is legendary. Some of the essays are dated, but others have stood the test of time and prove that some management problems have been solved decades ago and we still don’t want to listen.

When I find myself in an job interview on either side of the table I usually ask the other person about this particular book. Whether they have read it or not, it’s a great source of discussion points on managing software engineering projects and gives me valuable indications of what I should expect when working with that person.

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent

Joel Spolsky, father of Stack Overflow and author of the world-famous blog Joel on Software, lays out his secrets on how to find and hire the best programmers.

We all know how terrible the recruiting process of most companies is. Even professional recruitment agencies are more often than not unable to evaluate talent; they mostly base their process on matching keywords or look for X years of experience on technologies that don’t even exist for that long. Joel shows us how the recruiting process is meant to be, and what recruiters and hiring managers need to do to fix it.

Why would this be your concern as a programmer, you ask. Knowing what the recruitment process is meant to be can help you identify companies that do it right. Chances are that these will be great places to work at, not only because they will know their stuff, but also because your colleagues will have been hired through the same reliable process.

On top of that, you will learn how to ask the right questions during the interview, and identify red flags that will help you avoid wasting time at a workplace that is not aligned with what you are looking for.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

When I bought this book I was looking for a pleasant mental break from technical reads, and by no means expected to hit the inspirational jackpot.

Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios will take you to a journey of creativity, decision making, team building and impressive insights from his long and rewarding career.

The book has been the source for my blog post Which is more valuable: Good ideas or good people? and a whole list of ideas to write about in the future.

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