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Dynamics of software development
McCarthy J., Microsoft Press, Redmond, WA, 1995. Type: Book (9781556158230)
Date Reviewed: Mar 1 1997

At first sight, there seems to be a problem in the timing of this publication. Several outstanding books providing excellent insights on software development by well-known authors such as Brooks [1], Davis [2], DeMarco [3], and Jackson [4] were released at nearly the same time. Why would readers choose this one instead?

This book is not really about software development, however. It is about the management of a project team--of almost any nature--and about how to market and launch successful products, such as Microsoft software. It is interesting to see how to create and lead a software market according to Microsoft. The author offers such insights as, “When you buy into the idea of developing software for personal computers, in particular software for Microsoft operating systems, you need to understand that you’re buying into a way of life,” “Your product embodies your identity,” and “Most business is renewal business, with customers buying multiple releases over a relatively long period of time,” among others.

The book is divided into five sections. Immediately following the introduction, the main section discusses the opening moves of a project, covering the organization, competition, customer, design, and development. It proposes 26 rules to help the process, with a clear emphasis on marketing and management principles. The third section discusses the middle game, giving out another 21 rules, again with an emphasis on managing any type of project team. The last two sections are about ship mode (with five rules) and the launch (with two rules). Finally, recommendations on how to hire and keep good people are presented in the appendix.

It is interesting to compare this book with McCormack [5], even though the latter is not on software development but marketing management. For example, McCarthy’s advice, “Don’t be afraid to seem dumb by admitting that you don’t know something” concurs with McCormack’s: “Never be afraid of saying ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I need help,’ and `I was wrong.’” McCarthy advises us to “establish a shared vision” and that “your product embodies your identity,” while McCarthy urges us to “know your product, believe in your product, sell with enthusiasm.” Whereas McCarthy only points out the symptoms of burnout, McCormack provides the cures. On the other hand, McCarthy’s rules on the “use [of] your slips” are more useful than McCormack’s simple proposal to “turn crisis into opportunities.” There may not be much difference between software development and marketing management, after all.

Although the book is readable and entertaining, would the ad hoc recommendations proposed by the author be useful to all software development organizations in various levels of the Capability Maturity Model [6]? Also, although McCarthy provides “an eclectic list of resources for software development leaders” at the end of the book, most readers would not be happy to be asked simply to go to Freud, Darwin, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Churchill for further reading. These authors are well known for the large number of writings they have produced. The list of resources, therefore, does not provide any useful information.

If you are currently struggling day and night in software development, you have two choices. You can read one of the books by the popular authors [1–4], who will constantly remind you that there is no silver bullet and will only enlighten you with partial solutions to your problems. Alternatively, you may read this book, which allows you to escape from the headaches for a moment and enjoy the optimistic scenario that if you try hard, you might someday be able to sell your product the way Microsoft sells software.

Reviewer:  T.H. Tse Review #: CR120213 (9703-0182)
1) Brooks, F. P. The mythical man-month: essays on software engineering, 20th anniversary edition. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1995.
2) Davis, A. M. 201 principles of software development. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1995.
3) DeMarco, T. Why does software cost so much? Dorset House, New York, 1995.
4) Jackson, M. A. Software requirements and specifications: a lexicon of practice, principles, and prejudices. Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1995.
5) McCormack, M. H. What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Collins, Glasgow, 1984.
6) Carnegie Mellon Univ.; Paulk, M. C.; Weber, C. V.; Curtis, B.; and Chrissis, M. B. The Capability Maturity Model: guidelines for improving the software process. Addison-Wesley Longman, Reading, MA, 1995.
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