Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The canonical books on software development is fairly well established. However, after reading through a dreadful book full of bad advice on managing programming teams this weekend I am looking for recommendations for really good books that focus on the management side of programming (recruiting, performance measurement/management, motivation, best practices, organizational structure, etc.) and not as much on the construction of software itself.

Any suggestions?


locked by Thomas Owens Aug 7 '13 at 23:11

This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed. More info: help center.

closed as off topic by Caleb, maple_shaft Jun 4 '12 at 22:34

Questions on Programmers Stack Exchange are expected to relate to software development within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

There is now a similar question on – Andre Holzner Apr 21 '11 at 19:29

11 Answers 11

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams .

If you read one book make it this one. It covers how to set about making your developers productive and backs up why these things are important with hard numbers.

The chances are that you won't get all of them implemented (too many companies have ingrained cultures which will prevent them) but it's worth knowing what the ideal is and why, and having the ammunition to get what you can.

alt text

+1 the top choice – user2567 Nov 22 '10 at 17:21

After your read Peopleware (a bit outdated, 1999, but is THE classic) here a more recent one from the same author (Tom DeMarco )

Slack Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency alt text


The Mythical Man-Month. This is essential reading.

For the first few chapters (the detailed breakdown of why adding people to projects makes them later) it's worth it. The rest I think has dated quite badly as even where relevant is very dry reading. – Jon Hopkins Nov 22 '10 at 17:26

Managing Humans

Not many concrete action items, but it's an interesting read and provides perspective.

Did enjoy reading this as it's got a sense of humour :) – ChrisAnnODell Nov 22 '10 at 19:47
I bought this book after you suggested it. Halfway through it now and agree that it is very solid. – JohnFx Jan 4 '11 at 15:51
The best I've found so far for managing a dev team. – Seth P. Mar 2 '11 at 7:52

As well as writing Code Complete, Steve McConnell also wrote Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules which is about software development project management and for software project managers is almost as good as Code Complete.

He also wrote Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art and The Software Project Survival Guide both of which are worth a look, though Software Estimation is quite... detailed on a one specific subject so unless you're really interested in that you might want to steer clear.

Rapid Development and Software Project Survival Guide are the course books for my university's Software Engineering Process and Project Management course. Rapid Development is required for that course, and I highly recommend having it. – Thomas Owens Nov 22 '10 at 16:58
@Thomas - you've actually given me a bit of faith in university teaching. It's a very good book which is worth hanging on to after graduation. – Jon Hopkins Nov 22 '10 at 17:17
My department uses quite a few classic texts - the Gang of Four book in Engineering of Software Subsystems, Code Complete is recommended in two different courses, and Weiger's Software Requirements is used in the requirements engineering course. And upper-class students typically recommend books like Pragmatic Programmer, Mythical Man Month, and Peopleware to underclassmen. – Thomas Owens Nov 22 '10 at 17:44

Dynamics of Software Development by Jim McCarthy is also good (as with the McConnell books it's Microsoft Press - a company notorious for shipping mediocre sofware late somehow managed to publish some very good books on how it should be done properly).

It contains 54 "rules" for software development - some obvious, some less so, pretty much all worth remembering and less than 200 pages (with pictures) so very readable (plus the 54 rules structure means it's in nice chunks).

One of the few mentioned that I was not previously familiar with. Thanks for the suggestion. Bonus: Several used copes for 1 cent +shipping at Amazon. – JohnFx Nov 22 '10 at 17:17

For recruitment Smart and Gets Things Done by some bloke called Joel Spolsky has the virtue of being very very short with some good insights. Some of what it talks about isn't going to be easy to get implemented in every company / country but there are often alternatives which will get you some of the benefits.

While we're touting Joel's stuff the first book of Joel on Software essays is also good though they're all available online. Short, readable and thought provoking.

(Proceeds to die of hypocrisy after all the times he's moaned about people banging on about how wonderful Joel and / or Jeff are.)

I've read the JOS essays book, but had been holding off on "Smart and Gets Things Done" because I was afraid it would be too much of a rehash of the other. Was there much original material? – JohnFx Nov 22 '10 at 15:58
@JohnFx - There's not that much material full stop (200 small pages - not that brevity is a bad thing) and it is largely an expansion of ideas you've probably seen elsewhere in his writing but it's still pretty good and I thought it was worth reading. Financially you could say that it's expensive for what it is but it makes up for that by not wasting your time by being long for the sake of being long. Frankly I wish I could pay $5 - 10 more to have someone strip the filler out of most IT books. – Jon Hopkins Nov 22 '10 at 16:02

(link to the book)

Agile or not, a retrospective process (looking back on a team's recent work and looking for ways to do it better) is important. This book has lots of useful techniques a team can use to reconstruct what went on, figure out root causes, and decide what to do going forward.


Herding cats is especially written for programmers who have become managers.

Actually, that was the dreadful book I was referring to. – JohnFx Nov 22 '10 at 19:24
So I won't get a +1 from you, I guess? Why do you think this book is dreadful? – user281377 Nov 22 '10 at 19:31
On almost every page of that book I found advice that would be the complete opposite of everything my management experience has shown me. It should have been titled "How to be a N00B manager in 10 easy lessons" Plus the author just tries too hard to act like he understands programmers when it is clear he is just repeating stereotypes. It reminds me of a middle aged white guy rapping to prove to the youngsters just how hip he is. – JohnFx Nov 30 '10 at 22:36

Crystal Clear by Alistair Cockburn. Even if you aren't into Agile, it includes a lot of good advise on managing teams and gives you good background to build your own development process.


Lots of books mentioned above for the Software front. I would say no one book or a couple is sufficient. Management itself is a difficult task and is very subjective. I would recommend someone who is considering Management to read a lot of Harvard Business review books. They all have a concrete idea to share and these take a lot of reading and effort in implementation to sink in.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.