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

Frederick P. Brooks Jr.
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 2 1995 0201835959 978-0201835953 2

Few books on software project management have been as influential and timeless as The Mythical Man-Month. With a blend of software engineering facts and thought-provoking opinions, Fred Brooks offers insight for anyone managing complex projects. These essays draw from his experience as project manager for the IBM System/360 computer family and then for OS/360, its massive software system. Now, 20 years after the initial publication of his book, Brooks has revisited his original ideas and added new thoughts and advice, both for readers already familiar with his work and for readers discovering it for the first time.


The added chapters contain (1) a crisp condensation of all the propositions asserted in the original book, including Brooks' central argument in The Mythical Man-Month: that large programming projects suffer management problems different from small ones due to the division of labor; that the conceptual integrity of the product is therefore critical; and that it is difficult but possible to achieve this unity; (2) Brooks' view of these propositions a generation later; (3) a reprint of his classic 1986 paper "No Silver Bullet"; and (4) today's thoughts on the 1986 assertion, "There will be no silver bullet within ten years."

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The classic book on the human elements of software engineering. Software tools and development environments may have changed in the 21 years since the first edition of this book, but the peculiarly nonlinear economies of scale in collaborative work and the nature of individuals and groups has not changed an epsilon. If you write code or depend upon those who do, get this book as soon as possible -- from Books, your library, or anyone else. You (and/or your colleagues) will be forever grateful. Very Highest Recommendation.

From the Inside Flap

To my surprise and delight, The Mythical Man-Month continues to be popular after twenty years. Over 250,000 copies are in print. People often ask which of the opinions and recommendations set forth in 1975 I still hold, and which have changed, and how. Whereas I have from time to time addressed that question in lectures, I have long wanted to essay it in writing.

Peter Gordon, now a Publishing Partner at Addison-Wesley, has been working with me patiently and helpfully since 1980. He proposed that we prepare an Anniversary Edition. We decided not to revise the original, but to reprint it untouched (except for trivial corrections) and to augment it with more current thoughts.

Chapter 16 reprints "No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering," a 1986 IFIPS paper that grew out of my experience chairing a Defense Science Board study on military software. My co-authors of that study, and our executive secretary, Robert L. Patrick, were invaluable in bringing me back into touch with real-world large software projects. The paper was reprinted in 1987 in the IEEE Computer magazine, which gave it wide circulation.

"No Silver Bullet" proved provocative. It predicted that a decade would not see any programming technique which would by itself bring an order-of-magnitude improvement in software productivity. The decade has a year to run; my prediction seems safe. "NSB" has stimulated more and more spirited discussion in the literature than has The Mythical Man-Month. Chapter 17, therefore, comments on some of the published critique and updates the opinions set forth in 1986.

In preparing my retrospective and update of The Mythical Man-Month, I was struck by how few of the propositions asserted in it have been critiqued, proven, or disproven by ongoing software engineering research and experience. It proved useful to me now to catalog those propositions in raw form, stripped of supporting arguments and data. In hopes that these bald statements will invite arguments and facts to prove, disprove, update, or refine those propositions, I have included this outline as Chapter 18.

Chapter 19 is the updating essay itself. The reader should be warned that the new opinions are not nearly so well informed by experience in the trenches as the original book was. I have been at work in a university, not industry, and on small-scale projects, not large ones. Since 1986, I have only taught software engineering, not done research in it at all. My research has rather been on virtual reality and its applications.

In preparing this retrospective, I have sought the current views of friends who are indeed at work in software engineering. For a wonderful willingness to share views, to comment thoughtfully on drafts, and to re-educate me, I am indebted to Barry Boehm, Ken Brooks, Dick Case, James Coggins, Tom DeMarco, Jim McCarthy, David Parnas, Earl Wheeler, and Edward Yourdon. Fay Ward has superbly handled the technical production of the new chapters.

I thank Gordon Bell, Bruce Buchanan, Rick Hayes-Roth, my colleagues on the Defense Science Board Task Force on Military Software, and, most especially, David Parnas for their insights and stimulating ideas for, and Rebekah Bierly for technical production of, the paper printed here as Chapter 16. Analyzing the software problem into the categories of essence and accident was inspired by Nancy Greenwood Brooks, who used such analysis in a paper on Suzuki violin pedagogy.

Addison-Wesley's house custom did not permit me to acknowledge in the 1975 Preface the key roles played by their staff. Two persons' contributions should be especially cited: Norman Stanton, then Executive Editor, and Herbert Boes, then Art Director. Boes developed the elegant style, which one reviewer especially cited: "wide margins, and imaginative use of typeface and layout." More important, he also made the crucial recommendation that every chapter have an opening picture. (I had only the Tar Pit and Rheims Cathedral at the time.) Finding the pictures occasioned an extra year's work for me, but I am eternally grateful for the counsel.

Deo soli gloria or Soli Deo Gloria -- To God alone be the glory.

Chapel Hill, N.C., F.


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I would give it a 100 stars if I could! May 29 2004
If you have managed some software projects or have worked on some non-trivial software systems, undoubtedly you have faced many difficulties and challenges that you thought were unique to your circumstance. But after reading this book, you will realize that many of the things you experienced, and thought were unique problems, are NOT unique to you but are common systemic problems of developing non-trivial software systems. These problems appear repeatedly and even predictably, in project after project, in company after company, regardless of year, whether it's 1967 or 2007.
You will realize that long before maybe you were even born, other people working at places like IBM had already experienced those problems and quandries. And found working solutions to them which are as valid today as they were 30 years ago.
The suggestions in this book will help you think better and better manage yourself, and be more productive and less wasteful with your time and energy. In short, you will do more with less.
Some of Brooks insights and generalizations are:
The Mythical Man-Month:
Assigning more programmers to a project running behind schedule, may make it even more late.
The Second-System Effect:
The second system an engineer designs is the most bloated system she will EVER design.
Conceptual Integrity:
To retain conceptual integrity and thereby user-friendliness, a system must have a single architect (or a small system architecture team), completely separate from the implementation team.
The Manual:
The chief architect should produce detailed written specifications for the system in the form of the manual, which leaves no ambiguities about any part of the system and completely specifies the external spcifications of the system i.e.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A true classic of software project management! March 28 2004
There have been many, many books on software project management lately, but this one still is one of the best. Perhaps the context of older simpler technology helps illustrate the principles more clearly. While some new technologies have an impact on projects, particularly the encapsulation aspect of object-oriented design that allows for real code-reuse, the fundamentals don't change. Further, Brooks shows us why there can never be a "Silver Bullet" that will revolutionize the art.
He covers in great detail critical elements such as team structure, development process, conceptual integrity, and scheduling issues (including the myth of the man-month, for which the book is named). Further, since he draws on experience from classic projects such as IBM's OS/360, the book has interesting history as well.
My only issue is that with recent increases in power of PCs and languages, many "projects" are now of such scope that they need only involve a single developer, in which case a different paradigm is needed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A concise classic Nov. 30 2003
Perhaps the first mass market book on software engineering, this book is a classic. It has defined the agenda for the software engineering field, as well as guide the organizational design for many software and IT organizations.
Some key concepts from the book...
- It is not good project management to divide effort by time to come up with staffing. Adding people adds commuications complexity, so double staff size quadruples the amount of communications links.
- To insure conceptual integrity, the software project needs the design to be handled by a very small group of people.
- The optimal model for a software development team is a hospital surgical unit.
- There is no silver bullet for improved quality, just a lot of best practices.
Mr. Brooks brings a wealth of experience to bear on this. As the head of some of IBM's largest operating system development projects, he's been in the guts of some of the hardest challenges the industry has to offer. He writes in a non-technical style that cuts to the heart of these difficult topics.
In the latest edition, Mr. Brooks takes a hard look at what he got right and wrong over the years. This rare self-critical analysis makes it a valuable re-read for those that enjoyed it the first time.
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I read this book after the instructor of a computer course I took in the mid-1990s highly recommended it to students. There are so many reviews listed here for this book that I am not sure I can add anything of particular note. What I can say is that reading, understanding, and applying principles outlined in this book will help programmers begin their evolution to software engineers. I recommend this book to everyone involved in the software development process, including project managers and all software project stakeholders. Yes, I agree with some reviewers that parts of the book are a bit outdated. However, this is a highly readable book which has much timeless advice. Learn to read between the lines. If the text refers to a procedural language, and your only exposure has been to object-oriented languages, for instance, think about how you can apply the principles to Java or C++ or Smalltalk. Readers just need to understand that a book does not need to be rewritten every time the language-of-the-month changes. This book is not eternal truth. Principles do change over time. Read this as one of your primers to software engineering, and then follow up your reading with other texts. This book is quoted so often in other books and technical journals that it deserves an initial reading.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Although 40 year-old, still very relevant
I found this book amazing for a software manager like me. Because of Brook's real-life experience, I feel his teachings are accurate and to-the-point. Read more
Published on June 25 2012 by gbarrei
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic book on Software engineering
This is a timeless classic. A must read for everyone involved in software developement projects.
Published on May 12 2004 by Leonidas Giakoumakis
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad But True
After reading this book, I was sad about the fact that the managing problems developers had during the "classical" days of coding are still prevalent in 21st century. Read more
Published on April 29 2004 by David Baron
5.0 out of 5 stars timeless classic
I just re-read Mythical Man-Month for the umpteenth time. This book is like a good bottle of scotch, it gets better each time. Read more
Published on Sept. 18 2003 by Eric Kent
5.0 out of 5 stars Read the 1st edition, sure to love the 2nd.
I bought the 1st edition many, many years ago, probably back in the early 80s when I was just starting out as a programmer. Read more
Published on March 18 2003 by Julie in Austin
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, yet old
This is a great book for software engineering. However, it is not a reference book for you to learn the SE in general, rather it is a book pushing you hard to think the SE in... Read more
Published on March 10 2003 by CS Doctor
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Few Timeless Software Engineering Titles
This book is SO good that I am not even certain that I feel honored to have the ability to rate it!
The mythical man-month draws important distinctions between the management... Read more
Published on Jan. 13 2003 by CG
5.0 out of 5 stars Condensed project wisdom for the ages
I discovered this book almost 5 years ago, while managing ever larger projects for a consulting firm. Read more
Published on Dec 10 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars timeless, insightful
A classic book about the development and management of large scale software projects. One of the industries veterans shares his experience and his views gathered mainly during the... Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2002 by Sören Meyer-Eppler
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