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Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management Paperback – Sep 29 2005

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Pragmatic Bookshelf; 1 edition (Sept. 29 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0976694026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0976694021
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #76,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


""Rothman and Derby bring a clarity and honesty to the craft of software-development management that I haven't felt since first reading Demarco and Lister's classic, Peopleware. Their story-based teaching style is engaging, and the tips contained provide a valuable reference for those who find themselves in the world of management.""--Bil Kleb, Research Scientist, NASA

""Five Star Review: All the great stuff is here... Easy to read and understand.""""

--Robert Pritchett, macCompanion

About the Author

Johanna Rothman helps leaders solve problems and seize opportunities. She consults, speaks, and writes on managing high-technology product development. She enables managers, teams, and organizations to become more effective by applying her pragmatic approaches to the issues of project management, risk management, and people management. Johanna publishes The Pragmatic Manager, a monthly email newsletter and podcast, and writes two blogs: Managing Product Development and Hiring Technical People. She is the author of several books: - Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management - Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management (with Esther Derby) - Hiring the Best Knowledge Workers, Techies & Nerds: The Secrets and Science of Hiring Technical People - Corrective Action for the Software Industry (with Denise Robitaille).

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
One of the effects of the pending baby boom retirement cycle is going to be the exodus of an entire generation of management. A common solution to this problem in IT is to promote senior developers into management. A large percentage of these people likely had not given what it takes to be a manager much thought and being a good manager is, like a lot of things, a learned skill. Consequently, a lot of new managers face a steep learning curve upon elevation.
The premise of Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby's new book is that a lot of the skills necessary to be a great manager are not readily observable but happen in private with their interactions with their staff and colleagues Behind Closed Doors. The book follows Sam, a manager recently brought into an organization, over a 7 week period in 7 chapters; one per week. Each week has a broad goal to achieve such as "Learning about the People and Work" (week One) and "Managing Day to Day" (week Four). Within each chapter there are scenarios Sam encountered that week to achieve the week's goal. This structure is one of the stronger points of the points as the book as it transforms the narrative into a checklist for the reader's own managerial growth.
Another valuable item in the book in the series of short (most are only two pages) "Techniques for Practicing Great Management". These cover everything from coaching to running an effective meeting. These tips can be applied almost immediately and have a positive impact on an organization.
I enjoyed Behind Closed Door and my copy has lots of notes in the margins of ways I can apply the content. While the content is geared towards the new or slightly experienced manager, I would recommend it even those who have been doing it for awhile due to the breadth and applicability of the topics covered.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9b551624) out of 5 stars 47 reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a4bed94) out of 5 stars THE book about line management of knowledge work Sept. 26 2005
By Matthew Heusser - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is a book about line management of knowledge work - Programmers, Graphic Artists, CAD Drafters, Chemists, Engineers, Physicists, etc. This kind of management is a relatively new invention, and stands in stark contrast to manufacturing management. Previously, you had to read a host of authors like Drucker, DeMarco, Deming, and Jim Collins and read between the lines. Now you have this short, practical guide by Rothman and Derby. "Behind Closed Doors" is a practical book - Do this, then do that. The writing is clear and tells the story of a newly hired director of software engineering who brings focus and direction to a floundering team.

The writing is not novel-quality, but it does provide real actionable guidance in a way that keeps you awake and thinking. That alone puts it above the typical management text, at least in my book. Plus, the book is small: You will actually remember the points it makes and know how to do them.

Because it is small, the authors focused on that one aspect of management. "Behind closed doors" does not contain a great deal of philosophy. Also, while Project Managers may find it helpful, they will want to use this book to round out a library, not start one.

I give "Behind Closed Doors" five stars, because it does what it says and does it well. All of the other books I know in this space have some painful weakness: They are vague, theoretical, boring, try to cover too wide a subject, etc.

Bottom Line: If you are a direct manager of technical people, you can't go wrong. If you -are- a knowledge worker, buy it for your boss!
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a4bb090) out of 5 stars A solid management parable July 18 2006
By Scott Ellsworth - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback

This is another Pragmatic Programmers book. As such, it is short (162 pages), and available in electronic form as well as in paper.

The text is a bit of a departure for the Pragmatic Programmers. Typically, this series has discussed techniques for software development, rather than techniques for managing software projects. Still, this kind of books is a must-read even for a neophyte developer, as it discusses techniques that your manager is likely using. Perhaps more importantly, it discusses the kinds of constraints that your manager is laboring under. From either side of the desk, knowing what options are available can make the difference between success and failure in negotiations.

The authors refer to several of Tom DeMarco's classic works, such as Slack and Peopleware, and the format of much of the book is reminiscent of Deadline. In Deadline, we followed Mr. Tompkins through the process of setting up a new software concern in accordance with every then-current software development theory. Rothman and Derby follow Sam, a new and eager senior manager, through taking over an existing development project, using agile techniques, and a variety of management techniques.


The book is structured into an introduction, seven one-week 'to-do' chapters with an illustrative parable about Sam, and a final 'techniques' chapter.

The introduction sets the hook well - in just a few pages, you learn that the authors view management as a people task, though supported by technology, and with technological deliverables. This focus stays through the book - solutions tend to be low tech, such as flip charts, stickies, and index cards, and tasks are resolved through meetings with subordinates, peers, and superiors. We do not see Sam interact with technology all that often.

My own experience shows that low tech techniques work well, as long as key information does migrate into electronic form eventually. Once the flip chart is filled out, someone ought to take a photo for the wiki, and I rather wish the point had been made more strongly by Rothman/Derby.

Each of the 'story' chapters covers a single week. In the early weeks, Sam is figuring out what his four subordinate managers are up to, and eventually teaching them the art of delegation. In later weeks, Sam is working on long term solutions, like training, hiring, and handling high priority changes from above in the organization.

Positive Points

One of the better sections in the books was on self control. Managers are in an authority position, and many of them do not realize how their underlings will take a casual comment, or even a facial expression. Further, many managers do not realize that their employees will occasionally burn out rather than face criticism. This is rather sad, as burnout cases usually produce work worthy of criticism.

I also applaud them for bringing up both old and new studies regarding ideal working hours. Overwork burns people out, and thus if you are running more than the efficient 40-45 hours a week, you really do need to cut back. Every job involves sprints, and everyone can do a sprint, but not if they are already worn down by needless extra hours.

For the authors of a management text to take this stance requires some courage, and they make it clear that the manager will need courage as well. There is always pressure to do more, and when the business depends on it, you must find a way. That said, every week should not be a crisis week, and they give a manager some of the needed facts to back that position up.

They also covered coaching in some detail. This was also a 'ring of truth' section, in that the authors were clearly describing situations they had seen, and had worked through in a number of ways.


The final techniques section was the least engaging, but perhaps the most useful. It listed specific techniques for areas that many managers are weak on. I know of several managers in my own past that might have gotten use from the meeting organization and facilitation techniques. Merely knowing that you either facilitate or contribute would have helped me on more than one occasion, as tempting though it is to dip the oar in, you lose the ability to move a meeting along. The authors also reiterate how important it is to facilitate _only_ if you are interested in alternatives.

Odds and Ends

The chapter references were particularly fine; the footnotes for key points led to the source material. Thus, a technique, an idea, or a point of view of interest can be hunted down in more detail. The bibliography was extensive, and while I have read many of the books on that list, it added a number of new titles for me to look up.


So what didn't work? I found that the story felt a bit too pat in spots. Sam never showed any particular flaws, so we did not really see how a manager should recognize a flaw, and how he should address it. DeMarco's Deadline did a bit better in this regard, as his hero did get angry and stubborn, and had to take both earned and unearned criticism.

I would have liked more focus on areas where managers and their reports have dissimilar goals, and how to get people to support goals only indirectly in their interest. Luke Hohmans's Journey of the Software Professional accomplished this with an unusual technique - each topic discussion was followed by different takeaway points for managers and employees. Without making a fuss, it made the point that managers and their reports have different priorities.

Final Thoughts

This book is not trying to replace solid management texts, and detailed books on estimation. It gives a stable of techniques that managers and their reports will find generally useful for the day-to-day work of getting the job done. It does so using a parable/story format that worked well enough at getting the context of management across.

The virtues generally outweighed the flaws. I rate this a four out of five, and recommend it highly to managers. Even old hands will find good things lurking in it and in the books it references. It is joining my bookshelf in the management section.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a3d0588) out of 5 stars Practical, ultra clear, and covers the basics!! Nov. 12 2005
By Mr. Mark S. Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have 25 years of IS experience - some as a developer or analyst and some as an IS manager and certainly when I started out as a manager, this book would have been invaluable!!

Perhaps my only issue is glossing over some of the gnarlier situations I believe most IS managers have to confront eventually - for instance what happens when you give negative feedback and the person doesn't relate in any way what you're telling them or perhaps agrees but thinks the issue is unimportant? To me the easy case is when you give feedback and the person agrees or at least comes up with some cogent reasons why they think I'm wrong. At this point I know the person thinks I'm the pointy haired manager and I'm totally certain I'm not the only manager that experienced this. The book says such a person will "not change" - no kidding but where do you go from here?

I actually have a longer list than this - but the point is I think there are a lot of real and challenging situations especially for IT and technical management not covered. OTOH, the suggestions the book does comes up with are mostly excellent well explained and easy to implement and I think anyone with any level of management experience will pick up priceless suggestions from this book - and I'm usually extremely cynical about new management methodologies!!

Maybe a later more intermediate/advanced book will cover some of the more difficult situations? If there's a website, blog, set of seminars etc available I'd be interested in hearing about it!!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a736c60) out of 5 stars Pragmatic Advice on Management Oct. 6 2005
By Nicole Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Behind Closed Doors confronts the unspoken myth that star individual, technical performers will naturally want to be and, conversely, know how to be star managers. Technically-skilled folks don't transform into gifted managers on their own. They need help. This is an excellent book full of specific tips and pragmatic advice on the most fundamental and key aspects of management. I'd recommend this book to any first-time managers, managers new to a department, anyone managing by the seat of their pants, or anyone thinking of making the leap from technical to management.

I found the narrative style helpful in that it shows managers just how to hold a meeting or discussion with their direct reports. There is plenty of specific advice that can be implemented today, without delay. And should you want to dig deeper into a topic, the bibliographies at the end of each chapter make it easy to find additional resources.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a4bc87c) out of 5 stars The way management MUST be practiced, but rarely is Jan. 1 2006
By uniq - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is for true managers who are inspired to become leaders; it is not for supervisors who care only about their own well-being and don't think much about people working for them. (Did I just cut the audience by 95%?) I also recommend it for anyone who has a manager -- to learn what are the basics of effective management.

At first I felt that the material covered in the book is basic, and it may be useful mostly to an ***AMATEUR*** manager. Later I changed my mind. In my long professional life I worked for a few companies, large and small, where I met many career managers. Well, only occasional few practiced most of the obvious and basic winning management techniques. Thus, I think that any professional and CARING manager may benefit from the book.

The authors tried to make this book entertaining and helpful at the same time, and they achieved their goals. The book tells a fictional story of one software development manager that just started working for a software development shop. Step by step, he manages to get things done by enabling, delegating, communicating, explaining, thinking in a way that makes professionals around him happier and more productive. Isn't this what a manager is supposed to do? It does sound a bit utopistic, especially in the today's real world. But the situations in the book are real, and the lessons drawn from it do help in the real world.

The book does not discuss enough team management in the complex and dense atmosphere of corporate politics in the software development industry, where most of the managers do not understand technical side of the business and often make decisions for the benefit of someone's personal agendas rather than the needs of the business. This is why I give the book 4 stars.