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The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition) Paperback – Aug 2 1995
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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 Amazon.com 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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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.
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 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. what the user sees.
When designing a new kind of system, a team should factor in the fact that they will have to throw away the first system that is built since this first system will teach them how to build the system. The system will then be completely redesigned using the newly acquired insights during building of the first system. This second system will be smarter and should be the one delivered to the customer.
Every project manager must create a roadmap in the form of formal documents which specifies milestones precisely and things like who is going to do what and when and at what cost.
In order to avoid disaster, all the teams working on a project, such as the architecture and implementation teams, should stay in contact with each other in as many ways as possible and not guess or assume anything about the other. Ask whenever there's a doubt. NEVER assume anything.
Code Freeze and System Versioning:
No customer ever fully knows what she wants from the system she wants you to build. As the system begins to come to life, and the customer interacts with it, he understands more and more what he really wants from the system and consequently asks for changes. These changes should of course be accomodated but only upto a certain date, after which the code is frozen. All requests for more changes will have to wait until the NEXT version of the system. If you keep making changes to the system endlessly, it may NEVER get finished.
Every team should have a designated tool maker who makes tools for the entire team, instead of all individuals developing and using their private tools that no one else understands.
No silver bullet:
There is no single strategy, technique or trick that will exponentially raise the productivity of programmers.
The most valuable part of the book, I believe, is the "plan to throw out" prototype chapter. While the goal is always to make a bigger, better, fast whatever, it is almost an axiom that you WILL build something that has to be discarded and reworked. This absolutely happens every time, I can tell you from first-hand experience. Therefore it is vital to plan to throw out so you can migrate your users to whatever will follow. If you dream that the first product is THE ONE, you risk abandoning them on a product that will inevitably evolve. Planning the throw-away also helps meet the schedule goals by setting reasonable milestones that can be met.
In my role as a product manager for a top-selling software product in its class, I found that the Mythical Man-Month was absolutely vital. However, some additional reading is recommended; Walker Royce's Software Project Management was published in 1998 and adds the dimension of software project evolution. This goes into more detail why you can't write all the specifications upfront, and even if you do, they are certain to change by the time the product is released.
It is rare to find a book so readable and thought provoking.
The only quibble I have with the book is that the author sees it fit to litter the book with religious quotes and observation, about the might of God and His grace - there is a time for religion and there is a time for software engineering pearls of wisdom - and the two should not be mixed.
Lets say you are late and another programmer is assigned to help you out - you can simply point to this book and explain how adding more programmers to a late project will just make it later. If that one doesn't fit. you can surely find another one that does.
If you liked "Catcher in the Rye" or "The Peter Principle" you may like this book too.
Software management is hard - mostly because there is a great deal of variation in the talent and productivity of computer programmers.
This book is a fun read - and food for thought. And in its defense I must admit it has changed the way I think about large software projects.
But sadly, beyond the fun quotes and maxims (which often contradict each other) there is not much to help you get the job done.
Be warned this book is not as it would appear to be!
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