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Book Review: Managing Humans by Michael Lopp

rachelsoderberg profile image Rachel Soderberg Updated on ・5 min read

I recently finished reading Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager by Michael Lopp and found it both entertaining and useful enough that I wanted to share it with all of you. It's been my experience that both management and engineering books are often helpful but tend to lack in the entertainment aspects, so it was refreshing to discover a book covering both topics while keeping the mood light and … dare I say… even fun. You do not have to be a manager, or even an aspiring manager, to glean some value from this book. All of us have managers in our lives and this book provides just as much information about communicating with your manager effectively as it does about managing humans.

Overview

Managing Humans is broken into three parts: Part I: The Management Quiver dives into the skills and tools we need as managers or as individual contributors hoping to communicate with our managers better, likening them to arrows in a quiver. Part II: The Process is the Product is exactly what it sounds like - the good creation and use of organizational processes as a manager or as an engineer. Part III: Versions of You is, in my opinion, the most important section of the book for the majority of those who will be reading - manager or not. This section goes into detail about hiring (from both sides), onboarding, different personality and productivity types, offshoring risks, and job titles. If you only have time for one section, I would suggest skipping straight to Part III.

The Management Quiver

Michael gently draws us into his book with a simple promise - "Managers Are Not Evil". Many people, including myself, would disagree and the image of at least one past manager would pop up in our heads. We might even experience a mild bout of PTSD-like symptoms. But Michael takes us by our hand and leads us in, providing tools (arrows in our quiver) to see from our manager's perspective and learn to communicate from his side of the fence by speaking a bit of "managementese".

Next, we are introduced to the meetings we all dread. You know the ones: no clear topic, no clear leader, and carries on for far too long. This can include but is not limited to stand-ups, retrospectives, one-on-ones, and your typical scheduled group meetings. Managing Humans provides us with several sets of tools to use in these situations to determine key players, find the topic/issue, and hopefully get the meeting on track and productive… or to remove ourselves from the issue if our time is being wasted. We are also taught how to deliver a mandate from either your own decisions or from higher up, how to deal with peoples' unique forms of lacking communication, writing good and helpful performance reviews, how to stay humble with the "I'm the Boss" hat on, and even encouraged to continue writing code!

The Resignation Checklist and Saying No are chapters that are also included in this section with information that is relevant to contributors and managers alike. It is important to know how to step away from a company gracefully and without damaging your career and relationships in the process.

The Process is the Product

This section is interesting because a large portion of the information revolves around startups and what causes business failures. Michael introduces his 1.0 Hierarchy, which he explains is actually terrifying because it is turned upside-down for startups and is why startups almost always fail.

Rands 1.0 Hierarchy
Rands 1.0 Hierarchy

Managing crises effectively is the meat of this section; from how to switch to thinking mode instead of reacting mode to writing effective status reports, you will learn how to mull over and soak in a problem without stagnating. Perhaps most importantly of all, Managing Humans encourages you to simply start whatever your inner critic has been discouraging you from doing, then continue to iterate until your problem or task becomes manageable or is complete. Michael provides a few strategies on how to ignore that inner critic and jump in, and also how to fight boredom and procrastination by adding a little mix up.

Versions of You

The focus of Part III is stated very simply: Before we can look externally and worry about others, we must first look internally and worry about ourselves. This section gives you a plethora of information you can use regardless of whether you're currently hunting your first engineering job, a developer, senior engineer, or a manager of any level. Chances are high that you will eventually be seeking employment in your lifetime, and if you're reading this review, chances are also good that you will be focused on searching in some kind of engineering field.

Michael gives us detailed information from his experienced management perspective about writing a resume that will be considered for next steps, cover letters, phone screens and the interviewing process, your first 90 days on the job, and how to get along with and get to know many of the different kinds of people you'll meet along the way. We are also introduced to "the zone" which many of us developers are especially familiar with, as well as "the snap" that comes after we've been rudely yanked out of our zone-state.

We are also shown a more in-depth view of some of the different kinds of people you'll meet at the workplace. You'll see different roles within each meeting and enjoy the opportunity of watching them interact; just as unique are the kinds of engineers we may work with day to day. Some have a hundred different tasks going on that never get finished, while others prefer to work a singular task from start to finish - one tip Michael shares is how to get these two differing types to work together on a single goal for optimal productivity.

Finally, Managing Humans talks about offshoring, job exporting, figuring out your way through a reorg, and all of the different secret titles each person may hold along with their official company-facing title.

Conclusion

I consider myself to be an aspiring manager who would one day love to manage a small team of software engineers. Although I have no management experience and limited developer experience, I still found Managing Humans to be an incredibly helpful book and I plan to purchase it for reference. The tools and advice Michael provides are built on effective communication skills and work from all angles - not simply from the manager's perspective. Every person who works in an engineering field will find some skills they can apply from Michael's writing.

"In order to manage human beings in the moment, you've got to be one. And that's why a better title for this book is: Managing Humans."

Discussion

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awwsmm profile image
Andrew (he/him)

Thanks for the review! This is on my "to read" list. I'll have to bump it up a few places now!

@ben , how about an official #bookreview tag?

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rachelsoderberg profile image
Rachel Soderberg Author

Definitely bump it up! It was a pretty fast read, which I appreciated.

(I switched one of my tags over to #bookreview, that's a great idea.)