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Watts Humphrey Publishes New Book of Reflections on Management


May 3, 2010—A new book by Watts Humphrey, National Medal of Technology Winner and a senior fellow at the Software Engineering Institute, has just been published by Addison-Wesley as the latest installment in the SEI Series in Software Engineering.

Reflections on Management: How to Manage Your Software Projects, Your Teams, Your Boss, and Yourself offers management insights and advice collected from Humphrey’s previously published books, articles, and interviews. The essays draw upon Humphrey’s nearly three-decades in management at IBM, followed by his work at the SEI since 1986 in helping to develop the Capability Maturity Model, Personal Software Process, and Team Software Process.

“The management principles that I’m talking about in the book aren’t software principles; they are people principles,” Humphrey said, adding that when he arrived at IBM, he initially started working in hardware, as a computer designer and architect. He transitioned into software and, as director of programming and vice-president of technical development, supervised 4,000 software professionals across 15 laboratories and seven countries. This transition from hardware to software management and the challenges Humphrey faced became the catalyst for Humphrey’s foray into the field of knowledge work, a term initially coined in the 1970s by Peter Drucker to describe the intangible skills and know-how that many workers in information technology, as well as other fields, bring to their jobs.

“I discovered through this period that hardware management principles, while sound, weren’t effective in a software setting,” Humphrey said. “Software is large-scale knowledge work. It’s hard to manage people when you don’t understand what those people are doing.”

When Humphrey joined the SEI in 1986, he made what he describes as an “outrageous commitment” to change the world of software engineering by developing sound management principles. He created the Personal Software Process (PSP) to help software engineers self-manage their projects using a disciplined, data-driven approach. In 2005, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology for his work in this field.

“Changing the world of anything is an outrageous personal commitment. That’s what makes it outrageous. I felt it needed to be done. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, and I wanted an environment where I could work with folks and do that,” he explained.

The book, published in April, has already generated some positive reviews.

“Like many management books, especially those written by seasoned veterans like Mr. Humphrey, there are no surprises in the recommendations provided. What makes the author's points so well taken is his depth and breadth of experience coupled with the ongoing issues of quality control, team forming-storming-norming, and project management,” Dr. Dobb’s blogger Mike Riley wrote in an April 16 post.

Humphrey credits the book’s editor, Bill Thomas, with doing the legwork on the book to bring it to fruition. Over a three-month period in late 2009, Thomas read almost the entirety of Humphrey’s published works: 11 books and hundreds of technical reports, journal articles, and columns.

Thomas, who manages the Technical Communications team at the SEI, said that the idea for the book came from the realization that while a large amount of Humphrey’s published work focuses on software-specific scenarios and implementing PSP and TSP, much of his work in management theory could be applied to any field. He added that Humphrey’s personal anecdotes will resonate with almost anyone who faces a difficult management challenge.

“While he often describes success, just as importantly, he also recounts the times that he failed and how he learned to approach a problem differently the next time,” Thomas said.

Humphrey, in the meantime, continues work on a new book with James Over, manager of the TSP team at the SEI, which focuses on TSP for senior executives. Humphrey, applying the management principles that he advocates in the book to his own work, hopes to complete the manuscript in the next few months so he can begin another.

“I really want to write one for the working engineer,” Humphrey said. “That’s what I want to do next.”