This is my review of Managing Humans. This is a book on management written by Michael Lopp, who is a well known internet writer on the software industry.

The book itself is similar to An Elegant Puzzle in that it’s a collection of thoughts the author has had around management, leadership, startupsand the broader industry of software. Like that book, it is also compiled from the author’s blog writings. So you’ll essentially be getting a more condensed and polished version of that. Unlike An Elegant Puzzle though, this book is very tactical. At the end you won’t be able to articulate an overarching theory of managing humans. At least nothing more than “don’t be a dick”. But you might get some understanding of why Steve on your team is unhappy with only getting bug duty. Or why Lara is so good at fixing problems quickly, but doesn’t work well in a team. Or why your meetings never seem to go anywhere (hint: you’re missing the presence of the anchor).

Michael, or Rands as he goes by, draws on his vast experience working at Silicon Valley tech companies, which includes the likes of Apple and Slack. But also his own failed startup. And - a blast from the past - Borland. Which might not mean anything for you youngins, but this holds a special place in my heart. It was their C++ Builder RAD system where I got my first taste of “real” programming. And their 1.0 to 6.0 where I learned there could be such a thing as “good software gone bad”. But that’s a story for another time. Back to the review.

The book has three big sections. The first one is about the job of the manager in broad terms, the second about all things process, and the third about the various types of humans you’ll find in organisation. Beyond these there are more than 50 chapters. The chapters are short and focused and are essentially his blog posts. I particularly enjoyed the storytelliny that was used to send the educational message. Such books can easily become academic, but by anchoring the lesson in real world (and amusing in restrospect) stories they land much better.

Given the wealth and granularity of topics covered, I won’t go into that many details on the contents. I’ll highlight a couple I found noteworthy.

The concept of shields down is the moment an employee starts the process of disengaging with the company. Something happened, they ran some internal diagnostic, and concluded something is missing from what they expected from the company. Not enough to leave immediately, but enough to start looking, not care as much about the work, etc. Fun part is that it’s something minor and totally avoidable.

Another cool concept is that of classifying managers as inwards, holistics, or outwards. The former are the team managers primarily focused on their own team and making it run well. The latter are the VPs and execs who think of the whole company and interact with the whole industry. The holistics are the middle managers who connect between inwards and outwards, but also who have a pulse on the whole company. It’s these folks that secretly run the show :P

The notion of process as codification of culture I really loved. It resonated quite a bit with me, as I’ve struggled to properly explain the reasons for adding process in the way we did at Bolt. I relied on us growing and needing to adopt the practices of bigger companies, or fixing some wrong. Which seemed in the end a copout. But codifing what old-timers would do instinctively hits so much closer to home. And allows for the precious “deviation from process” and “trusting your guts” which keeps the organization light on its feet.

Finally, there’s a whole series on running meetings well. From who to invite, to who to kick out, and all the way to figuring out concealed “snakes” with hidden influence.

Anyway, that’s my review. In case it isn’t obvious, I really liked this book. I’ll add it to my list of recommended managers reading. Till next time, stay frosty!