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The ACCU passes on review copies of computer books to its members for them to review. The result is a large, high quality collection of book reviews by programmers, for programmers. Currently there are 1918 reviews in the database and more every month.
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Title:
Improving Software Organizations
Author:
Lars Mathiassen et al.
ISBN:
0 201 75820 2
Publisher:
Addison-Wesley
Pages:
337pp
Price:
£34-99
Reviewer:
Rob Hughes
Subject:
management
Appeared in:
14-3
I was keen to read this book as I am currently involved with aspects of software process improvement (SPI). For the purposes of this review, I decided not to question the entire wisdom with regard to formalization of process. Many people are faced with having to follow SPI initiatives based on the CMM and similar, rather than desiring to and this book attempts to show how this can be best achieved, hence it is reviewed in this light.

I was pleasantly surprised to find, given my experience of similar material, that the approach adopted is based around real examples of organisations trying to improve their process maturity. The authors concentrate on the problems faced by these organisations in SPI initiatives.

In this book, I was immediately struck by the insistence that one of the principle driving forces behind change and therefore improvement, must be the practitioners. If the coalface workers are not interested by or do not have a stake in process improvement, the introduction of change will be a struggle regardless of management commitment. This fact alone put me in a good frame of mind to tackle the rest of the book.

After a brief introduction to the case study organisations, the first third of the book considers each case study in detail. The second two thirds of the volume examine various aspects of SPI in the light of experiences from the case studies. Key areas that are covered are how to implement SPI, how to measure and assess ongoing success and how to learn from the process. One of the main failures in the case studies was often failing to adequately assess the success of change, making it difficult to learn from what had gone before.

The book does suffer to an extent from excessive verbiage. This seems to be a problem with many similar books, so this volume hardly stands out for it. I can't really understand why good technical software volumes can be crisp and concise, while authors writing about less technical aspects of the field tend to repeatedly make the same, often very simple point in unnecessarily flowery language. Perhaps there is a desire to appeal to managers as well as practitioners, but I find this a false logic. Any manager who revels in long-winded and unapproachable written material, is, in my mind at least, not a very good manager.

Overall, the book is well written and the material is firmly based in reality. For anyone directly involved with SPI this is a book they would be well recommended to consider. For anyone foisted with ill-considered 'improvement' strategies from on high, change jobs, erm, I mean get management a copy as well. As a general read for those not directly involved with the issues considered, there are probably more relevant books available.