The front cover of The Mythical Man-Month

The Mythical Man-Month

We conclude the re-read of The Mythical Man-Month by Fred P. Brooks with the essay The Mythical Man-Month After 20 Years. In this essay, Brooks reflected on the topics he had addressed in the original version of the book. Most of the topics still resonated, but a few were a miss. I feel like this essay is more of a victory lap than a vehicle to break new ground. Perhaps my perception that the essay is a victory lap is because many of the topics and the solutions suggested by Brooks in original Mythical Man-Month are still shaping the world of software development world. For me, the majority of the book continues to resonate however there are a few that continue to shape my thought process the most. They are: 

The idea of conceptual integrity identified the need for a single coherent model of the application.  The model includes the strategy for how the application will work and how it will interact with the users (UI/UX). In the 2000’s the iPhone was a poster child for conceptual integrity.  In order to deliver an application (large or small), someone needs to own and champion the coherent mental model.  Brooks suggested that the architect forms and owns the mental model of the product and enforces conceptual integrity.  Whether a project has a single architect or multiple due to size, everyone involved need to single vision of an architecture. In the essay Brooks suggests that conceptual integrity is central to product quality.

Re-reading the essay No Silver Bullet, has had a tangible impact on how I view the practice of process and organizational improvement in software development. In the essay, Brooks discussed the differential impact of a change on how work is done versus changing how we address the less tractable concepts of the business problem. That discussion suggests that even though changing methods, such as Agile or incremental development, has a significant impact on quality and productivity there are bigger fish to fry. If we want to have an even larger impact we need to address the four inherent properties of a software solution.

  1.  Complexity
  2. Conformity
  3. Changeability
  4. Invisibility

When thinking about process improvement, the change discussion must address both how the solution is addressed as well as the development and project management processes to maximize the output of business value.

The Mythical Man-Month changed how many of us think about software development.  For example, after publishing Brooks Law (and the academic research later supporting Brooks Law), no one should be able to say with a straight face that adding people to a late project will do much other than make it later.  Unfortunately many of the lessons Brooks has taught us need to be continually relearned.  Until you pick up the Mythical Man-Month again remember the waterfall model is wrong (Brooks’s words), adding people will only make you later and software development is complex. We need to continuously focus on growing and improving the software development discipline.

Which essay was your favorite? 

Next . . . we currently have a three-way tie for the next book.  One last call for votes (


Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right – Atul Gawande

How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business – Douglas W. Hubbard

Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency – Tom DeMarco

I will pull the list on Sunday evening and buy a new version of the book selected. In case of a tie, I will pick a title!

Previous installments of the Re-read of The Mythical Man-Month

Introductions and The Tar Pit

The Mythical Man-Month (The Essay)

The Surgical Team

Aristocracy, Democracy and System Design

The Second-System Effect

Passing the Word

Why did the Tower of Babel fall?

Calling the Shot

Ten Pounds in a Five–Pound Package

The Documentary Hypothesis

Plan to Throw One Away

Sharp Tools

The Whole and the Parts

Hatching a Catastrophe

The Other Face

No Silver Bullet – Essence and Accident In Software Engineering

Mythical Man-Month, No Silver Bullet, Refired, Part 17