Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Project

Cover of the book

I felt on this book while surfing on Amazon. The title sounded original, the topic was interesting and the reviews were positive. I decided to buy it. It was on my doorstep 36 hours later. Waltzing with Bears is a very quick read (little under 200 pages), but it contains an incredible amount of information. Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister wrote an excellent book.

General risk management is covered by about half of the book. In the early chapters, generic examples are being used. As the chapters advance, the emphasis on software development increases, but a parallel to reality and non-abstract examples are always made. Some of the examples are humoristic or cynical, which makes the read even more interesting. My favorite example was when they were trying to evaluate the damages to prepare for in the case you would hit a child based on the average weights.

The book was definetly not aimed towards undergraduates. Most of the time, it considers you have a load of experience in management. As a student with no experience at all at higher management, I have to admit I had to loop on a few pages to understand what they were talking about. Not having english as my primary language sure did not help that part.

Waltzing with Bears is still useful for those not aiming for management positions any time soon. If you ever felt like taking vaccations in your boss’ mind or If you want to know the kind of answer they expect when they ask How long will it take?, this is probably what you are looking for. The book explains how to give approximates and how to quantify them, considering the possible risks.

About every situation exposed is represented with uncertainty diagrams or illustrations. In the early pages, they explain how to read the diagrams and an important part of the book explains how to build them. Very little information is given on how to actually gather the informations, but I just considered it was probably supposed to be part of my prior reading.

A good aspect I found was that they consider all actors in development as humans. While applications like Microsoft Project consider 9 pregnant womens can give you a baby in a month, their strategy suggests that the team in place is important and attempting to replace them has a cost.

I will read this one again in a few years and keep it close until then. I would definetly refer this one to a boss that gives unreasonable scheddules. Waltzing with Bears is a great source of information, but it might not be for everyone.

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