- Innovator's Dilemma: When Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
By Clayton ChristensenA must read for everyone in the information technology field. It explores the difficulty of bringing new and innovative technologies into the market, particularly at large organizations where existing reward systems serve almost as a corporate immune system against innovation.
- The Design of Everyday Things
By Donald A. NormanNorman takes us on a tour of the things we run into everyday and how much their design can frustrate us to the point where we feel stupid and inept at using these things. Norman frees us from that thinking. One of my favorite examples from the book is where Norman asks the reader whether they've ever had the experience of pushing on a door only to have it not move and then see the big PULL sign. We all feel stupid when this happens and hope no one saw us. Norman says from now on we are free to say "stupid design!" A door by its very design should communicate whether it should be pushed or pulled. A door shouldn't need a user manual! This thinking should also be applied to software and is the essence of the goal of our High-Tech Anthropology® design team when designing user interfaces. This book along with Cooper's, mentioned next, forms the foundation of our design thinking.
- The Inmates are Running the Asylum
By Alan CooperThis is a 300 page book where Alan Cooper, the founder of Cooper Design and father of Visual Basic describes why engineers commonly do not possess the talents required for user interface design predominantly because they know too much -- they understand how the computer works and users typically don't care how the computer works, they just want to do their job. It introduces the age-old concept of the "persona" as a decision-making tool for software requirements gathering and user interface design. The persona is an essential tool of Menlo's requirements gathering and design practice.
- Creativity at Work
By Jeff DeGraff and Katherine LawrenceDeGraff and Lawrence from the U-M Ross School of Business apply their "Creativity Map" to organizations and the individuals within them (along with an accompanying paper tool so that we can see where each of us fall within the map). Often we are trapped into thinking that creativity and creative people can only be found in certain types of corporations or certain departments, or they are only the artistic right-brained people. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if we are going to be truly creative we need to recognize that creativity, innovation and brainstorming must be applied in all types of organizations, departments and by all types of individuals. The book helps us see how vastly different organizational styles from very successful corporations can all still exhibit a great amount of creativity. You'll recognize the name of a certain VP of Development at a company called Interface Systems in a story detailed between pages 115-121. Jeff DeGraff also leads a twice-a-year three-day seminar for U-M's Executive MBA program called "Leading Innovation". He spends the first half of the second day here at Menlo Innovations where James and I lead their students through Menlo's unique brand of brainstorming.
- The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization
By Peter SengeI read this about 15 years ago and its message haunted me. I wanted to build a learning organization! Senge described them but didn't provide a roadmap to make one. This began my search that ultimately led to creating the Java Factory at Interface Systems and then the Menlo Software Factory. Pairing in an open and collaborative environment, a la Edison's Invention Factory in Menlo Park New Jersey, where a key tenet is to "make mistakes faster", built on the trust as described by Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team combine to foster the elusive but powerful learning organization. I've seen it work for 8 years now and I'm fascinated by it everyday. I liken it to watching a 747 land. I know all the principles that cause the 747 to fly, but I'm still as fascinated as a child when I watch it at the airport.
- The World is Flat
By Thomas FriedmanA great tour of the forces at work in today's global economy. For better or worse, this is the world in which we live. Let's not only understand it, but make it work to our advantage. After all, we created the world's flattening technologies, let's not be flattened by them! I've turned talking about this book into a small "cottage industry" here in Southeast Michigan.
- Diffusion of Innovation
By Everett M. RogersWe're probably all familiar with Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" which describes the adoption curve of personalities for new technologies as "Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority and Laggards". This is the book that defined the "science" behind that curve and named the personalities. The book includes great stories and frightening ones if you hope it's going to be easy to introduce a new innovation. It took the British Navy 300 years to formally adopt citrus to combat scurvy even though there was overwhelming evidence to its great effect.
- Working at Inventing: Thomas A. Edison and the Menlo Park Experience
By William S. PretzerEdison's team was in many ways the original "Extreme Programming" team! A minor invention every two weeks and a major one every six months was the motto of his Menlo Park, New Jersey "Invention Factory" where he thrived on experiments and making mistakes faster in an open and collaborative work environment. My childhood visits to the re-creation of Edison's lab in Dearborn's Greenfield Village continue to inspire me to this day and ultimately led to the naming of our company. I often tell people that if we truly want to know how to build software in the 21st century, we have to look back 130 years. Menlo Innovations has attracted the attention of the world's foremost experts on Edison including Paul Israel, John Bowditch, William Pretzer and Sarah Miller Caldicott (Edison's great grand niece). This is a very inspirational book! I was recently honored as the keynote speaker at the "Innovation Michigan" summit held at Greenfield Village. As I spoke about the impact of Edison's thinking on my own, I could look out and see the re-created Edison Invention Factory. Quite a magical moment for me.
- The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
By Chris AndersonChris explains in very approachable detail the interesting world we've created with bits vs. atoms. In particular, it shows why eBay, Amazon, Netflix, Google Adwords, iTunes and other on-line retailers have the power to move away from mass marketing into the far bigger market of niche marketing where niches can cater to a near-infinite number of incredibly small communities, something the "atoms peddlers" cannot do. These lessons have profound implications for all technology and marketing strategies.
- Extreme Programming Explained (first edition)
By Kent BeckThe book that started it all: Story cards, estimating and planning, small iterations, open and collaborative workspaces, automated unit testing, continuous integration, pair programming, sustainable work pace, code stewardship instead of code ownership, test-first design, coding standard, refactoring, and simple design. We continue to apply all but one of the principles of this book. The one we have substituted out in favor of our High-Tech Anthropology® practice is "Customer Always Present". We like to say "Voice of the Customer Always Present". We believe the best thing we can do is to leave the customer/user right where they are and go study them (like anthropologists do) in their native environment then bring that information back to the technical team followed then by testing the evolving designs as supported by the practice of iterative and incremental development.
- Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
By Martin FowlerChapter 4 introduces what I like to call the most revolutionary practice in software development to occur during my career: Junit - the automated unit testing framework for Java. This simple concept is the equivalent of the discovery of Bernouilli's principle as applied to airplane wing design. It makes everything else possible. It astounds me how few software teams actually apply this simple principle to their efforts even though Fowler and Beck introduced this concept in 1999. Ah, there's that "Diffusion of Innovations" problem!
- Planning Extreme Programming
By Kent Beck and Martin FowlerStarts the discussion of how exactly to we plan an agile, iterative and incremental software development practice. It enables us to put the business in control of software projects rather than the technical team. Probably worth noting that Menlo's "Project Planning Origami™" is first officially described on page 81 of this book as James Goebel describes our planning game tools as first used in the Java Factory at Interface Systems.
- Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented
By "The Gang of Four"We tend to put less faith in reusable code (as that mission often interferes with accomplishing real business goals) and far more faith in reusable ideas. This book details many reusable ideas that once mastered by a team of developers can often speed up the conversation of software structural engineering and ultimately greatly speed up the actual development.
- The Art of Innovation
By Tom KelleyThis book describes the approach to innovation taken by IDEO, arguably the world's leading industrial design firm. IDEO's approach to design, innovation, workspace, and teamwork have had a great influence on our thinking here. When team members from Google came to visit Menlo Innovations a few weeks ago, I had a "proud moment" when, after having seen our operation, asked me if I had ever heard of a Palo Alto firm called IDEO as our operation reminded them greatly of what they had seen there.
- IDEO Method Cards
By IDEO DesignA set of 51 cards with 51 different "methods" for requirements gathering and design, one per card. We've found this toolkit to be quite helpful when creating storycards for our design teams. The cards often remind us of the different approaches we can take when doing needs assessment, requirements gathering and early design.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
By Patrick LencioniI particularly enjoyed the opening line of the book that reads "Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork alone that is the ultimate competitive advantage both because it is so powerful and so rare." The pyramid he describes of trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results is essential to understand by anyone trying to build a great team.
- First Break All The Rules
By Marcus Buckingham and Curt CoffmanThe main theme that resonated with us from this book is to hire for talents rather than skills. Our industry is plagued by the desire to hire for skills which, as we discussed, often traps people for their entire careers in their "prison of knowledge". The saddest aspect of this imprisonment is that we destroy their desire to contribute after a time and then we wonder what happened to their enthusiasm for the job and the mission.
- Changing the Way We Change
By Jeanenne LaMarshWe have more copies of this out-of-print book on our shelves than any other. This book deals with the very real and very difficult challenge of organization change. The theme that most resonated with us from this book is that no matter the current situation everyone associates some aspect of their current situation with personal rewards. For example, "I like my office because the window looks out onto a small pond that the sun reflects off of every morning. That makes me feel good about coming to work. It makes me feel important to have such a nice office." If we then suggest we are going to move you to an open and collaborative environment and take you out of your office, we better replace that reward with something else (and quickly) or risk silent or open rebellion against the change.
- Managing IT Skills Portfolios
By Nakayama and SutcliffeA compendium of essays on managing the human resources of an IT team. In particular, pay attention to a late chapter authored by Menlo Innovations founders James Goebel, Richard Sheridan and Thomas Meloche called "Extreme Interviewing to Find Team Oriented Programmers". This describes the interview process I first used in 2000 to build the Java Factory team at Interface Systems from a team of 14 to 34 within 4 months. We continue to use an updated version of this practice at Menlo to grow our team. As you'll see it encompasses many of the lessons learned form the above books and many others. One of our most memorable "feedback items" from the experience was when one interviewee wrote to say that "she didn't care whether she got hired or not, the interview experience alone had changed her life!" (We did hire her and eight years later she still works for us!)
- The Experience Economy
By Pine and GilmoreDo people value an experience? So much so that they are willing to pay for it? Should companies be thinking about the experience they are providing to their customers? The answer to all of these is overwhelmingly YES! At Menlo we apply the idea of "experience" in two areas: the "experience" provided to our clients who engage us at the Menlo Software Factory™ either for projects or training, and then the experience we are creating for the users of the software we build. Pine and Gilmore do an excellent job of walking us through the value equation of many business models that move from commodities to products, products to services, and from services to experiences. We pay pennies per cup when we buy coffee in bulk and grind it ourselves, nickels when Maxwell House does it for us, dimes when the waitress at The Broken Egg endlessly fills our cup for us, and dollars per cup when Starbucks delivers their great "barrista experience". The commodity is still at the heart of all of these price points. The difference is the experience. This becomes truly powerful when you consider the implications of delivering an experience that can create an authentic transformation. This is what we are trying to achieve for our clients at Menlo and this book has put words to many of the concepts we have bee pursuing for years. This is a must-read for those seeking to dominate their market.
- The Tipping Point
By Malcolm GladwellThis book is an excellent treatise on the concept of the network effect that Robert Metcalfe has stated in Metcalfe's Law: The value of the network increases exponentially as the network grows. Think of the things that you own or use today that you'd feel downright stupid if you didn't: Google, cell phones, e-mail, computers, on-line travel booking services. Consider your kids and their "relationships" with Skype, Facebook, Myspace, texting, IMing, cell phones. Are you seeing the power here and its implications for software design? If we can build a piece of software that is widely adopted, then people will start to feel downright silly for NOT using it and so they'll buy it and start using it. One of the key goals of the Menlo Software Factory™ is to design and build software that enjoys "widespread adoption" by the target end user audience for whom it was designed. If we do this, we can hit the "tipping point" of adoption and then it's off to the races. If we don't then we are at best a footnote (think Apple Newton vs. iPhone) in the history of our industry. It's that important.
- The Wisdom of Crowds
By James SurowieckiCrowds of people are smarter as a whole than the smartest individual in that crowd? This is counter-intuitive, as we've all seen the effects of "group-think" and the fact the large groups usually far under perform when compared to more focused and more deeply experienced small teams or individual experts. However, when properly approached, the right environment gets far better results from groups than from individual stars and heroes. We see this effect everyday in the Menlo Software Factory™. We get better estimates from the team when they estimate in groups and when we get multiple estimates for every story card. Switching the pairs every week gets fresh eyes on old problems and suddenly the unsolvable is solved. Moving people between projects multiplies this productivity. Having everyone within earshot and eyeshot of one another in a big open and collaborative work environment keeps this "wisdom of crowds" effect humming along everyday. Edison created this effect in a similar way in his Menlo Park New Jersey "Invention Factory". Read this book and have some of your most basic assumptions about human performance challenged.
- Good to Great
By Jim CollinsThis is a must-read business book. Whether it's the discussion of Level-5 leadership, the hedgehog concept, or the flywheel effect, it is imperative to understand how to take a company from just being good to being truly great. He examines public companies as they have more readily accessible objective performance data, but we see nothing that limits these concepts to large public corporations. Much of the teaching can be applied at the individual level. Collins also outlines important concepts around building the "team". This is where he describes "getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and then getting the right people in the right seats." I would add that we should then focus on keeping the right people on the bus after we get them there! The issue of business focus is treated quite well here. Knowing what we can be the best in the world at, what we are insanely passionate about and what drives our economic engine can produce an unstoppable "flywheel" that ultimately promotes us to "great" in the business world.
- Small Giants: Companies that Choose to Be Great Instead Of Big
By Bo BurlinghamThis powerful, counter-culture concept is a wonderful extension to Jim Collin's thinking in Good to Great. Too often, companies believe growth is the only path to success and reward, yet we are reminded everyday of large companies who have lost their focus, lost their will and lost their "mojo" as Burlingham refers to it. This book is incredibly reassuring to those of us at Menlo Innovations who are focused on building a great software design and development team of about 100 people and that's it. We believe we can slay the world with a team of that size. Bigger than that, and we begin to lose our "mojo". We will use this team to supercharge the business of our clients and in many cases we will take a leveraged stake in the business of our clients to achieve what I think is business nirvana: "revenue growth without expense growth". No offshore, no remote offices, no franchises, no sprawling campus ... just a tightly focused team, a great culture, a well understood process and wonderful relationships with our clients and a team who one day I hope we can make financially independent and still want to come to work the next day!
- It's Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy
By Michael AbrashofGetting extraordinary results from ordinary people. We've all heard this line, but we seldom believe its possible. In this book, follow the tale of the USS Benfold, the WORST performing ship in the US Navy when Captain Abrashof arrived. Watch him apply powerful techniques (unheard of -- almost forbidden in some cases) to transform it to the best damn ship in the Navy in under two years. When you realize he's doing this with 18-20 year olds who chose the Navy over college in most cases because their high school performance took college out of the equation you begin to understand the wasted potential that exists in most teams. Wasted because management refuses to engage it. This book is an inspiration to anyone trying to build a high-performing team. It was recommended to me by someone who took one of our classes and thought that Menlo Innovations reminded him of many of the stories in that book. I couldn't have been prouder!