Mini Review: Behind Closed Doors

I had high hopes for Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby. I’ve generally had good experiences so far with the Pragmatic Publishers. I’ve probably purchased about half of their titles at this point and I even occasionally listen to Andy Hunt’s podcast.

They hype on this made it seem as if there might be some real revelations or new ideas, but my feeling after shooting through it last night is that it’s not bad, but not a great title either. The book just lacks some quality to keep you reading and follows a well known management book paradigm. Basically you follow some fictional character through a series of meetings where the great management wisdom is revealed. I did find it interesting that I’ve listened to podcasts by Johanna Rothman and found her real stories to be a lot more engaging.

The book covers the following topics among others:

  • One on Ones – Nothing really new, but after a recent spate running across this in the Manager’s Tools Podcast and a Ken Blanchard seminar or two I’m going to try implementing them seriously for a few months.
  • Coaching – This is something I do a good bit of already, could do better, but no real major new tips here.
  • Delegation – I can’t say I’m that great at this, but I didn’t really come across any new techniques here.
  • Feedback – Obviously feedback is critical. The suggestion is to give it quickly and focus on behavior not emotional responses.
  • Effective Meetings – They cover general meetings, weekly team meetings, and 15 minute standup meetings. All good information, but again no real new tips.
  • New Hires – I liked the part about setting up a checklist for a new employee. I’ve found this to be important many times. And spending a lot of time preparing for interviews leads to better hires.
  • Project Portfolio – Basically track your major projects and keep track what’s going on over the next month or so. I’d be surprised how many managers survive without this for long.

So as a technical manager you learn that general management practices apply to you. It’s all good information, but not revolutionary. Part of the problem may be that I’ve been a technical manager for 3+ years already so maybe I’ve crossed the line for a book like this to be terribly relevant. The thing that makes me think differently is I’ve listened to most of the recent podcasts at Manager’s Tools and they manage to cover the same topics, but I find myself really reacting strongly to their presentation. They reference real stories and debate some finer points of the topics like whether you should take One on One notes on a Tablet PC versus paper. And it could be the audio presentation is more effective, but I’m generally a visual learner.

Anyway I’ve picked up Prefactoring by Ken Pugh and so far it seems like an intriquing read.