The best books if you want to lead great software delivery teams

Michael K. Levine Author Of People Over Process: Leadership for Agility
By Michael K. Levine

Who am I?

I’ve been doing large-scale software development at great US businesses from the introduction of the PC to the cloud explosion. From my earliest successes (online banking at US Bank in 1985!) to my biggest failures (Wells Fargo “Core” disaster in 2006), I’ve always sought better ways of doing things. These five books all were important to my learning and remain highly relevant, and I hope you find them useful as well. 


I wrote...

People Over Process: Leadership for Agility

By Michael K. Levine,

Book cover of People Over Process: Leadership for Agility

What is my book about?

As I grew in my software engineering leadership career, I wrote the Tales of Agility trilogy to solidify and share my beliefs. People Over Process is the capstone, dealing with the “softest” (and the hardest) dimension – leadership.

Like all the trilogy books, PoP tells a compelling story to frame and demonstrate a powerful, simple set of actionable ideas. A bank is trying to catch up to its more advanced digital competitors, posing leadership challenges from the president of the business unit down to the test manager on the team. Together they learn the value of focusing on rigor, alignment, and efficiency. Along the way they (and you) learn to use simple tools that accelerate delivery, including the Toyota A3 problem-solving tool. 

The books I picked & why

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Microsoft Secrets: How the World's Most Powerful Software Company Creates Technology, Shapes Markets and Manages People

By Michael A. Cusumano, Richard W. Selby,

Book cover of Microsoft Secrets: How the World's Most Powerful Software Company Creates Technology, Shapes Markets and Manages People

Why this book?

This book helped me set my initial approach to software development and I still periodically return to it for grounding.

An MIT project theorized that new-fangled PC software developers knew something mainframe and mini-computer makers didn’t. MIT’s research revealed something else entirely: Microsoft had uniquely effective ideas on how to build complex products in rapidly evolving competitive markets. Here is “agile” before it was put into the Manifesto in 2001, in a more complete form. Ever wonder where the idea of a team comprising functional specialists with overlapping roles, united by a common goal, came from? Or incremental feature evolution with periodic synchronization and constant testing? Early brilliance still of foundational relevance, in a coherent and engaging form.

Microsoft Secrets: How the World's Most Powerful Software Company Creates Technology, Shapes Markets and Manages People

By Michael A. Cusumano, Richard W. Selby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Microsoft Secrets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on observation, interviews, and confidential data, the authors reveal Microsoft's product development, marketing, and organizational strategies.


I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year With Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier

By Fred Moody,

Book cover of I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year With Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier

Why this book?

Microsoft Secrets principles are great theory, but how do they feel in practice? Here is the Microsoft version of Tracy Kidder’s classic Soul of a New Machine.

A team of eager Microsoft engineers and product managers go for it, trying to build a children’s encyclopedia to extend the success of Microsoft’s earlier Encarta product. The genius of overlapping defined roles on a quest for a common goal comes face to face with the confusion, surprises, conflicts, diversions, disappointments, and elations inherent in most large-scale software programs trying to do something new (and aren’t they all?). Theory and intensely human practice come together.

I Sing the Body Electronic: A Year With Microsoft on the Multimedia Frontier

By Fred Moody,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Sing the Body Electronic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Moody chronicles his year observing a young and inexperienced team of Microsoft developers working on a children's multimedia project under the dictatorial leadership of Bill Gates. For general readers. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.


The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer

By Jeffrey K. Liker,

Book cover of The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer

Why this book?

I spent my career leading software engineering at two of America’s top banks. It’s not all innovative work, as you might guess, and here is where Toyota comes in. 

Toyota teaches the difference between routine, standardized work (where we use predictive process control) and creative work (where we use adaptive process control). Balancing this in practice is a key to being a great software engineering leader. For those manufacturing-like processes (incremental feature addition, defect repair) the Toyota manufacturing way became the basis of the Agile movement a decade later: flow, pull, level work, quality the first time, process standardization and continuous improvement, and closeness to customers. Toyota Way provides a deeper understanding than any agile seminar. 

The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer

By Jeffrey K. Liker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Toyota Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How to speed up business processes, improve quality, and cut costs in any industry



In factories around the world, Toyota consistently makes the highest-quality cars with the fewest defects of any competing manufacturer, while using fewer man-hours, less on-hand inventory, and half the floor space of its competitors. The Toyota Way is the first book for a general audience that explains the management principles and business philosophy behind Toyota's worldwide reputation for quality and reliability.



Complete with profiles of organizations that have successfully adopted Toyota's principles, this book shows managers in every industry how to improve business processes by:



Eliminating…


The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology

By James M. Morgan, Jeffrey K. Liker,

Book cover of The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology

Why this book?

When this book was released, I was immersed in a huge failing project at Wells Fargo, struggling to make sense of it all. This book helped me put the failure in perspective and showed a better way that I embraced for the rest of my career. 

The key insight is that large-scale innovation is not like manufacturing – it is less about planning and control, more about people, rapid learning, and adaptation. Here we learn concepts such as the Chief Engineer, lightweight milestone—and responsibility-based project management, and focusing on engineering skills and vendor partnerships. Shelve the elaborate process frameworks consultants are selling you, focus on the basics Toyota emphasized throughout their glory years. 

The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology

By James M. Morgan, Jeffrey K. Liker,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Toyota Product Development System as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The ability to bring new and innovative products to market rapidly is the prime critical competence for any successful consumer-driven company. All industries, especially automotive, are slashing product development lead times in the current hyper-competitive marketplace. This book is the first to thoroughly examine and analyze the truly effective product development methodology that has made Toyota the most forward-thinking company in the automotive industry.

Winner of the 2007 Shingo Prize For Excellence In Manufacturing Research!

In The Toyota Product Development System: Integrating People, Process, and Technology, James Morgan and Jeffrey Liker compare and contrast the world-class product development process of…


Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow

By Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais,

Book cover of Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow

Why this book?

Fast-forward to today, and Team Topologies provides the shortest, clearest direction on how to arrange your business for technology engineering success. Skelton and Pais provided me a documented, sharable answer to “how do we do a digital transformation,” one of the common challenges organizations are facing today. 

Too many enterprises lead with technology (“we need a new mobile app”) or process (“let’s do agile”).  This ignores the centrality of people to success, which we saw so clearly in I Sing. Skelton and Pais start with the basics of how large-scale work is done today (mostly in teams), how teams work based on trust, and then go on to define the types of teams (just a few!) and their most effective interactive modes. Everything revolves around the flow/delivery teams, bringing us all the way back to Toyota Way’s admonition to engineer the flow.

Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow

By Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Team Topologies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Companion book Remote Team Interactions Workbook now available!


Effective software teams are essential for any organization to deliver value continuously and sustainably. But how do you build the best team organization for your specific goals, culture, and needs?


Team Topologies is a practical, step-by-step, adaptive model for organizational design and team interaction based on four fundamental team types and three team interaction patterns. It is a model that treats teams as the fundamental means of delivery, where team structures and communication pathways are able to evolve with technological and organizational maturity.


In Team Topologies, IT consultants Matthew Skelton and Manuel…


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