Managing the Unmanageable

Razroo Book Club - Intersection of Software + Business

Aleksandra Khmarskaia
October 18, 2020
4 min read

Why Read It

Managing the Unmanageable is not just a book, it is truly a great mentor for each project manager. Even if you have never worked in an IT company, with this book you have literally everything to build a strong, efficient, and happy team of programmers.

You will enjoy the light language of the book. Despite it is non-fiction, I read it in one shot like a fascinating detective story. The friendly tone of voice, variety of opinions, and the chapter Rules of Thumb and Nuggets of Wisdom made the book a pleasant read for me.

Managing the Unmanageable is a comprehensive instruction for anyone. I could not imagine an issue that has not been already described by Mickey W. Mantle and Ron Lichy, the authors of Managing the Unmanageable.


Mickey and Ron wrote the Managing the Unmanageable in the 90s and released the second edition in 2019. All content of the book is up-to-date. Rules of management have been actually the same since the 90s: technology is changing, but people, the base of their mindset are the same. And, of course, the authors renewed the book with the latest trends of IT management.

The book is replete with knowledge and covers literally every part of management from who programmers are to instructions on how to build a strong corporate culture.

Interesting points

The Devil is Always in the Details

The approach to management that Mickey and Ron have offered to us is truly thorough. As we know from the book, the secret of a great manager is attention to detail. The authors see the team of programmers as a mechanism with a thousand wide-ranging gears and cogs. Any issue can be caused by a variety of reasons and the art of management is to see the exact one. To explain this art Mickey and Ron go into even not exactly managers’ land. Just beware, Managing the Unmanageable can have consequences: after reading this book, you might never miss the detail again.

Rules of Thumb and Nuggets of Wisdom

This is the title of the chapter, which Mickey and Ron called the “soft, creamy center” of Managing the Unmanageable. I find it is true, the chapter is the light reading part of the book. Authors collected the different management rules from their friends, colleagues, and readers. Rules of Thumb and Nuggets of Wisdom is full of personal experience, and that is why it is so fascinating to read.

Team Comes First

It sounds like the main management rule. It may be obvious, but just think how often smart and talented managers, carried away by trendy project management approaches, forget about the simple base, about the team. I was a witness by myself of at least five episodes when some experienced manager was trying their best to make teamwork efficient while the team was falling apart. Managing the Unmanageable starts from the very beginning, from thorough advice on how to build a team from a scratch.

Cowboys versus Farmers

Continuing with the previous point topic, the team always consists of people. If you wonder how to build your team as a strong one, just look closer to the people you hired. Who are they? What do they want? Which generation do they belong to? Are there more cowboys than farmers? By the way, I am delighted by this ranking. Cowboy employees “jump their horses and ride off” when the problem arises, while farmer employees “are methodical in knowing the way of the land”. Cowboys tend to skip planning, solve the problem single-handedly, and change a job every half of the year. Farmers are more preferred for the tech team, but a minority of programmers have such a type of personality. Mickey and Ron explain how to match a manager’s need with a programmer’s basic identity, and this is a great illustration of the whole book.

Would I Read It Knowing What I Know Now?

Yes, for sure. I am a very junior in the managing world, consequently, each part of the book was pretty relevant and useful for me. I believe this book might be extremely useful both for managers who were hired yesterday and for experienced specialists who crave to reconsider their approach. Even if you have never worked in IT, you will understand easily every single letter of the book.

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