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Waltzing with Bears:
Managing Risk on Software Projects

by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

ISBN: 978-0-932633-60-6  
©2003   208 pages   softcover  
$27.95 (plus shipping)

Subject(s): Software Project Management, Team Management

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If There's No Risk On
Your Next Project, Don't Do It

Winner of the Software Development
Jolt Product Excellence Award

About the Book

Greater risk brings greater reward, especially in software development. A company that runs away from risk will soon find itself lagging behind its more adventurous competition. By ignoring the threat of negative outcomes—in the name of positive thinking or a can-do attitude—software managers drive their organizations into the ground.

In Waltzing With Bears, Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister—the best-selling authors of Peopleware—show readers how to identify and embrace worthwhile risks. Developers are then set free to push the limits.

The authors present the benefits of risk management, including that it • makes aggressive risk-taking possible • protects management from getting blindsided • provides minimum-cost downside protection • reveals invisible transfers of responsibility • isolates the failure of a subproject.

Readers are armed with strategies for confronting the most common risks that software projects face: • schedule flaws • requirements inflation • turnover • specification breakdown • and under-performance.

Waltzing With Bears will help you mitigate the risks—before they turn into project-killing problems. Risks are out there—and they should be there—but there is a way to manage them.

Insights from the Book

"Running away from risk is a no-win proposition. Sometimes you come across a project that looks positively risk-free. In the past, you may have looked at such an endeavor as a 'slam dunk' and thanked your lucky stars to be given an easy project for a change. We've had the same reaction. What dummies we were. Those projects weren't worth doing at all."
—from Chapter 1



"DeMarco and Lister are very well known for their classic, Peopleware, which should be mandatory reading for software managers, project managers, product marketing managers—in fact, anyone involved in the decision-making process for funding software projects. It's just as pithy and to the point as Peopleware, and well worth the investment of a few hours of time. When you're done reading it, you'll probably be tempted to buy a few more copies to give to coworkers.

"Everyone who has ever worked on a software project that went over schedule will recognize his or her organization somewhere in this book. If you're a project manager, you probably won't want to use all the techniques in this book immediately. However, maybe you will make your team start doing some risk mitigation up front and calculating return on investment while planning the next project. This alone will dramatically reduce your odds of ending up with a death march project. Your managers will thank you for that. And so will your team!"

—Beth Benoit
The Rational Edge

". . . the process of risk management is discussed in a manner that should allow every software project manager to understand what is needed to perform the tasks necessary to properly manage risks on a given project.

"Waltzing With Bears is an excellent book that provides the reader with details on the process for identifying and managing risks. This is a book that every project manager should read and use on every project. Whether you've managed projects for years or are a newcomer to project management, Waltzing With Bears should be part of your software project library."

Bryan Bost

"In their latest effort, Waltzing With Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects, DeMarco and Lister look at the role of risk in software development, concluding that it is at least as important a factor in project success as are software development processes. It is a good read: food for thought that may sate the application development manager in the long night of a Death March project.

"Their writings on risk are timely, as firms arise from the dark cave of risk aversion. . . . In days when risk avoidance and cost cutting seem the only recipes offered for technologists, their words come as something of a tonic."

"Waltzing With Bears (its name taken from a Dr. Seuss song) is worth a read by workers at any stage of the software chain."

—Jack Vaughan
Application Development Trends

"I liked this book. It caused me to re-examine the way I budget software as well as other deeper assumptions about what I 'choose to believe' or rather why I choose to believe it. If you get a chance to read the book you will probably come to the same conclusion, 'Wow, I never thought about things that way and I really think I should!'"

Will Tracz
ACM Software Engineering Notes

"When Tom DeMarco speaks, the IS community listens. . . .

"The book is a brilliant tour de force. In summary, it shows IS managers how to quantify risk (even when there are few pieces of data) and use these quantifications to set reasonable schedules. It describes the pathologies that occur in companies and how to deal with at least some of them. Most importantly, it teaches managers what to do. It is a book that should be on your bookshelf and pulled out whenever you appoint a new project leader or schedule a new project."

—Paul Gray
Information Systems Management

"There is a great deal of useful advice in this little book. The authors also provide practical techniques for implementing their ideas. If you have anything to do with software, you really need the information in this book."

—Richard Mateosian
IEEE Micro

"Advice projects must not ignore (but often do) . . . A must for the project manager (and his or her boss).

"DeMarco and Lister's examples and anecdotes are both entertaining and persuasive."

Conrad Weisert

"A hard-hitting guide to braving greater risks for greater rewards in the exciting, challenging, competitive, and rapidly advancing field of software development. . . . a very savvy guide."

Midwest Book Review

"A must for software development managers.

"Chapter 14 puts forward a process for discovering risk, which is excellent and in the realm of 'how to learn what it is that you don't know.' It is this approach that will separate those who succeed from those who must resort to faking success.

"The software project without risk is so dull and uninteresting that no one with any talent would go near it. So, if you have talent, gear up by buying this book and plunge forward to take on the enomrmous challenge of making software that matters to the world."

Charles Ashbacher
posted on Amazon.com

"DeMarco and Lister do a good, lively, commonsense job of presenting their subject. If committing to do risk management means committing to read something about it, then this book would be an excellent starting place."

Robert L. Glass
The Software Practitioner

"Reading Tom Demarco and Tim Lister is a pleasure. It is so clear that these two authors set out to teach something they believe to be valuable, and all of their effort is directed toward making that valuable thesis accessible to the reader. . . . Their explanations are always clear. Their examples are invariably both helpful and entertaining.

"What they have to say is always important. Waltzing With Bears is no exception . . . their arguments will force you to think about critical aspects of management that you may not have previously considered. . . .

"It's a terrific book."

Justin Kodner
posted on Amazon.com

"The authors, consultants in risk and management, show how to identify and embrace worthwhile risks in software development and offer strategies for common risks that software projects face, such as schedule flaws, requirements inflation, and specification breakdown."

Book News, Inc.

"For anyone who's work life consists of leading and managing projects - technical or non-technical, it doesn't matter—Waltzing With Bears is best read slowly and thoughtfully at home over a weekend, then brought to work and kept within easy reach—you'll want it right there come Monday morning! Laser-accurate insight, philosophically and experientially grounded, hard truths encapsulated in good humor—this book has it all! (Why would we expect less from these guys!) What I adore about DeMarco and Lister's latest effort is that it is rock-solid methodology delivered, as always, in some of the deftest, most readable prose around. Great management best practice and a good read to boot. Holy Smokes!"

Bruce Taylor
posted on Amazon.com

"Super book on the critical subject of risk management.

"What an excellent book, but then what would one expect from Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister, and Dorset House? As well as being an excellent introduction to an extremely vital subject in this day and age, Waltzing With Bears provides some practical tips not only on how to do Risk Management, but also regarding how to overcome some of the factors in corporate culture that actively or passively suppress the application of Risk Management (e.g., the 'can-do'
attitude). . . .

"Having spent several years in QA and Process Engineering supporting Risk Management, I can only say that I wish I'd had this book several years ago. But I have it now, and am better prepared for future efforts."

Rodger Drabick
posted on Amazon.com

"It is a rare pleasure to find a book that exactly articulates something you have always known but never recognized. This is such a book. . . .

"Their ideas are (and have always been) essential for any project to succeed."

David Hay
posted on Amazon.com

"The seminal work on managing software project risk. . . . Explosive insights, practical advice. Finally we have a guide to risk management that we can implement and use."

Rob Austin
Professor, Harvard Business School

"destined to become the Bible for serious IT professionals and project managers.

"Buy a copy of this book for everyone on your project team, and for every manager and stakeholder who has any influence on your project. . . . I've ordered 20 copies for my best clients.

"Pearls of wisdom like 'It's okay to be wrong, but not okay to be uncertain' are, by themselves, worth the price of this book—for they remind us of how childishly unrealistic our risk management culture really is."

Edward Yourdon
Consultant and Author

"The authors provide a fresh approach to risk management."

—Ralph Young
Software Quality Professional

"A good introduction to statistical risk analysis written accessibly and humorously."

CIO Magazine

"Bold, provocative yet coolly pragmatic. . . ."

Michael Schrage
Co-Director MIT Media Lab's e-Markets Initiative
Author of Serious Play

"This interesting little book addresses the important and little-covered (at least, in practical books for industry) topic of managing risk. It is more or less an axiom among requirements people that the main reason for writing requirements is to reduce risk; of course the same justification is given by systems people for the whole systems engineering enterprise. Can everyone be right?

"The book wins the prize for most engaging business book cover and title. Any manager who doesn't think that managing risk on software projects is essential should read this book at once."

—Ian Alexander

"Significant software development is all about taking and managing risks, and in the book, Waltzing With Bears: Managing Risk On Software Projects, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister and published by Dorset House, the risks are catalogued and quantified. This is about making calculated gambles and keeping yourself and the project under control as it moves from the original idea to completion, and their mantra is, "If there is no risk in your next project, then don't do it." They also describe their free risk assessment tool, RISKOLOGY, which will help you organize and describe the risks unique to your project. Buy a copy and give it to your manager as a gift, even if you have to give it to yourself."

—Charles Ashbacher
Journal of Object Technology

"I enjoyed [DeMarco & Lister's] informal, easy-to-read style and generally felt this book provides a good lens through which to view risk management. . . .

"I would recommend reading the entire text. If you only have a passing interest in risk management, this book will at least give you some key ideas for dealing with risk."

—Ian Adare
PMI-CTT Newsletter

"Remember that old jingle, 'I'd like to buy the world a Coke?' Well I'd like to buy the world an heirloom box set of Waltzing With Bears and Lister and DeMarco's other masterpiece, Peopleware. These slender volumes both put the torch to all the familiar idiocies taking place every day in software project management the world over. Warning: exposure to such high levels of sense and refreshing sanity may result in a desire to quit your job and start your own company."

—Zach Thomas
Aeroplane Software

Excerpt: "Shocked, Disappointed, and Dismayed"
Excerpt: "Running Toward Risk"
Author Interview
Author Interview
Author Interview on CIO Radio
Table of Contents

Dorset House Catalog
This Book's Flyer

By this Author
Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies (DeMarco, Lister, et al.)
The Deadline (DeMarco)

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 3rd ed., by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister

Slack (DeMarco)
Software State-of-the-Art

Also Recommended

The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management, by Tom DeMarco

Five Core Metrics: The Intelligence Behind Successful Software Management, by Lawrence H. Putnam and Ware Myers

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 3rd ed., by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister
Software State-Of-The-Art, edited by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister

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