Shipping Greatness – How to build and launch outstanding software – #bookreview #projectmanagement

Shipping Greatness
Chris Vander Mey
(O’Reilly, paperbackKindle)

The subtitle of this excellent new book deserves its own paragraph, so here it is:

“Practical lessons on building and launching outstanding software, learned on the job at Google and Amazon.”

Back when I worked in software development, we never shipped “greatness,” nor anything that resembled “outstanding.” We shipped software that was overdue, incomplete, and inadequately tested. Then we followed up, always in panic mode, with patches, dot releases, and releases that had multiple dots.

Everyone – from our customers to our sales force, managers, and finance department— hated us. (Indeed, more than once, I was a tech-writer minion in a software-development group that was thrown out an employer’s door en masse.)

Anyone who works in software development today or manages software development teams should consider reading Chris Vander Mey’s spirited and eye-opening project management guide.

“Shipping,” he writes, “is about meeting customer needs well and quickly, in addition to becoming rich and famous. Your mission, therefore, is to solve a customer problem. Your strategy is your unique approach to meeting a need that a group of people—a market segment—shares. It sounds pretty simple, and it is, in theory.”

In reality, of course, it is also fraught with crises, gotchas, unwanted surprises, management squabbles, and corporate-wide earthquakes, to name just a few distractions.

With this book, his goal is to get you beyond management theory and into the rapid, real-life flow of software creation and shipping, with the skills and knowledge necessary to both survive and thrive.

Shipping Greatness is organized into two parts and contains a total of 215 pages, 13 chapters and three appendices.

Part One: The Shipping Greatness Process

  • 1. How to Build a Great Mission and Strategy
  • 2. How to Define a Great Product
  • 3. How to Build a Great User Experience
  • 4. How to Achieve Project Management Greatness on a Budget
  • 5. How to Do a Great Job Testing
  • 6. How to Measure Greatness
  • 7. How to Have a Great Launch

Part Two: The Shipping Greatness Skills

  • 8. How to Build a Shipping-Ready Team
  • 9. How to Build Great, Shippable Technology
  • 10. How to Be a Great Shipping Communicator
  • 11. How to Make Great Decisions
  • 12. How to Stay a Great Person While Shipping
  • 13. That Was Great; Let’s Do It Again

The three appendices are: Appendix A – 10 Principals of Shipping; Appendix B – Essential Artifacts Your Team Needs; and Appendix C – References and Further Reading.

Chris Vander Rey’s new book offers a wealth of how-to discussions, techniques to consider, and tips to adopt. One of my favorite small bits of advice is: Never have a launch party during a software launch. “It’s really demoralizing when your team members can’t go to their own party,” he says. Instead, many of them likely will be hunched in their cubicles monitoring server traffic or watching for user problems with the release.

You can’t get a degree (yet) in this kind of shipping. But Shipping Greatness is the textbook that can help you graduate to greatness in the ever-changing, ever-challenging world of software.

Si Dunn


  • Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, photojournalist, and book reviewer. His published books include: DARK SIGNALS, a Vietnam War memoir; ERWIN'S LAW, a private-detective novel; and JUMP, a novella about a combat veteran suffering from PTSD and alienation while trying to work for newspapers as a journalist. Several of his feature screenplays recently were under option to movie producers. He spent nearly 15 years working as a technical writer and software tester in the telecommunications industry. His current programming interests include Go, JavaScript, Python, R, Angular, and other languages and frameworks. He is a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of North Texas.

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