Imagine having to sing a song about you being laid off and getting kidnapped right after while you’re trying to sleep. That’s what happened to poor Mr. Tompkins, the protagonist of The Deadline: A Novel about Project Management by Tom DeMarco.
I had never considered that a novel that teaches about management could exist. I always thought that if I were to learn about this topic (or any other, honestly) I would just get a textbook or one of those “Four things you must know before starting your business” kind of books. To me, this seems like a very interesting format, and I hope that the story stays as interesting as it started.
Mr. Tompkins is introduced as a person who falls asleep during boring lectures and refuses to join very forced choruses, but I don’t blame him, I would also be bummed out if I knew I would need to find a new job soon. He meets a mysterious lady during one of those boring lectures, her name is Ms. Lahksa Hoolihan, and she introduces herself as nothing other than an industrial spy. Mr. T is taken aback and starts questioning her.
We learn that Ms. Hoolihan works from Morovia and that she has the ability to pinpoint people whose presence keep the companies they work for afloat. Mr. T is shocked by her skill, but he gets a bigger surprise when Ms. Hoolihan confesses she has come for HIM. Mr. T is told he is a very good manager, and that his skills are required to help Morovia’s government. At this point, Mr. Tompkins would seem like a very clever person, but he didn’t seems that brilliant to me when he just casually accepted a drink from a SPY who happened to bring along the ONLY thing he drinks. It was no surprise when the can of diet Dr. Pepper turned out to have some kind of drug that put Mr. T to sleep just after finding out that, in fact, he had met Ms. Hoolihan before. Chapter 1 ends right after Mr. T falls unconscious.
At this point, I am personally very interested in seeing what happens next. Am I going to see Mr. T at his fullest anytime soon? Is he really that good at management? Does he know how skilled he is? Where did he meet Ms. Hoolihan? Oh, boy, I sure hope chapter 2 answers these and many other questions I have!
Chapter 2 went something like this:
Book: What did you say? You want to know how strong that drug was?
Me: What? No, that’s not even close to what I-
Book: What about a detailed description of Mr. T’s trip?
Me: I never mentioned such thi-
Book: … what about smells?
Yes, chapter 2 basically talks about how the drug is making Mr. T feel. Fortunately, the given description seems to kind of reflect reality and how Ms. Hoolihan is taking Mr. T with her all the way to Morovia while he has no idea of what’s going on. It’s also during this chapter that we are told how these two first met. In just a few words: they both were taking a lecture about Project Management, but the person in charge, Mr. Kalbfuss, seemed to have no clue of what’s truly important for future managers to learn; Mr. T realizes this, critiques the agenda and makes fun of the discrepancy between the title of the lecture and what it was really about. Mr. T leaves, but not without catching the attention of Ms. Hoolihan.
Present-time Mr. T is inside some kind of loop, living and reliving the moment he confronted Mr. Kalbfuss with one word echoing inside his head: Administrivia, his suggestion for an appropriate name for the lecture.
In all honesty, I’m liking this book so far. There haven’t been many teachings outside some subtle or broad topics, but I’m hoping that chapter 3 gives Mr. T a chance to shine and start flexing those management muscles. Hopefully I’ll get to talk about what I learn from the following chapters in the rest of my reflections.