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book review: The Principles of Project Management

in short: a slim volume of helpfulness.

Categories: Professional

disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book to review by the author, Meri Williams, who I met at SXSW 2006.

Oddly enough, this book arrived just as I was starting to re-read The Art of Project Management. So I couldn’t help but compare as I went, although I’ve now finished Principles and have yet to finish APM again.

I’m not a project manager. But I play one (on TV?) from time to time, as I think most “knowledge workers” do. I have 3 fairly sizable projects at work right now, in addition to the ongoing work, micro-project, etc. (For the curious: a micro-site for a new product, an interesting educational micro-site, and a complete site redesign.) I don’t have a “team,” but I have too much going on to just wing it. Although that’s what I tend to do, both at work and with my side projects.(Not to mention that my house should probably be considered a Project, and would probably benefit from some Project Management.)

In brief: Williams is focused on the person new to managing projects and getting through something right now with specific tools & tips. Berkun is more philosophical and psychological (although there’s plenty useful goodness, too), with a more literary tone. Either one is well worth the read.

On with the review of The Principles of Project Management…

I really appreciated the checklists, examples, and warning notes; I’ve littered the book with post-it notes reminding me of things to do, or try, or at least ask questions about. For those managing actual teams, the advice on work styles and issue tracking seems quite useful. I haven’t tried anything yet, so I’m not sure which will be most useful in practice. (Perhaps I should re-review in 6 months or so?) I was, however, inspired to put together a work breakdown spreadsheet for one project, which has already helped me clarify my deadlines.

I will quibble with the stand-up meeting suggestion, though. (Berkun suggests trying them as well, in a brief aside on meetings in general.) Stand-up meetings are harder than they sound, and require the same kind of focused facilitation as any other meeting.

I say this from some fairly painful experience: at my last job, I suggested the idea, and we did a daily stand-up (or huddle around the phone to include teleworkers) for a while, and it sucked. They can be just as dull and useless as any other meeting, unless everyone is interested in making them work, and there’s someone in charge pushing them to be useful.

One minor annoyance: at least two or three of the project phases are described as “most important” in the opening paragraphs of the related chapters. The writing also has a feel to it which I assume is either British or South African — there isn’t anything incomprehensible, but it does give an American a bit of a pause in places.

The section in Closing on handling a “total disconnect” was brief but encouraging, and as someone who’s experienced a few, gave me some thoughts about how to handle future situations.

The appendices have plenty of useful resources, including recaps of some of the tools mentioned in the main text. To my amusement, Berkun’s book is listed in the “further reading” section, which should signify the quality of the other recommendations.

Overall, I think it’s a great introductory text, particularly for people who are moving from doing to managing, or who are working on larger projects by themselves. The tone is friendly, professional, and constantly encouraging, making for a slim volume of helpfulness.

(As an aside to the whole review, I think I really need to get around to reading the Mythical Man-Month.)

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