Man, this review has been a long time coming. I’ve been packing this book around in my briefcase for several months, reading bits and pieces of it as time allows. It’s taken a while, but I’m finally through, though I suspect I’ll continue to reach for it on my bookshelf with some regularity.
As much as I liked the book, I still find myself staring at the cover and trying to figure it out. Near as I can tell, there are a bunch of lines emanating from a circle, which I guess represent the various dependencies of a project. Then there are a pair of shoes dangling from one of the lines, kinda like you see shoes hanging from phone or electric lines going over the street. That’s what’s counfounding me. Shoes on the lines like that are either a joke that friends play on each other, or it represents someone in the neighborhood who died. So is the cover illustration a reference to the people whose careers have died while managing (or mis-managing) projects? Moving on…
This book is primarily pitched at software project managers, but it’s a real soft pitch. Berkun’s writing style is relaxed, informal and self-effacing and he goes to great lengths to point out that the reader ought not pigeonhole the book as being strictly for software project managers. In fact, the book is a fantastic general purpose management read–one that I’d highly recommend to managers (and aspiring managers) of all stripes.
There’s some stuff that this book doesn’t do, which really helps it have such a broad appeal. The book doesn’t pick through the specifics of any given project management credo. Rather it pulls bits and pieces from many and tries hard (and generally succeeds) at presenting a “best of” round up of PM practices. I really liked that. I’m not an official project manager, and probably never will be. But like most managers, I end up managing a lot of projects. This book gives me TONS of insight into how to approach and execute on the various scenarios I may find myself in as I wade through projects. The book also doesn’t dazzle the reader with elaborate schemas for managing projects. I particularly appreciated Berkun’s emphasis on simplicity–he gives a nod to advanced techniques throughout the book, but generally advises finding the simplest way that will work. I love that.
The most surprising thing about this book is how much general management stuff it delves into. Berkun does an outstanding job of giving the reader adequate background info for each of the topics he addresses. He often starts out by describing a story from his own experience that illustrates the problem he’s approaching. Then he methodically breaks down the various elements and addresses them each in turn before rolling it all back up again and showing how this fits into an overall strategy. And he does this all with a great sense of humor–I often found myself chuckling out loud at some of the stuff he wrote.
One good example of how Berkun addresses general management stuff is found in chapter sixteen, which is titled Power and Politics. There’s very little in the chapter that addresses the specifics of how to manage a project, but there’s a tremendous amount of practical advice about how to address and handle the various manifestations of power and politics in a company. He begins the chapter with an engaging story about a time he found himself frustrated by what he perceived to be politics in his company. He goes on to describe an eye-opening meeting he had with a senior project manager. Here’s an excerpt from his opening where he’s describing his frustration with politics, which he defined (then) as the things evil, self-serving people do:
I didn’t know exactly what those things were, or how they were done, but I was sure the evil and weak self-serving people in the team (whoever they were) were doing it. I couldn’t precisely identify them because my assessment of people, at the time, had two settings: smart and moron. I was ignorant and arrogant (interesting how often they come together). But my saving grace from these failings was theat I had the highest opinion of Chris, and the good fortune to have an office next to his. One day, frustrated and upset by the team situation, I stopped by and told him my concerns about the group. He listened patiently and suggested we chat over lunch.
He goes on to describe the lunch meeting where he had an epiphany about just how difficult it can be to negotiate the minefields of politics and power in an organization. The resulting chapter is a great overview of the types of power, their misuse and how to counteract it. Good stuff. And that’s just one chapter.
I have found that the business books I most appreciate often have relatively large bibliographies. The Art of Project Management also has a large bibliography, but even better, it’s annotated. Berkun has gone through all of the books that influenced him when writing this one and has given a brief book review of each. Fantastic! And what’s really striking is the sheer range of books that he cites. The bibliography is broken out by genre and contains entries for history, philosphy and strategy, psychology, management and politics, science, engineering and architecture, and finally software process and methodology. Pretty well rounded, I’d say.
This is a really great book and ought to have a permanent place on any manager’s (not just project managers) desk. Highly recommended for managers of all experience levels.