Normally I take lots of notes when I’m reading books for review. I took loads when I was reading Scott Berkun’s Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management*. It got to the point where I was writing down fabulous bits of so many pages I just gave up. It’s all brilliant.
Making Things Happen is the revised edition of The Art of Project Management. Once it was clear how popular the text was going to be, O’Reilly and Berkun took out some of the superfluous bits, added in over 120 exercises and generally spruced it up to launch it into the best-seller list.
Making Things Happen is split into three sections, and not the project management lifecycle. I’m seeing this more and more in project management books (I like to think I started a trend!) and it works very well. There is a logical flow to the book. Section One covers plans and also looks at how to work out what to do, elements of creative thinking to generate ideas and how to map those ideas to a project vision. This brainstorming element normally falls outside of the traditional project management role, but is more prevalent in software projects, when engineers have a free reign to come up with new ideas and then have to see them through. Berkun’s Microsoft background means a lot of the book is aimed towards software development projects, but that’s no bad thing – if you don’t work on software projects just ignore then 10% that is specific to that, like how to plan a code review.
Section Two looks at skills. It starts off pretty technical with guidance on writing good deliverable specifications and ends with a big chunk on managing stakeholder relationships. Berkun covers email and meeting etiquette and there’s a bit called ‘How to run the non-annoying meeting”:
The most evil meetings occur when there is a mismatch of the goals and how they’re organized. If there are more than 10 people in the room, it’s very difficult to have a highly interactive or deep discussion. There isn’t enough time for everyone to participate, and what will happen is that a small group of dominant personalities will use up most of the available time… Most committees take this form and have the expected mediocre to crappy results.
Section Three covers management and the tricky topic of trust-based leadership. The latter part of the book is all about keeping the momentum and tidying up when you are finished including a chapter on managing office politics. “Politics is not a dirty word,” he writes. “Politics is a kind of problem solving.” Project managers need to be good at managing office politics and the power shifts that come with it, and this is a clear and concise introduction to what it actually means.
There are some things that are missing from the book: a discussion on working with sub-contractors or other third parties, for example. Given Berkun’s background at Microsoft that’s not completely surprising. He also often mentions popping in to someone’s office and walking round to see a colleague. More and more projects have a cross-continent perspective now, and even if your entire project team is based in the same office and you can see them all every day, chances are you have at least one stakeholder who isn’t in the same timezone as you.
Making Things Happen is method agnostic – no recourse to PMBOK or the PRINCE2 handbooks – which again, is no bad thing. It makes the techniques easier to adopt as they are about the ‘doing’ rather than the ‘process’ which makes this a very practical, easy-to-read, easy-to-implement book.
The bottom line is that if you work with projects you need Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management on your shelf. It’s the book I wish I had written. Ten stars for Berkun.
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