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Book review: Project Manager Street Smarts: A real world guide to PMP skills

Street Smarts cover imageNot being a PMP I wasn’t sure what this book would offer. The introduction says this book is not a PMP study guide, so what was it?  However, from the first few pages it was clear that it was a hands-on guide to the skills you need to put everything you learned for the PMP certification into practice in a real project environment.  And that’s where the real learning starts.

Project Manager Street Smarts: A Real World Guide to PMP Skills is broken down into the same processes that you would expect of a PMP-based guide, with sections covering the process groups:  Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling and Closing.  One case study is used from the beginning to illustrate all the points, and it builds throughout the book.  The company is a children’s clothing store chain called Cimarron, and you are the project manager, Carrie.  In a book written by two women maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised (and delighted) at this, but I have to confess to a little bit of internal cheering when I read the first installment of the case study.

The case study project seems to cover every eventuality, and there are exercises to do throughout the book to ensure you have ‘got’ what Linda Kretz Zaval and Terri Wagner are trying to share.  And they don’t do things by halves:  by page eight you are already into the formulae for future value calculations.  Talk about dropping you in at the deep end – there’s none of this ‘what is a project’ lightweight waffle to break you in gently.  If there was, the book would be twice as long – everything they write is insightful, practical and applicable to your day job.

I particularly liked the section splitting the role of a project manager into management and leadership, which really explains the difference and what is expected of you as a project manager.  Having said that, Zaval and Wagner are still very practical about it:  “remember, this is just a job – don’t forget work/life balance,” they write.

There is also an excellent section on arrow diagramming method and precedence diagramming method, as well as good stuff on work breakdown structures.  Their comments on fixed date projects are also aimed at helping you do the best possible job in the circumstances:

Most folks simply ask everyone in the project to shorten their durations.  You do not need to do this.  Now that you know how CPM [critical path method] works, you know that you only have to reduce the critical path.  There is danger in creating more than one critical path, however.

They then go on to suggest three ways to reduce the project duration and some techniques to help with managing the resources when doing so.  All good stuff.

In the Executing Process the authors talk about the different documents that will help keep you on track including a log “to keep track of any correspondence you receive or create that may be of value in defending the decisions you make.”  They also talk about a daily contractor work report.  Both of these might have their place on a large, long project but I felt they would add unnecessary paperwork.

Overall, this book is a really practical guide to making projects work (and as that’s what my own book takes as its starting point, of course I think it’s a great approach!).  Zaval and Wagner never forget that managing projects is a job:  “work not approved is work not paid,” they write.  And I really liked this quote, from the section about communications plans:

Remember that the distributed items need to be appropriate to the recipient based on their expectations.  For example, your sponsor may ask you for an executive summary instead of the details that your team needs.  By the way, an executive summary should always include cost information.  Remember, at the top of the food chain it’s all about the money!

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