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057_Management gold headerLast year my book, Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World, was shortlisted in the Management Book of the Year awards. This year, Petra Wilton, Director of Strategy and External Affairs at CMI, shares tips from the 2015 winning books.


Petra WiltonThe best leaders are forever looking for new ideas. CMI’s Management Book of the Year competition scours the pages of the raft of books out there, seeking the brightest pieces of ‘management gold’ to improve your management and ongoing management training.

Here are five great tips to manage better from the very best texts of the year.

1. Embrace uncertainty

Why does the phrase “fear of the unknown” exist? We should all abide by the mantra, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”. Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner walked away with the 2015 CMI Management Book of the Year award thanks to their book Not Knowing: The art of turning uncertainty into opportunity.

The book smashes the traditional idea that the boss de facto knows best, and shows why navigating uncertainty and doubt are at the heart of modern leadership. After all, blind certainty and dependency on ‘experts’ creates huge risks. In a complex and fast-changing world, it’s impossible to always have the answers. Embrace uncertainty so you can face the unknown and thrive, not just survive.

Winner of the Commuter’s Read category and the overall CMI Management Book of the Year.

2. Don’t get lost in translation

The 21st century office is a cosmopolitan place: odds are you manage a multicultural group of people, each of whom brings their own style of working to the table. It’s not always the easiest task to adapt your own style to accommodate others. Organizations and Management in Cross-Cultural Context will illustrate and vanquish all your fears and preconceptions of working in an international environment quicker than you can count to ten in five different languages.

Winner – Management and Leadership Textbook category.

3. Harness capitalism

Are we looking at the wrong people to help us solve global issues? The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problems highlights how 37 of the world’s 100 largest economies are corporations – not countries.

Lynda Gratton shows how big businesses need to lead the way in the battle to overcome worldwide difficulties such as youth unemployment and inequality. Where does that leave politicians?

Winner – Management Futures category.

Collage of Management Gold books

4. Think customer

Having trouble coming up with your next big idea? Chances are someone else has thought of it before you – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A new set of organisations has discovered that it is better to do what people want rather than what you are good at. Consumers are demanding and dictating how to win at business – all you need to do is listen to them, and Customer Innovation: Customer-centric strategy for enduring growth reveals the best tips.

Winner – Innovation and Entrepreneurship. [Got to love any book with Customer-centric in the title, haven’t I? – Elizabeth]

5. Make time pay

Time is money: and sometimes it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. The Little Book of Big Management Theories is a gamechanger that shows you how to make every minute count. Each of the 89 management theories is laid out over two pages. Give it three months and you will have added a technique a day.

Winner – Practical Manager.

About the author: Petra Wilton takes a lead role in building strategic partnerships in the public policy arena. She is responsible for promoting the needs of practising managers through engaging with and accessing the views of the CMI’s 100,000 plus members. Petra also leads on the development of customer insight and building CMI’s body of knowledge, and she has co-authored many CMI reports. She also set up the Campus CMI initiative to inspire and create confidence in young people through developing their management and leadership skills. She manages the All Party Parliamentary Group on Management and represents the CMI on various external group, including the recent ABS Innovation Taskforce, the Employee Engagement Taskforce Gurus’ Group, Valuing your Talent and Professions Week.


What I’m reading: February 2015

Project management books Feb 2015This post contains affiliate links.                

This post might be better titled: What I haven’t read this month.

I haven’t even started Susan Greenfield’s Mind Change although I did take it on holiday with me. It stayed in the case. Instead I read Slow Cooking and then made a butternut squash risotto when we got home.

I did read Playing the Project Manager by Charles Smith. I don’t want to spoil my review by giving away too much but it’s unlike any project management book I’ve read so far and I had quite a strong reaction to it!

Jack and Oliver were given quite a few books for their birthdays including a couple by Richard Scarry. Remember him? I loved What Do People Do All Day? when I was younger. I didn’t realise his stuff was still in print but the pictures are amazing.

I think Jack prefers Thomas’ 123. “One, two, three, eight,” he goes, pointing at the trains. He’s getting there with counting at about the same rate that Oliver is learning to climb the stairs. We count the stairs up and down – maybe there is a connection?

I haven’t read this month’s Project magazine (that problem should be alleviated soon as it’s going to quarterly – not sure how I feel about that yet) or PM Network but they are in my work bag to read on the train. Hopefully I’ll get through them before the next lot arrive.

What have you read recently? If you haven’t touched any project management books, how about getting a copy of my book Shortcuts to Success: Project Management in the Real World  which is currently 15% off on Amazon? Click here to check out the deal.



Ace the PMP Exam [Book Review]

Ace the PMP Exam Book Review

When I first wrote Social Media for Project Managers the publishers put ‘Elizabeth Harrin, PMP’ on the cover. I had to get that taken off – I’m not a PMP, although I feel very familiar with the PMBOK Guide® concepts. It’s simply something I’ve never got round to doing.

I might at some point in the future, especially if I can hang on to Jack Risos’ book Ace the PMP Exam (2nd ed).

I hadn’t read a book created in iBooks Author before but I would certainly read more. The book has interactivity built in through flashcards, questions and answers and interactive presentations. The layout is clean and easy to read, and it’s simple to navigate. It was far and away a more attractive reading experience than ebooks on my Kindle app.

However, enough gushing about pretty fonts and callout boxes. What about the content?

Helping you learn the PMBOK Guide

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge – (PMBOK Guide®) Fifth Edition is not known for being the most riveting of reads. Ace the PMP Exam is designed to help you learn the contents in an order that makes most sense so it covers process outputs, for example, before inputs and tools so you understand what you are trying to achieve before you learn how to do it.

There are also exam questions peppered throughout – you’d probably want an exam simulator (affiliate link this one is my favourite) as well for a comprehensive approach but that would be it. Everything you need to cover for the exam is in here including the extra stuff that the exam covers like the Code of Ethics.

In summary

I felt it was a realistic, well-presented book that would make a good study guide. Including real-world project challenges, like how to apply the processes to a multi-phase project, make it a practical in real-life as well as a test-taking guide. I actually wanted to read on. If you are looking for a straightforward PMP exam prep book then this is a very good choice, as long as you have an Apple device to read it on.


What I’m reading: January 2015

What I'm reading January 2015This post contains affiliate links.                

I’ve complained before about not having much time to read but things are getting better now I have shifted my commute so I actually get a seat on the train in the mornings. I cannot adequately explain how much better this makes my day, even though it means leaving the house at 6.15am.

At that time in the morning I’m not sharp (especially as I haven’t had breakfast or any coffee) but depending on how often I had to get up in the night with the boys I now have a choice of dozing, reading, doing emails or almost any other train-bound activity of my choice. It’s great.

This month I celebrated my new-found seated status with Jeffrey Archer’s book, Be Careful What You Wish For. I read it in two days and I can’t tell you anything about it as practically any comment I make will be a spoiler. Sorry. But it’s good.

I have also read Susanne Madsen’s The Power of Project Leadership. There will be an interview with Susanne next month, and a full book review at some point too. It’s a really practical guide to leading projects with plenty of exercises and examples, so if you have ever wondered how to ‘do’ leadership then this will help. The publisher has offered me an exclusive discount: Get 25% off her book using the discount code PM4G25 when you order it from their website before 6 April 2015 (and it’s on Amazon too).

I’ve been re-reading bits of Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun after a reader got in touch and asked me for a recommendation. He wondered if he should buy that one or Richard Newton’s The Project Management Book. Scott’s is better if you don’t have that much experience in project management as it is life cycle based. Richard’s will give you more advanced tips and tricks for dealing with everyday project scenarios, so it depends on where you are in your career.

Get Fit With The Lazy Project Manager turned up on my desk and it’s for next week’s giveaway, but – shocker – I’m reading it before I give it away. So, person who wins, you better hope I’m done before the deadline or there will be in delay in dispatching it to you. Don’t worry, I’m looking after it – it’s not a commuting read.

Jack can help with the daily reading of Stick Man: “Stick Man, oh Stick Man, beware of the…” “Dog!” he shouts. It’s still good even after all the reads, but it’s long enough to limit to just one read per day. Oh, and I’ve also read Percy’s Chocolate Crunch about 97 times. Who could ever tire of a train that crashes into a chocolate factory?

That actually looks like quite a lot of books. I’m impressed with myself! The challenge for next month? Read Susan Greenfield’s Mind Change. I’ve got the hardback version which is going to add some weight to my laptop bag. Let’s catch up next month and I’ll tell you how I’ve done.

Read anything good recently? Let us know in the comments.


Book review: Trust in Virtual Teams

trust in virtual teams2

Trust matters because it helps build a resilient project team. It helps get things done. Trusted team members not only do only what is asked, but what the project needs them to do, because they know that the project manager will trust their decisions and actions.  Trust is a shortcut to better working relationships and better project outcomes.

That’s the premise behind Thomas P. Wise’s book, Trust in Virtual Teams. It’s a (pretty academic) guide to explaining trust and building trust in virtual teams. But first, you have to understand what a virtual team is.

A new definition of virtuality

Wise says that virtual teams are traditionally defined by distance. However, he suggests that a definition based on geography is an old-fashioned way of explaining virtuality in a team environment.

You probably have worked in an office where project team members sit practically next to each other emailing each other, and that use of electronic communication means they could be based thousands of miles apart – their working environment and style makes them part of a virtual team, regardless of where they actually sit. For me, this was the big revelation from the book. Up until now I had always thought of virtual teams as being spread across multiple locations, but the modern way if working really means that most of us are part of virtual teams, even if we are office-based.

Building trust

Trust in Virtual TeamsIn the past trust was built through sharing small confidences and water cooler chat. It comes from knowing that your colleague will make your cup of tea just how you like it. But on virtual teams you don’t have the interaction that you have in colocated teams. So how do you build trust when you never get to meet or talk to your colleagues and there are days of silence between email exchanges?

“Team members learn to trust one another as they come together to work,” says Wise. He talks about them having a connectedness through a common vision that helps them work effectively.

However, in virtual teams you may find that trust is initially based on stereotypes. Wise warns that not conforming to stereotypes can actually undermine the development of trust. I’m not sure if I agree with this as a long term strategy for getting your team to trust you, but it would be interesting to investigate this further.

Other things that you can do more easily to build trust, he says, include acting predictably and working from facts. In other words, if you say your project report will come out every Friday at 3pm, make sure it does. And make sure that it reports facts, not opinion.

Dealing with problems

“A problem can occur, however, when we establish a set of rules on how work gets done, and then have a tendency to bend and stretch, and adjust the rules based on unpublished pecking orders and hierarchies,” Wise writes. This is what happens when you don’t act predictably and from the basis of facts. An example of this happening in a project environment would be when it’s ok not to do documentation because it helps hit the overall project deadlines.

Virtual teams are traditionally defined by distance, but today they are defined by working environment and style.

In order to get round this, Wise says: “We must align our goals, our rules, and our actions in order to establish an environment that can build and nourish institutional based trust.”

He recommends doing this through Quality Assurance on projects (which is discussed in detail) and transparent project reporting. He also says that it is possible to improve success in virtual teams by using techniques like human resource policy, social events, information sharing through social media tools, training and leadership support.

Team members tend to avoid difficult situations in the early days of working on a new team, so you might think everything is working fine until you get a bit further into the project. The difficult situations are pushed aside and dealt with later, when trust has been built up. “Establishing both a trust relationship and an effective virtual work environment, based on that trust, is critical to reducing project risk.”

The book includes stories from his own experience but no external case studies. I thought it jumped around a bit, which made following the flow difficult. I also thought it ended abruptly, as if he had forgotten to write the conclusion.

If poor trust really does increase project risk, and I have no reason to believe that it doesn’t, then it will help you to review the levels of trust in your project team to see where things could be improved. It doesn’t take a book to do that, but if you want to go deeper into the theories of trust and how these can be applied in the workplace, then this book will help.

Buy on Amazon.co.uk
Buy on Amazon.com


Book Review: From Projects to Programs

From Projects to ProgramsFrom Projects to Programs by Samir Penkar is a business book in story form. I’m not a big fan of business novels, although I did enjoy Critical Chain.

One of the problems I find is that the stories just aren’t that gripping, and that is the case here. Reading about someone else’s day job on an IT programme is pretty dull. It isn’t a true novel format, either. Each chapter ends with ‘reflection questions’ for you to consider and see how the concepts apply to your own work. It also pulls you out of the story by referring to figures.

In pure ‘story’ terms I didn’t think it was as well-written as Critical Chain. The reported speech doesn’t tend to use contractions, so unless the characters are all very particular in their choice of words it doesn’t read naturally.

There is also an awkward mix of past and present tense, sometimes in the same paragraph and even in the same sentence! For example: “Sure,” said Bill and heads down to his desk.” Many of the paragraphs are long and I found there was a lot of exposition.

Penkar adds in a side-story about the main character’s running group. He uses the running metaphor to explain ideas outside of the work setting, which is a good addition to the story. However, they only seem to talk about work!

Outside the story

The story is only half the book. The rest of it is made up of a glossary, two transcripts of interviews with programme managers, an agile primer, a long chapter on benefits management reprinted from another book and another chapter reprint on PMOs.

I can’t criticise the content. Penkar knows his stuff and this is about programme management. You could argue that he has made the topic accessible and not scary for new programme managers. He includes useful, constructive advice and clearly defines the role of the programme manager. The book is strong on integration management, the use of meetings, team dynamics and communication. There is good advice in here and if learning through stories is your thing, then you’ll no doubt get something from it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.


Buy on Amazon.co.uk
Buy on Amazon.com

1 comment

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