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What I’m reading: March 2015

Great project management books

It’s true that what gets measured gets done. If I hadn’t confessed over the last two months that Susan Greenfield’s Mind Change had sat unread on the shelf then I would never have opened it. Writing about it here kept me accountable – eventually. I’m about halfway through and it was worth waiting for. It’s scary how malleable young minds are and now I have two of my own to shape I’m thinking twice about a lot of things, especially screen time.

I’ve also read Project Branding by Peter Taylor, which I had to get shipped from the US as it’s not available over here at the moment. It’s now decorated with sticky notes. I’m sure you have books like that too – full of comments and great ideas that you want to implement all marked up to put into practice…some day.

Fortunately, my boys are too young to get involved with the World Book Day dressing up, although a friend’s son went to school dressed as Supertato (as in superhero potato). As costumes go, I think she got lucky. Jack’s favourite Thomas character this month is Bertie and I’m not sure my sewing skills are up to sending him anywhere dressed as a bus.

Jeff Furman kindly sent me a copy of The Project Management Answer Book, now in its second edition with a flash red cover. Strictly speaking I haven’t actually read it yet but I feel like I have read parts of it already as I interviewed Jeff about it at the end of last year. The first edition was easy to read and very informative (and detailed) so this edition can only be better.

I’ve also read the Arras People Benchmark Report which is a very interesting take on the state of project management, mainly in the UK. It’s their 10th anniversary edition of the report, and the balance of male to female project managers hasn’t changed much since they started the survey.

There’s already a list of things waiting to be read next month including the proofs of a new book by Dave Shirley and Rich Maltzman, the authors behind Green Project Management. It’s about sustainability and project management – a cutting edge topic so I’m looking forward to that. You never know, I might actually get round to reading a novel as well.

What about you? Read anything good recently?


The Resilience Breakthrough [Book review]

The Resilience Breakthrough* opens with a very powerful story that nearly had me in tears on the train. Christian Moore writes movingly about his personal academic triumph despite his learning difficulties and being told he would never make much of his life.

After yet another knock he picks himself up of the floor (literally) and gets on with proving his doubters wrong. This ability to keep going despite the difficulties is what Moores attempts to define and explain in his book.

The Resilience Breakthrough Book Review

This ability, of course, is resilience, and it’s something that good project managers have even if they don’t realise it. Moores defines it like this:

“Resilience is the ability to bounce back when you have every reason to shut down – but you fight on. Resilient people have both tapped and untapped reserves, enabling them to overcome and thrive as they face the setbacks, challenges, and fears of daily life.”

Where does resilience come from?

Moores identifies four sources of resilience, the places you can draw on to feel more capable of coping:

  • Street: the skills you get from hustling and grafting as Moores did as a child.
  • Resource: the ability to be resilient because you have the resources available to help you overcome problems. Many project management setbacks can be resolved or alleviated with the right resources.
  • Relational: where you draw your resilience from the fact that other people are relying on you, be that family or your project team.
  • Rock bottom: where you hit rock bottom and have nowhere to go but up.

[click to continue…]


The Power of Project Leadership [Book review]

Book review of The Power of Project LeadershipA couple of weeks ago I interviewed Susanne Madsen on the topic of project leadership and her new book, The Power of Project Leadership. I read it prior to our interview and it wasn’t at all what I expected.

I expected a book about leadership theory but what I got was a hugely practical guide to actually doing leadership with plenty of stories, examples and exercises. The book takes you from understanding why leadership is important for project managers to uncovering your own motivations and leadership style. Then Susanne introduces the 7 keys of project leadership.

Finally, she covers how to step up and apply the techniques in the book to be a more impactful leader.

The 7 keys of project leadership

Susanne writes about the 7 keys of project leadership that she says are the answer to being a great project leader. These are:

  • Be authentic (she talks about this in her interview with me from last month)
  • Lead with vision
  • Improve and innovate
  • Empower the team
  • Get close to stakeholders
  • Establish a solid foundation
  • Work with intent.

I particularly liked the section on stakeholder management. She writes:

“One of the best ways to address a sceptical stakeholder – or opponent – is to ask for advice and feedback. This is a very disarming move, which instantly opens up the relationship because you show that you care and that you are humble enough to ask for the person’s opinion.”

Susanne suggests that you ask those negative stakeholders:

  • How can we work together more effectively?
  • How can I deiver a better product or service to you? (Customer-centric project management if ever I saw it!)
  • Are there any aspects of the project, like risks, issues or requirements, that you think we have overlooked?
  • Do you have any feedback about the project: what suggestions do you have for how we can improve?

“These questions have the potential to work wonders for you – but only if you sincerely mean it and take the time to really listen to the answer and to the meaning behind the words,” she continues.

Finding the time to lead

“Project leaders are wise because they are able to relate their knowledge no matter the situation and because they put their knowledge into action,” Susanne writes. In order to apply your wisdom, you have to find the time to do it – time when you aren’t running around trying to solve other people’s problems or deal with urgent issues.

Susanne argues that you should spend most of your time on proactive work: she recommends at least 80%. The remainder of your time can be spent on firefighting such as dealing with problems, urgent queries and conflict and then hopefully not much time at all on time wasting activities like interruptions and unimportant calls and mails.

She writes:

“If we don’t seek to put out the fires for good, not only will we get mediocre results, but we may also end up being highly stressed and more likely to burn out. Constantly being on high alert requires a lot of energy and wears us out, physically and mentally. It is much more rewarding to carve out time for the important and to deliberately grown and empower the team to help us create a successful outcome for everyone involved. So be determined to take control of the flow of events; free up time to be proactive and help your team do the same.”

A good book for leaders who want to improve

The Power of Project Leadership is a well-researched book, and the stories from project managers and other experts add to the practical approach as well as providing the motivation to actually do things in a different way.

It’s a book aimed at project managers and those who want to get better at leading and implementing change. The concepts and theories of leadership – the bits I expected – are covered but there’s also a range of practical advice and tips on how to implement behavioural changes through a selection of exercises.

If you apply even half of what this book covers you’ll be a better project leader almost instantly. And if you do need help making your new knowledge stick, there is space to record your personal notes about what you have learned from each chapter and what you intend to do to apply the learning. That’s a useful record and incentive for you to refer back to.

If you’d like to develop as an individual this is a great read, but you’ll get the added advantage of being able to help others apply the same concepts and behaviours. And what’s the most important part of leadership, if not developing others?

1 comment

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.


Free project issue log template

Keeping track of problems on projects is really important if you want to come across as a professional project manager. Download a free issue log template for your projects to help you track and manage those inevitable problems.

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Get Fit with the Lazy PM: Giveaway winner

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9 Essential Project Documents

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Happy International Women’s Day!

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Giveaway: Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers

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