Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Book Review: Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Project Management by Gregory M.Horine and Mastering Project Management by PM4DEV

Indeed, my first purpose to create this blog was for learning and sharing Project Management (PM) skills. Conversely, after day by day, I’ve turned it into my cozy space for sharing all moments and expertise areas in my life, not just PM. I just hope that change would bring more colors to my virtual space. This post is basically just a book review as usual. The only difference is that the book is in PM field which is also my main major after computer science. 

I’m glad I could do something to refresh my main expertise this year. As a beginner, whenever I want to learn anything, I always try to go from basic, no matter how much experience and knowledge I may have. The reason behind, I just want to cover my missing areas as much as possible. When it comes to knowledge, the more I get, the less I know.

I should mention a little bit about my mentor, myself and another book first. If you just want to read the review for “Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Project Management,” please click here to jump to the correct spot.

I’m so happy to find my current mentor in PM field actually. He not only always gives me great support but also encourage me a lot during the whole time we get to know each other. One time meeting at Country Style coffee store, he brought me a book from PM4DEV. That was the first official book about PM I read completely and thoroughly. I think the book is a very good summary of PM and deserved a small space in this post, so let me show it to you first. Here it is.


About me, actually my title was not Project Manager during years I worked under the same hood. There were couples of reasons,
- Title was not important at the place I worked for
- I didn’t own or graduate any formal education for PM, all the projects I led were in-house
- My maturity was trained in-house too
(step 1: got into company, step 2: worked and experienced as a tester and programmer, step 3: learned PM skills and led small team, step 4: led projects, bigger team and worked with vendors, step 5: dealt with company chiefs and other staffs, step 5: dealt with customers)

Even though it took me very long way to get mature enough to lead teams and projects, I still didn’t feel right. It was like unsatisfied to me and I knew that I couldn’t just work like that for the rest of my life. Personally, I still wanted to own at least one official recognized certificate of PM and prove my skills under bigger environments where they treat me right with my contribution. In the endless cycle of zero or even minus downtime between project assignments, there was just enough room for catching up and fixing errors. Thus, time to upgrade personal skills was something too luxurious. Even worse, time for upgrading management processes (plan, risk, requirement, scope and change) was completely blurry. Frankly, it’s nobody’s fault. As the rule of thumb, to be survived, small businesses always have to rush to market faster than their rivals. Therefore, time for anything other than a final product is considered as less important. In that game, it was just my fault maybe because I didn’t push myself enough to confront that storm and let the storm knocked me out (mentally). During years, I always tormented myself with the question to keep fighting or just stop the game. With my personality and capacity, I completely could keep going on with the game challenges. However, the biggest question to me, what would be waiting for me at the end of that game? If I won that game, could I earn more credentials for my career or still absolutely a loser in front of my future? It’s not always good to be a winner, sometimes it’s more important to know when to stop. To get ready for the final decision, I actually created the ultimate challenge for myself. The result was, after 7 months, the final challenge let me see what I had to do. (If you know me in person, you know what game and decision I’m talking about. If not, I hope you can at least vaguely get through the story.)

Anyway, after a long hibernating time to solve personal issues, from beginning of this year (2012), I started over learning process for PM skills. “Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Project Management” came to me as one of recommendations from my mentor. When he introduced it to me, he was concerned if the book title would offend me (at least I had some year experiences already). Truly, he had the reason to worry because his students objected the book by the title before. However, personally I don’t mind the title at all. As I said, as much I learn, as less know, it’s completely fine to me as long as the book content is worth of reading.

The strongest points I found from the book were the simplicity in wording and mind map summary at the end of each chapter. Those mind maps somehow help the book stand out and ease the process of knowledge systematization. 

Generally, the same feeling I get whenever reading a PM book is that if someone can do everything or even just 90% of recommendations in the book, that person must be a superman or a real genius. First chapters of this book also gave me the same feeling. Fairly, Project Manager is the same as other jobs which occupies 8 hours a day. A project manager also has one head, two hands and two legs like anyone else. And one more thing, a project manager also has a heart to be torn. However, tasks under a project manager’s umbrella are uncountable; and sometimes he has to deal with situations in which he has to hide what his heart feels. All of those mean a project manager is just a human being and a worker like anyone else. However, all the time, project managers have to work simultaneously as both a leader and a servant; the skill sets under project manager description always require both soft (communicative) and hard (professional) skills which are almost hardly to obtain to human beings. Well, it is hard but not impossible, of course. The evidence is that many project managers were, are and will be still successful. Therefore, the guideline here is that, it’s not important to achieve all recommendations from books; on the contrary, it’s just important to obtain as many as possible.

The book defines itself as “absolute beginner’s guide;” however, it is worth of a respect and it is not a kid’s toy. With my humble experiences, I still say that the book satisfies both freshmen and skillful managers. All fundamentals of project management (in IT) were covered pretty well.

Myself, I got more interest in chapters at the end (project execution) than the beginning (planning and control) even though they all are meaningful. The last chapters went into details of execution which is in the area I’m good at and also would like to patch myself the most. However, I also cover my missing skills in planning through the first chapters, especially budget and stakeholder management. Honestly, I didn’t acknowledge well stakeholder management during my serving time. This could be counted as the biggest loss to me. Because stakeholder management was neglected, it led to many uncontrollable changes and of course caused scope creeping all the time. Ultimately, just stakeholders themselves put my projects in risks mostly at that time. 

As a conclusion, I think the book gives very good outline for necessary skills should be mastered to serve under project manager or leader’s hood. Plus points if I can rate the book are on its straightforward layout and content. The book also vaguely mentions some links with PMI certificate.  However, if you are aiming for a PMI certificate, this book won’t help much. You may need different books specifying for PMI structure. 

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