Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Book Review: Project Management for Mere Mortals by Claudia M. Baca

Due to the complex work demand, project management requires a lot of skills and knowledge, among them, flexibility and smartness cannot be missed. Human beings are unpredictable and project management job spends more than 90% of time to deal with human (the upper, peer and lower). If a person unluckily gets stuck in that maze, every day at work is just like nightmare. To be flexible, there was more than once I put myself deeper in the process to obtain soft skills and somehow I got positive returns. However, smartness or cleverness was a kind of innate talent, I supposed, which was not a thing that money or time could buy. What to be done if I’m not lucky enough to possess that kind of talent? “Project Management for Mere Mortals by Claudia M. Baca” opened a door for me. Achieving the skill via in-house empirical experiences, I’ve been always questing for some formal materials to fill my gaps and gain more credit of work.  This book gave me hope.  Recommended by my mentor, just after reading two chapters of the book, I knew I had to take notes carefully and must read it from cover to cover. The book tells me that a project manager, especially IT project manager, isn’t necessary to be a superman or superwoman. By its aid, as long as I pay enough time and attention to different aspects of work, I can gain some level of the thing called “cleverness”. And someone who has never read this book would call it “smartness” [not able to obtain by learning process] as I used to. If you’re looking for a full skeleton of project management from opening to closing, an approach to work with your team and a strategy to face with your uppers, this book is for you.

The main case study throughout the book and minor case studies in chapters make the book stand out from any previous ones I’ve read. Designed by that way, the book gives me the joy of “what I see is what I get.”  Case studies make sense of theories and formulas. Furthermore, this arrangement also demolishes my prejudice that project management books are too theoretically heavy.  Also by this layout, I could grasp rather well every piece of knowledge right at the place it’s represented - any upcoming questions in my mind are right away solved in the next paragraphs or next sections.

Each chapter starts with a summary of what to expect during the chapter and ends with list of questions. Since the content is very intuitive, it’s pretty easy to respond well to all the questions and be inspired for moving to the next chapter. Throughout the book, there are no big words; instead, a lot of specific terms in the field which helps a lot for both accuracy and comprehension. 

A chapter is constructed clearly into three parts: primarily knowledge, work with subordinates and tactics with upper-ordinates.
Playing the role as the book soul, the knowledge part gives work understanding during each stage of project management: how to start a project, how to finish project planning, how to analyze work into tasks and their dependencies, how to estimate time as well as budget, how to deal with risk, how to keep the project on track, how to manage quality and finally how to close a successful project.

Not less important, working as the book left-wing, “Team” section always catches my eyes. Dedicatedly, every single step to work with team was walked through. The Bruce Tuckman’s team model with four phrases - forming, storming, norming and performing – was practiced smoothly. Reading this section, readers will be also able to feel the author’s experience and enthusiasm. She mentioned down to every team meeting and what should be done in each of them, both individual or congregation meetings. She also covered well team norms and resolutions for team conflicts. Last but not least, the method to conduct and recognize team performance with corresponding awards was strongly emphasized as well.

Amusing me the most should be the book right-wing – “Politics” section at the end of each chapter which can be called in a less flashy way – “dealing with your bosses.” If you’ve been controlled any projects, you should have gnawed enormous emotional moments that you wish to disappear right away because of your bosses’ erratic weather - Your project sponsors may just simple loss interests on your projects when the market changes or business leans to another side; Your project budget may get cut; Changes may be requested too late; unclear requirements… This section is your saver in most of cases. It teaches you how to work with your uppers and how to help them recognize your name on project success. If in team work, you build team norms, ensure your team to know and follow, you will drive a different plan to work with your executives. You still need “norms” to work with them, but your norms are your own secrets and you follow it yourself; your bosses won’t know or won’t care about them. The book will give you some basic norms as first bricks. Building more or less criteria will depend on yourself and your work environment. This is where “cleverness” I mentioned from the first place comes in. Before reading the book, I reckoned that all of responses to upper-ordinates will be spontaneous and amid those situations, everything would go inbound of talent. Now, I changed my mind. This section will lead you steps by steps to communicate well with your stakeholders through important milestones of the project. It would be too ideal to state that you’ll get everything you need, yet I can say it doesn’t waste your time and this “black zone” won’t be a myth anymore.

The last words, if you’re an experienced professional, you may have many choices and one of them is that you can skip this book because your current job is satisfactory and you don’t have much time. Notwithstanding, I would recommend this book for everyone I know in the project management realm. It’s worth of my time and I do expect the same to you. Enjoy the great work from Baca!

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