What everyone needs to know about project management

Why this book?

(The following is taken from Appendix One of Simple Project Management.)

Why does this book include what it does?

Many books have been written on project management. Most are big books with hundreds of pages. Why do we need another book? Why a small book?

As project managers we constantly select what we will do from all of the things that we could do. How well we make those choices depends on our knowledge. If we have a clear understanding of what is essential, we will make better choices.

There is a core to project management that is needed by all project managers and on every project. This small book captures those essentials.

How can we test that claim?

First test: Is the included information necessary?

Let's imagine that you are going to hire one of two candidates to be the project manager for a project. Look at each part of this book and ask yourself: If the candidates were otherwise the same, but one does what the book says and the other does the opposite, who would you pick?

For each chapter of the book, ask yourself: What would happen to the project if the project manager didn't do this at least well enough? What would happen to the project if the project manager did this poorly?

Select any pair of the project management responsibilities described in Section One. Ask if doing well in one would compensate for doing poorly in the other. This test confirms that all twelve of the responsibilities need to be included.

Second test: Does the provided information work?

Ask whether the best project managers do these things in some fashion. I have tested this information against the behavior of many project managers. The approach described in this book matches what the best project managers actually do or points out areas where they have run into problems.

Select any of the chapters in Section One. Follow the directions that are provided. Is enough information provided so that you could take action? What effect does it have on your project? Does it help to move the project forward? Does it help you to focus your efforts?

Third test: Would less information still be effective?

Examine how each additional piece of information improves the project manager's ability to be effective:

Let's imagine that we give a person a project and none of this information. The project manager's question may be "What do I do now?" Not good. The project manager doesn't have enough information to help select appropriate actions and has no criteria to test whether the actions were successful. The manager is still dependent on someone else to provide direction.

Then we say, "As project manager you have twelve areas of responsibility including customer, etc." The manager may respond "What do I do about the customer?" Little better. The manager knows that something should be done about customers, but still needs guidance to select appropriate actions for the customer responsibility. Nor have we given the manager any criteria that could be used to test the effectiveness of those actions.

Then we say, "Identify the customers. Find out their expectations of this project. Reconcile any conflicts. Put their strengths to work. Compensate for their weaknesses." The manager may respond "How do I identify the customers?" Much better. The manager knows to take action to identify customers and something about what to do with them. The manager could still benefit from some guidance in identifying who the customers are.

Then we provide the suggestions on how the manager can identify the customers. We suggest the following questions:

  • Who initiated the project?
  • Who will pay for it?
  • Who will be your main day-to-day contact and partner in decision making?
  • Who will ultimately use the results you produce?

The result is better still. Now the manager has enough information to make a good start in identifying the customers with a reasonable assurance of coming up with a good answer.

What if we provide more guidance still? What if the project manager asks: "How do I find out who initiated the project?" At this point, I think our answer would be different depending on the particular circumstances. In addition, I think the project manager's question is specific enough that he/she should be able to track that information down.

This third test demonstrates that less information would not give the project manager the necessary guidance, while more information though useful in some circumstances would be different for each project.

Does this book include all of the information that a project manager needs?

Certainly not. As a project manager I always do more than is explained in this book. However, with the information in this book the manager is in a good position to find whatever else is required to make the project successful.

This book focuses on information that all project managers need. It doesn't provide everything you need to know about management in general. Nor does it provide details about how to do the particular kinds of projects you may be facing.

Many managers I've talked to about this book have suggested an item or two that might be added. When I didn't adopt one of their suggestions it was either because it didn't apply to the majority of situations I have examined or, while perhaps useful, it didn't belong in a book on essentials.

The information in this book is intended to be shared with everyone in the organization that may work on a project. The more we include the harder it will be to get everyone up to speed.

How to gain these benefits?