Glen Alleman on his Herding Cat’s blog just published a list of recommended project management books that I encourage everyone to check out. What I found interesting was the low number of books that overlapped between my list and Glen’s. Obviously we both had Jim Highsmith’s book Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products (which in now out in a second addition with more material on agile governance) since we both know and respect Jim’s contribution to the Agile movement but that’s were the similarity ends. In many ways I wish the list had more overlaps since it would reduce the amount of money I’ll be turning over to Amazon in the near future, and in another I’m delighted in the differences. Glen sees the world through different eyes than I do which is why he’s been on my short list of go-to people when I want to understand something from all sides.
I have many books I recommend to people and many books I value but if I actually tell the cold, hard, brutal truth there are only two dog-eared books on my book shelf; Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules by Steve McConnell and The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook by Peter M. Senge, et al. Both these books serve one and only one purpose for me. They help me to be (I hope) a better manager and leader for my teams. I don’t manage any more so 5 years from now I might say that I have a new set of dog-eared books but I think there’s some value in sharing why these books earned a place by my side, when I was actually doing the work I now just write about.
The real answer was they were my bullwark against getting lost in the noise and in the minutia that all projects have a tendency to drag us down into. My strength as a leader was my big picture view, my ability to hear what wasn’t being said, and in turn to say what no one else had the courage (or the utter foolishness) to say. If I was too lost in the weeds to see what was happening around me then I wasn’t offer my one UNIGUE contribution to the project. In my post The Decreasing Value Case for Project Management I discussed the fact that many enterprise architects are now saying that this is their job on a project (seeing the forest for the trees) but I know if I were still leading projects it wouldn’t be a role I would give up easily.
The books that keep us grounded and able to lead are generally specific to our personality and our circumstances. One of our clients, Penny Dent, shared with the attendees of her presentation at the PPM Summit, that her book was Fish! A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results. She said she given it to all of her project managers and from the sounds of it most of the company has probably read it by now.
So check out Glen’s post. There are some great books there and I’ll be adding a few off the list to my own bookshelf, but I think it’s time to remember that our job description is P (project, program and portfolio) Manager for a reason and that it’s time we started investing an equal amount of our mental energy in improving the M side of the description rather than just the P.
With that said I’d love to hear what books serve as your anchor points. This is one list that will never be definitive or authoritative since it’s all about what speaks to you, but I still think there’s some value in sharing. I look forward to seeing what books the rest of you actually keep close.