A project manager is a combination client manager, strategist, team lead, qa lead, and more–and plays an integral role in the successful delivery of digital projects. An earlier blog post, The Art of Project Management, explored the role of the project manager in a digital environment and what it takes to be a project manager.
Many great tools exist to support those who want to learn the trade, including courses and certification through the Project Management Institute, software, seminars, workshops, and books. Each of these tools helps supply project managers with a solid foundation with which to perfect their craft. At SmallTalk, we recommend reading three books which complement these tools and are designed to help with the mindset of a project manager and to teach them how to think. Our recommended reading includes:
Sun Tzu’s classic dissertation on warfare is not solely about the craft of war. It also has many lessons to teach us about managing situations and conflicts.
Each chapter is dedicated to specific lessons about conflicts from strategy and planning, through initiative, reaction and resolution. These lessons serve to provide a context for approaching a situation and provide a valuable point-of-view for reflection. Not every lesson translates and is applicable, but many are:
“Those who are first on the battlefield and await the opponents are at ease; those who are last on the battlefield and head into battle get worn out.”
This lesson is very much about preparation and organization. Being prepared for your meeting/project/etc. and being on time, allows you to manage your work and to achieve success. Being late and not prepared sets you up for failure.
Internalizing these lessons allows us to think through situations and react in logical manners to the situations at hand, and this increases the odds of success.
A tried and true maxim about baseball is that you cannot teach running, but you can teach the rest of the skills necessary to play. However, if you cannot run, you will not be a good player. It is similar for project managers: you cannot teach analytical thinking, but you can teach the skills of project management. If you can think through situations calmly and objectively, then you are more apt to succeed.
A project manager is above else the project leader and knowing how to think through the situations at hand and how to plan for issues before they happen is an invaluable tool. The Art of War is a valuable tool for learning how to think.
Flawless Consulting may seem to be a relic of an earlier age (I read the original version, not the updated copy) and a prime example of 1970′s pop-psychology. However, to dismiss it as simplistic pop-psychology would be a mistake. It offers us unique insights into how to read and interact with people and overall how to act like a consultant.
We often focus on the tasks that make up the project when we are project managers, but it is the people involved: clients, staff and management which are the true challenges. Flawless Consulting teaches us to look at look at how we interact with the people involved in the process, how to understand their motivations, their verbal and non-verbal communications. These skills are vital to the success of the project.
“Too often, we take the easy road and ignore the underlying issues.”
By taking the time to understand the people involved in the project, allows us to understand how to manage the situation. It enables us to change the way we behave and communicate to make sure we are heard and achieve our goals.
An important point we often discuss in our internal project management meetings is how to balance our goals and our efforts to ensure we meet our goals. A question I often ask: “Is it more important to achieve your goals, or to achieve them in the manner you wish to?” Flawless Consulting teaches us to understand our audiences and how to communicate with them in manners which ensures the outcome we envision. Being a consultant is a mindset and it is useful to know how to act like one no matter what our professional role.
This is the updated edition of the bestselling O’Reilly book by former Microsoft Program Manager Scott Berkun. Written in down-to-earth plain language, the book offers an examination of the real-world trade-offs and decision-making tools for getting things done. Berkun excels at explaining both the social aspects of having multiple stakeholders, as well as technical topics of handling deadlines and constraints. The focus is on software and internet development, yet maintains a readable conversational style, and avoids geeky lectures.
Each of these books offers us valuable insights into mastering our craft.