The Principles of Project Management

Learning Project Management

Ask someone what “project management” is and you’re liable to get a few blank stares – it’s one of those fields people have heard of, but probably have problems pinning down a definition.

So that is what the first section of the book does: provides a definition that can be summed up as applying tools and skills to complete a project. That then leads to what exactly is a “project”: a set of tasks with a time-frame and goal of somehow adding value. So yes, the introduction does involve a fair bit of terminology that isn’t going to be familiar to many readers coming from a coder’s background. Still, there’s a helpful appendix that lays out many of the terms. Just as important, the introduction explains what project management is not, some of the misconceptions and why it’s good to know.

With the definitions out of the way, readers then get into the start-up tasks. First, there’s looking for projects (find opportunities), deciding is it’s an excellent opportunity (this is a bit of office politics – you want to know soon if your project has the necessary support from management) and even if the task warrants a project. One of the key points is that a project is not on-going maintenance – it has a goal and a completion date.

Once you have decided to undertake a project, the next steps involve a proposal, identifying stakeholders, setting up an organizational chart and establishing communication protocols. This is the soft skill side of project management — a lot of the work is keeping the people the project is for interested and informed on where the project is heading. Much of the advice is practical — including dealing with the stakeholders who just aren’t that interested in your project and picking a good project board – the less, the better. Finally, once this is established, it’s time to make sure everyone is on the same page and agreed on the deliverables (the specific things the project will achieve).

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By chapter three (“Getting the Job Done”) we’re into the actual material many readers (including myself) think of as project management: setting schedules, breaking deliverables into discrete tasks. For that, there’s a lot of practical advice here – especially around making estimates and communicating them to stakeholders and team members, so they are not misinterpreted as wild guesses or hard dates. Particularly useful was the advice on refining estimates from an overall size (is it a small, large or extra-large task), then, as the date got closer, change it to a more accurate estimate. As well as measuring performance, some management tools like work-flow and Gantt charts and issue lists are introduced in this chapter.

The last two chapters look at managing your team and completing the project. The “Keeping it smooth” chapter gives a good overview of the people management skills you will need working with team members. Not a lot to say here, but having done some management in the past, it covers all the bases well, and it’s probably applicable outside of project management as well.

Like many of the new SitePoint books, this book explains a complex topic with a few illustrations and a clean layout. They’re using that humorous information schema (light-bulb, bicycle horn, hand grenade ) to good effect. One example of this is in Getting Started chapter: There is a section talking about what goes in a Project Initiation Document (PID), and there are break-out boxes on what it is not meant to take the place of.

For an example of the layout, the “Keeping it Smooth” chapter is an excellent example of how this book is organized; Topics are broken up by headings with points arranged as lists of short paragraphs, which makes it easy to skim. While it’s a small book, only about 200 pages and approximately 25×20 cm – it’s still good to be able to scan.

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The glossary covers the particular usage of words in the project management domain.

Appendixes A-C list some tools, other resources (books and blogs) and C provides a list of qualifications and associations.

For a topic I was entirely unfamiliar with when I started, I’d recommend this book as an excellent overview of the topic. The chapters follow a chronological order through a project, from picking a project (including those to avoid), planning and executing, managing the staff and stakeholders and finally, finishing your project and handing it off.

The author, Meri Williams, writes two blogs: GeekManager and Meriblog, which readers might want to check out for further material. While each field has it’s jargon, project management has a number to learn – and this book does a good job explaining it.