20 Minute Manager: Managing Projects

People frequently ask me what is the best project management book for beginners is and it is surprisingly difficult to answer that question. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is the bible of project management but it’s not the best for beginners. It would be like if someone wanted an introduction to Christianity and you handed them the Bible and told them to go read it. Fortunately, there are plenty of books that cover the same concepts as PMBOK but in a much more readable fashion. Unfortunately, those are often ridiculously long (over 500 pages). With this in mind I went searching through the library to see if there was anything that fit the bill. Managing Projects, part of the 20 Minute Manager series from Harvard Business Review,  fills this gap.

Managing Projects is light; it’s only 129 pages long but does cover all the basics of project management. The layout resembles that of the PMBOK. The book are: Planning Your Project; Building Up Your Project; Managing Your Project; Dealing with Your Project’s Problems; and Bringing Your Project to a Successful Conclusion. This mirrors the process groups from PMBOK: Initiating, Planning , Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.

Each section is lean, but manages to provide all of the crucial information for each process. One area the books does present information in a great abbreviated form is it’s coverage of the Critical Path Method and Gantt and PERT Charts. Managing Projects also tries to avoid using project management jargon and when necessary gives good explanations of the terms used.While this ended up being fine for me, true novices may prefer more detail. For example, there are entire books about scope management and scope creep (the often slow addition of project requirements that often lead to failed projects). While the one page description in Managing Projects will make you aware of this issue, I don’t think it really prepares you to actually do anything about it.

If you are someone without any previous knowledge of project management who wants to start somewhere or have just been handed responsibility for a project and don’t know what to do, start here. It will run you through the basic stages of a project and give you some concepts and terminology to use. It does provide a good set of references for further reading, which will be necessary.


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