Advances in Project Management [Book Review]

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I was quite excited to get Advances in Project Management as I like to keep up-to-date with what other people think is important in our field. So I was disappointed to see that it wasn’t truly new material. It’s a compilation of extracts and summaries from the Advances in Project Management series from Gower, excluding anything from my book (boo!).

Sour grapes at being left out aside, I have a lot of time for series editor Darren Dalcher and am always a bit star struck when I meet him. He has edited this book which claims to be “an accessible introduction to further topics.” That is certainly true. I found Second Order Project Management by Michael Cavanagh virtually impenetrable but his chapter in this book made it very clear. He quotes a survey respondent as saying:

Our priorities are cost, schedule, resources – when really we should be thinking first about relationships, infrastructure and ways of working.

Very true.

A bit light on the ‘advances’

If you keep up-to-date with trending topics in project management, you might find like me that this book is a bit light on the ‘advances’. David Cleden, for example, presented his thinking backwards model of dealing with uncertainty years ago at a National Centre for Project Management event. It’s a good technique, and it will be a new concept to many readers, but the book could have been more cutting edge.

Another example: who talks about managing stakeholders anymore? We engage them, and we’ve been engaging them in the current literature for a while now, so I feel the book’s authors should have picked up on that too.

Short chapters, teaser topics

The chapters seem short, leaving you wanting more detail, another case study or perhaps just a practical example of how you can use this technique in your own work.

I suppose that is the point: it is designed as an introduction to the body of work that is the Advances series and it did introduce me to new topics like spirituality in project teams. I haven’t read Julia Neal and Alan Harpham’s book on the subject.

In their chapter, they talk about how spirituality is not the same as religion but personally I found it hard to split the two and couldn’t see how ‘spirituality’, in the way they used it, was any different from ‘project team culture’. Food for thought.

Advances in PM Book Cover
The cover of Advances in Project Management, edited by Darren Dalcher

Focusing on ambiguity

The book has a strong focus on risk, uncertainty and ambiguity, as dealing with all of those are definitely topics for the modern, ‘advanced’ project manager.

It would be wrong to say that there is nothing new or innovative in here. There is an interesting bit on earned schedule and the limitations of traditional EV and SPI calculations. It’s a long chapter compared to the others and hard to summarise here but it gets over the issue of SPI=1 even when a project finishes late.

The future of project management

The chapter by Michael Hatfield on the coming of a sea change in project management science is the best in the book. He knocks bloggers, by the way, for contributing suspect ideas about how management is supposed to function. Let’s gloss over that.

I’m not sure that we’ll see a sea change – a metamorphosis – but more a gradual evolution of project management practice. What I liked about his chapter was the fresh thinking. The project management theorists and pundits, he writes, can spout whatever ideas they like about how management should work. But the free marketplace will continue to put into place those ideas that work and ignore those that do not have a positive impact on the accounts.

I laughed out loud when I read:

I fully anticipate that one of the earliest casualties of this process will be much of what passes for modern risk management theory, being the waste of time that it is.

Michael Hatfield and David Hillson could be my new fantasy dinner party guests.

Michael predicts that businesses and practitioners will soon move away from a lot of the prescribed, textbook theory. He advocates for an environment where we pick and choose the pieces that work in real life and dump the rest.

In summary…

You would struggle to implement any of the ideas in here from the short explanations. You’d struggle to use it as an academic reference – you’d be better off using the authors’ books for that. But if you are trying to select interesting ideas for your own future research or events, identify trends, or you just want to broaden your outlook beyond the PMBOK Guide, then this is just the job.

And if you want to read what the editor missed out, take a look at my book, Customer-Centric Project Management about engaging stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of the project and rethinking the traditional approach to lessons learned.

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