Book review: Six-Word Lessons For Project Managers

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What can you learn from just 6 words? According to Lonnie Pacelli, President of Leading on the Edge International quite a lot. He was inspired by this anecdote:

“Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was challenged by some friends to write a story in six words. Hemingway responded to the challenge with the following story:  For sale:  baby shoes, never worn.”

Lonnie’s new book, Six-Word Lessons For Project Managers, is a compendium of 100 short lessons covering the whole project management lifecycle, from requirements to project closure – via risks, testing and managing stakeholders.

It’s short, so you can read it quickly: again, inspired by the micro-communications that fill up our lives today – tweets, wall posts, text messages. However, it’s not expensive either, so you don’t feel short changed. I thought the book would make a good collection of mantras, and would also be a great basis for training material or team building games. It doesn’t look like it’s available on Amazon UK but you can get it from Consetta directly or buy it on Amazon US.

I’ve known about Lonnie’s work since I interviewed him for my book back in 2005 (about estimate to complete – more on that later). I’ve always appreciated his straight-talking style, and this book is no different. There is no waffle, and he certainly tells it like it is:

Project management software saves your butt. Thinking you can effectively manage a complex project using the likes of Excel or Word is just plain stupid. Decide upon and implement an appropriate PM software package and learn how it can effectively help you (Lesson 28).

It’s also quite funny. Lesson 33 is “Didn’t include that in budget. Yikes!”

There are some serious messages here, condensed into short bursts for those with reduced attention spans. For example:

Estimate to complete isn’t remaining budget. Inexperienced PMs tend to subtract actual budget spent from total budget to derive ETC which likely isn’t true. Make sure estimate to complete is an aggregate of remaining work on project not just what is left in the budget (Lesson 34).

OK, if you are an experienced project manager, you might not find anything revolutionary in here. But I count myself in that enlightened bunch and it certainly doesn’t do me any harm to refresh myself on the basics – and the advanced stuff – on a regular basis. In particular, Lonnie includes some lessons that relate to being a project manager, as distinct from doing project management. I found this point a fantastic reminder of what it means to lead a project team:

PMs who hoard praise, then throw team members under the failure bus don’t earn the respect of the team. PMs must openly share the praise when something good happens and accept accountability for bad stuff (Lesson 90).

Are you a project manager or do you just do project management?

Elizabeth Harrin, BA, MBCS, is the author of Project Management in the Real World and has nearly a decade of experience in financial services projects. She is a Prince2 practitioner and trained in the Six Sigma process improvement methodology. Elizabeth has led a variety of IT and process improvement projects including e-commerce and communications developments. She is also experienced in managing business change.
Elizabeth is a member of the British Computer Society, spent eight years working in financial services (including two based in Paris, France), and now works in London in the healthcare industry. She writes the irreverent blog A Girl’s Guide to Managing Projects. Elizabeth has a BA from the University of York and is currently studying part-time for an MA at Roehampton University, London. Her research interests are the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders and their interactions across culturally diverse, distributed project teams.