Project Management for You [Book Review]

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I believe a gap exists between ‘back of the envelope meetings’ where we try to plan simple projects, and the complex project management methodologies that help build nuclear submarines and rocket ships. For a long time, the distance in complexity between projects like planning a birthday party and putting a man on the moon was all there was; normal, day-to-day work was simpler, and we were not required constantly to plan and develop one-off ideas and turn them into reality on a regular basis. For many of us today, however, that is all we do.”

So starts Project Management for You, Cesar Abeid’s new book. It aims to fill the gap for people new to managing projects. Realistic and practical, it’s a guide to getting started and turning your ideas into reality.

The PM4U Method

Cesar’s project management method is simple, but it’s designed to be. If you’re a project manager with a bunch of credentials and 20 years of work experience then you aren’t his target audience.

Here’s how he explains the process of getting work done.

  1. Composing: Define the idea for the project as best as you can.
  2. Decomposing: Break it down into smaller parts or deliverables.
  3. Decision Making Time: Decide how to proceed.
  4. Defining Activities: With the “what” defined and broken down, consider the “how.” I think this step and step 3 will run in parallel for most projects.
  5. Managing Risk: Create a list of project risks and mitigation plans.
  6. Delegating and Team Building: Get your team together and allocate them the tasks you can’t do (or choose not to do) yourself.
  7. Estimating Duration and Cost: Produce your estimates, with input from your team of experts. Bit chicken and egg here: you may need to engage experts and therefore incur costs before you’ve got total costs planned.
  8. Communications: Plan your project communications.
  9. Leadership: This isn’t really a stage in the process, more something you do all through, but Cesar calls it out as a step so it is not overlooked.
  10. Doing the Work: Let’s not forget to actually do some tasks.
  11. Reviewing: This is what experienced project managers would know as monitoring and controlling.
  12. Managing Change: This again could happen at any point, but Cesar calls out the change management process.
  13. Lessons Learned: I’m glad this is included in the process. I don’t agree that it is a separate phase – more a continuous opportunity to improve throughout the project. Lessons learned is covered in detail in Chapter 17 which is very good, especially for novice project managers. It wil help you get into good habits from the start of your career. Cesar gives the example of his lessons learned document for work-based travel. I too have a travel checklist that covers what I need to do and pack before I leave the house, but not a lessons learned log. I supposed if I have one at all it’s in my head. He writes about learning not to pack running gear when going to conferences because there is no time to work out. That’s a lesson I really don’t need to learn, having never packed running gear on any work trip.
  14. Check That Off: And we’re done. Project closed.

It’s simple, but it’s still 14 steps! I’m not sure that I could have made the list shorter and kept it comprehensive and easy to understand.

The project management pedigree

It’s always interesting to find out how people got into project management and Cesar writes about this. He is candid about his academic success and how that led to shortcuts that didn’t work at work.

He explains how, when his father’s illness meant he had to step up, he finally realised that project management was a discipline he could learn to help him be more employable and to keep the family’s company afloat, even though he’d had the job title for years.

Cesar is also host to a popular project management podcast, and the whole book is written from the point of view of a trusted mentor. He uses examples that are easy to relate to, like this one about conflict resolution:

A few years ago, we were chatting with friends after church when I realized that Laura, then only about three-years-old, had gone off somewhere. I started looking for her around the building when I realized the front door was open and she was walking toward the street.

As I started running, I remember yelling her name in hopes that she would turn around. In fact, this only made her walk faster. I got to her in just enough time to pick her up with an abrupt swing of my right arm. She was safe, but unfortunately, I had hit her right in the face with my arm, so now she was crying.

In conflict resolution, this is called Forcing. Because I wanted Laura to turn around but she wanted to keep moving, a quick decision had to be made. Also, the situation was grave enough that I did not care whether she would be upset with me, or even if my picking her up abruptly would hurt her. The situation was such that forcing my position was necessary to end the conflict. In Forcing, one of the parties usually loses, and the winning party has his or her way.

It resonated with me as I’ve done the racing-after-a-toddler thing recently as Jack chased a duck almost into the moat of a castle, which was a sheer drop of a couple of meters into the water. I got there just in time. Toddlers can be incredibly quick.

Step by Step

Once the concepts have been introduced, a large portion of the book describes each of the 14 steps in turn. They are easy to understand and support a low tech, low documentation, just right approach to processes.

To close, here’s the testimonial I wrote for the book:

Cesar’s conversational style makes this an easy book to read—just like talking to a mentor. His practical advice will help you break down tasks and get things done. He demystifies the science of project management and explains the art of working with others for a successful result. Everyone is a project manager—this book will show you how to be the best one you can possibly be!