Book review – The project manager

Whenever you get a new book on a popular subject it comes complete with assurances that it is different from all that have gone before, with an approach that will transform your understanding. Richard Newton promises his book will demystify the art of project management, enabling readers to consistently deliver projects on time and to budget. What’s different about his approach is that while recognising the value of formal project management methodologies, he largely ignores them, concentrating instead on the practice of project management – how you interact and communicate with others. His own description is that this is an ‘intelligent guide to project management that does not say it is a purely mechanistic topic, but one that requires the project manager to think and make judgement-based decisions’. He’s underselling it.

This is a book packed with common sense based on real experience. The 12 chapters are clearly laid-out and well-labelled – you can dip in and out with ease. The author, ever mindful of the fact readers may be pushed for time, provides a variety of shortcuts. The introduction includes an overview of all the chapters with each being given a priority rating. So if you need a quick fix you can start with the four he identifies as priority reading. The final pages of the book consist of a 28-page quick reference guide where each chapter is summarised and key lessons highlighted.

Chapters are well constructed with meticulous signposting and cross-referencing. The layout of each is slightly different, responding to the needs of the topic rather than conforming to an artificial consistency of style and presentation. The first eight take you carefully through a series of lessons, questions and judgements. The ninth chapter, covering the limits of knowledge, provides valuable advice on avoiding the traps that limit achievement – trying to do what is better done by a specialist.

The mechanics of project management is neatly packaged into 13 skills in chapter 10. The penultimate chapter is about learning to say no – how to turn down and kill off projects that are poorly thought-out or badly resourced. The brief closing thoughts of the final chapter include the reflection that ‘most of the things in this book are intuitively obvious and far simpler to implement than many advanced project management processes’. Effective intuition is generally the result of extensive experience and honed by an ability to learn from mistakes. The way Newton shares his experience through this book provides an invaluable shortcut towards gaining such wisdom.

"The penultimate chapter is about learning to say no – how to turn down and kill off projects that are poorly thought-out or badly resourced"