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Book Review: The Lazy Project Manager

Author: Peter Taylor
Publish Date: December 2010
URL: @ Amazon
Atul's Rating: ***

If you are like me, you are a project manager of some sort, and are perhaps even certified. You don't have the relevant text or standard imprinted on your memory, simply because, a) like most people, you don't have WORA memory (Write Once Remember Always) and b) you tend to be good at project management tasks you do frequently, and need to look-up the reference for project management tasks that you do infrequently. ("Project Closure", anyone ?) The 'non-machine' part of you also demands that unless what you are doing is new or different, you get 'bored' of repetitive tasks - other people seem to think they are necessary and you wonder why in the world, of all the words in your favorite dictionary, 'mindless' keeps jumping at you as you go about your work! Also, commonly, your workload lands you in a strange situation whereby being diligent causes you to choke on meaningful time. So you are looking for a way to optimize your emotional energy while staying successful and looking for some reading material that resonates with your idea of efficiency.

What luck! You come across this book by Mr. Taylor.

Note that you would be better off with the PMBOK or equivalent for the nitty gritty details of project management theory but for some straight talk and (un?)commonsense wisdom, you are reading the right stuff. If that makes you think it takes some value away from the book, Eliyahoo Goldratt has a comment for you in the preface of the book Necessary But Not Sufficient: "If its so simple, why is it not commonly implemented everywhere already ?" Implying, "Why did you have to read it in this book to discover that its simple?"

We get a good refresher about the Pareto principle at the outset. It's easy to confuse and misuse too, read it again please and identify the 80 and the 20 parts for good. While this principle is most commonly known to have european roots - attributed to a Frenchman's obeservation of an Italian phenomenon, I was intrigued to find enough parallels in 3'rd century BC Indian thinker Chanakya's 'sutras' (treatise) on economics and political ethics, to suspect he had similar things to say, in different words.

Some of the good learnings from the book:

  • Do watch the movie 'Jungle Book' and have Baloo teach you about 'The Bare Necessities' all over again.
  • There are times when one should not be lazy, in the project start and closure phases for example.
  • Show you mean business by ensuring that all parties involved in the project both understand what you need and expect from them and also in what format you expect it - whether this is information, time, support, guidance or money. Not in an aggressive way, but in an authoritative way.
  • Sponsors are the VIPs on projects, interview yours if necessary, but ensure you have a winner there.
  • Project creep (as in functionality creep, feature creep, mission creep and scope creep) needs to be carefully managed, controlled, anticipated and dealt with. Use the 'parking lot' liberally.
  • Visionary concepts are not yours (the PM's) to dream; yours is the practical reality of delivering on time, at cost and to the agreed quality level.
  • Reporting is not communicating, you need to ensure that important contents of the report are received. Effective communication, takes about 70% of the PM's time(!), and is about isolating the critical information, utilising the optimum communication method for the person (or people) that you need to communicate with, and delivering that information at the appropriate time.
    ... In order to ensure that you receive the right information back, you need to educate people on what information you need, how you would like to receive that information and when.
  • If you can include safe fun and laughter in your interactions, you will be a winner PM.
  • When in trouble, breathe normally.
  • Nothing in the rule book says the PM is the best person to deal with every issue, every crisis and every threat to the project's success. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. Don't try to be the project hero all of the time.
  • Filter what you should deal with, delegate everything you can, prioritise what is left and then focus on what is important. Good managers do not have to be on hand twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They do not have to have the answer to every question nor do they have to be the conduit to the answer to every question.
  • A 'good' project team is not just about the right skills but also about the right levels of enthusiasm and energy.
  • Project closure is the time when you can learn a lot of what you might have missed during project execution, that will help towards you becoming a better PM.

There is also a good short summary worth printing and pinning to your desk softboard.

I am glad I bought a copy. I recommend you to pick it up on your Kindle, it's a short and easy read. Give yourself a small but honest personality test. You can only benefit from reading it. If you are the right type, it will give you positive reinforcement to continue towards achieving your goals. If you are a different type, (nobody is really of the wrong type, spiritually speaking), you will a) learn to change into the right type or find the motivation to find a better job profile that suites your personality and b) learn to identify and understand the right type in other people and actually co-operate and help them - and hence yourself - succeed.

Students of the discipline of Project Management often tend to forget that, however small, there is always a difference between theory and practice. This book is likely to help them get a handle on the practical side of Project Management.

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