EDITOR'S NOTE: Both How to Manage a Camel and Project Management Tipoffs will regularly feature Book Reviews pertaining to project & programme management issues, many written by our stable of freelance practitioners with the energy and style to relate a book's importance to its project-related audience.
-- Review by Bert Heymans
When I got this book in the mail I was expecting a checklist collection, the title and the front-cover give you all the reasons to believe that checklists are what you're going to get. What you actually get is a mix of advice, management theory, methodology and checklists that summarize what you've read. Although there are 58 checklists in total (I counted), there's a lot more in the book besides checklists.
There are 10 chapters, of which 5 are collections of checklist. Every checklist chapter is linked with a full chapter describing an approach to a certain management theme. That sounds nice but it feels rather repetitive and unstructured when you're reading the book front to back. The main themes are managing the organisation, team management, project initiation, project execution and programme management. Each theme is dealt with in great detail and every checklist has a little intro text and notes. A checklist is laid out like a little nugget of knowledge which can be read by itself and that's quite handy.
Project managers who know about PRINCE2 or who are working in a PRINCE2 environment will certainly recognise many elements in what they will read. It's very compatible with the methodology.
The lion's share of the book's attention goes into the approach and processes aspects of project management. In some instances I even had the impression that I was reading a methodology book. A good example is the first chapter, it elaborates on the importance of choosing the right approach. It neatly describes the ways to identify a process, a project and a programme; describing their characteristics and matching management approaches. Very, very interesting but also deeply theoretical. This kind of sets the scene and all the chapters that explain a theme's approach follow this trend. If you're looking for a lot of hands-on practical advice you'll be disappointed.
Things like change requests, risk management, checking project benefits, working with sub-contractors or dealing with organisational change are either only mentioned minutely or not at all.
On the subject of style I found this book hard to digest in some parts, the text can be quite dense and the authors give a lot of detailed nuances. You do get a lot of genuine advice however and I feel that the book really tries to coach the reader. The authors are very experienced people and you can notice the effort they put in giving correct guidance, which sadly goes a little bit at the expense of clarity. The book is filled with nice tables and uses a lot of diagrams; that's great but the purpose of some of them is fairly unclear or doesn't seem to support the content much.
Looking back on the book I have the impression that it struggles with what it wants to be, a book of checklists or a book on methodology and project management advice with checklists in it. While writing this review I read the text on the back cover of the book again and it mentions the practical approach of the authors and the easily available hands-on advice. I can't say the book delivers on that promise.
That said, the book does contain genuine advice, it shows you some solid fundamentals and it is a usable although theoretical source of inspirational for your projects.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Veteran project manager Bert Heymans' project management experience background is with web agencies, in advertising and in IT. At the moment he's working as a project manager in Professional Services at TomTom. He has also just started a blog, Journeyman PM.