In my day job, I am an application developer, which, in the corporate world these days, involves a great degree of project management1. It wasn’t always like that. I can remember days in the mid-1990s when we were very light on project managements. The pendulum has shifted and these days, project management is all the rage. Having your PMP is to the twenty-teens what having your MCSE was in the 1990s.
Clinging to this project management wave like pilot fish to a great white shark, are dozens, even hundreds of books on project management. These vary in topic and quality, but as with any writing, Sturgeon’s Law applies. In my view, most of these books are heavy on theory and light on practice.
I recently shared with my team a list of three book that I thought were great practical examples of technical project management, but which are almost certainly overlooked as such because they aren’t shelved in that part of the bookstore, or categorized as project management books in Amazon. Here they are:
- The Making of the Atomic Bomb by RIchard Rhodes.
- Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module by Thomas J. Kelly
- Lunar Prospector: Against All Odds by Alan Binder
The first book, of course, is a detailed history of the making of the atomic bomb. The book won the Pulitzer and is a fascinating read. After reading the book, I realized that I’d read what was probably unintentionally a book that described in considerable detail, how the largest project management exercise in human history was carried out.
Each of the books describe technical projects. The latter two are written by the people who managed the projects. And there is something additionally wonderful about Rhodes and Kelly’s books:
They described how large-scale (and I mean large) technical projects were designed and executed at time when Microsoft Project, Excel, CAD programs, and desktop computing in general did not exist. They are practical guides because they describe unconsciously and specifically how projects were carried out, rather than expose project management principles and selecting examples that best fit those principles.
One of the biggest lessons I took away from these books was that the tools you use don’t make or break a project. Good people and good leaders are what make projects successful.
If you’re looking for unconventional books on project management, I’d suggest taking a look at these books.
- I don’t see the same obsession with project management in the open source/GitHub world. In that world, the focus seems to be more on developing innovative, quality software. ↩
I fully agree, and my own professional experience has shown, that successful project management depends much more on motivation and psychology (i.e. people) than on tools and even sophisticated methods. Accordingly, I enjoyed very much “The Deadline”, a novel about project management, written by Tom DeMarco. Tools and methods are subject of fashion, human nature is not.
If I had to read one of the three books, which one would you suggest? Thank you
Yaaqoub, The Making of the Atomic Bomb is the most interesting and engaging read of the three, but Moon Lander is by far the most practical in terms of boots on the ground project management. I’d go with the latter if you are looking to learn; the former if you want to be awed and entertained.