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Regardless of industry, the skills and expertise of competent project managers are always in demand. If you can plan and oversee the timely completion of tasks, not only will you be an asset to your organization, you’ll likely be earmarked as potential senior management team material.
Based on the recommendations of key project management organizations, such as Wrike, TeamGantt, and the Project Management Institute (PMI), we’ve compiled a list of the best project management books on the market.
So, whether you’re a beginner who doesn’t know your PRINCE2 from your Agile, or a seasoned pro looking to reinvent the basics, these are the places to start!
1. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge
Written by the PMI, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge is widely regarded as the original project management bible. Also known as the PMBOK Guide, the 800-page behemoth is designed for those who hope to earn the prestigious PMP certification.
It’s more than a study textbook, though. It’s a reference point for project managers at all stages of their careers and, as an officially licensed and constantly revised guide, is the ultimate authority on the subject.
If you’re serious about a career in project management, then it’s simple: this book is an absolute must read.
2. Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management
A highly experienced IT project manager at Microsoft, author Scott Berkun is well-placed to advise on the most effective project management strategies and philosophies. Written as a series of personal essays, his critically acclaimed Making Things Happen book can be seen as the antithesis of the relatively dry PMBOK Guide. However, it’s just as valuable.
Relating his concepts to his own experiences in developing Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Making Things Happen is an essential, highly recommended resource for any project manager.
3. Project Management: Absolute Beginner’s Guide
For those who are new to project management, Gregory M Horine’s Project Management: Absolute Beginner’s Guide is (as the title suggests) a good place to start.
Whether used as a more accessible companion to the PMBOK Guide or as a series of introductory lessons on its own, the book covers the key areas of project management and includes a special chapter on how to prepare for the PMP exam.
With 25 years’ experience in senior project management roles, Horine is well-suited to impart wisdom. All in all, for those who are brand new to the game, this is as trustworthy and comprehensive an introduction as you can find.
4. Strategic Project Management Made Simple
According to author Terry Schmidt, the biggest problem faced by project managers isn’t in devising strategies, but in implementing them. This, he claims, is the biggest reason why even the soundest of strategies often fail.
Schmidt — a renowned leadership and strategy consultant — therefore spends much of Strategic Project Management Made Simple explaining how to remedy these issues. He does so by restructuring the whole process around four fundamental questions:
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- How do we measure success?
- What other conditions must exist?
- How do we get there?
5. The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management
One of the most popular business tomes on the market, The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management is unashamedly instructional in nature. Offering direct, step-by-step advice, this bestseller is particularly appealing to those looking to get to grips with the “how” rather than the “why”.
Its first edition sold more than 100,000 copies and has been widely included in both university and corporate training courses. As a bonus, author Eric Verzuh has added extra chapters on IT project management, Agile techniques, and project selection to the latest edition, making it a worthwhile investment.
6. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
As a fully trademarked time management concept, Getting Things Done isn’t a book just about project management, but an authority on how to get the most out of your time — a crucial project management skill.
Therefore, it comes highly recommended to new and seasoned project managers alike, particularly those who want to approach tasks with a calmer mindset. As an experienced management consultant and self-proclaimed “productivity expert”, author David Allen’s methods are definitely worth exploring, especially if you often find yourself fighting against the clock.
7. Project Management for Non-Project Managers
In a similar vein to Gregory M Horine’s Absolute Beginner’s Guide, Project Management for Non-Project Managers is aimed primarily at those who have suddenly been thrust into project management at work.
It breaks down the key topics and jargon and encourages you to dive into the process headfirst, acting as a condensed, stripped-down guide to project management fundamentals. Often, it’s these basic tenets that are the most important, so it’s well worth getting to grips with them, just as author Jack Ferraro does here.
8. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling
Having written numerous academic papers on project management, management consultant and professor emeritus Harold Kerzner is a respected authority on the subject. Who better, then, to take you through the concepts involved?
Given his background, it’s no surprise that Kerzner’s work is targeted mainly at students and newcomers. Conveniently, the latest edition of Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling is intended to be read in conjunction with the PMBOK Guide and includes various PMP practice questions and tips.
9. Project Management Jumpstart
Now on its fourth edition, Project Management Jumpstart is another introductory guide that is focused on the fundamentals of the profession, illuminating them through real-life case studies. As author Kim Heldman has written several PMP exam textbooks, her ability to break down concepts and consistently present them in a clear context shines through.
This fully revised edition doesn’t just go over the latest project management methods, it also features new examples and study questions. So, if you’re considering whether or not you’d be suited to project management, Project Management Jumpstart offers a pretty reliable parameter.
10. Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager
Many project managers find themselves thrust into the position out of necessity, often left with nothing more than a team, a budget, and a deadline. If this sounds like you, then Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager will really come in handy.
Authors Kory Kogon, Suzette Blakemore, and James Wood instruct you to take a deep breath before explaining what you need to do. The authors then succinctly take you through the essentials and ensure that you remain organized throughout. There are numerous real-life examples to relate to as well, making this a highly recommended choice for those who have been put in charge — willingly or not.
11. The Lazy Project Manager
If you’ve never heard of the Pareto principle (the idea that, essentially, only 20% of the work you do actually matters), then you’ll be an expert by the time you finish The Lazy Project Manager.
Written by renowned consultant and public speaker Peter Taylor, it encourages you to embrace the fact that being smart and lazy is always preferable to being busy, but stupid. According to Taylor, by applying this truth to your projects and condensing your focus on the things that really matter, you’ll be far more productive in the long run.
12. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
Doing twice the work in half the time sure has a nice ring to it — and author Jeff Sutherland can tell you how to do just that.
Troubled by the lack of agility and efficiency that he consistently witnessed in the workplace, Sutherland began to seek solutions that would improve productivity. Alongside Ken Schwaber, he co-developed the Scrum framework in the early 90s to help businesses stay on top of demanding projects.
In Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, the author explains this framework for project management in a compelling, thought-provoking manner.
13. Brilliant Project Management: What the Best Project Managers Know, Say and Do
If you’ve been wondering what it takes to become an excellent project manager, this book by Stephen Barker and Rob Cole answers just that.
Brilliant Project Management takes over 30 years of combined, hands-on experience with high-profile projects and condenses it into small, practical steps. The book promises to help you:
- Make a success out of every project
- Complete projects even earlier than anticipated
- Save time, money and your mental wellbeing!
In the words of Barker and Cole, leading projects doesn’t need to be daunting. What it takes to ensure that deadlines are consistently met and stay within budget is working smart.
14. Doing Agile Right: Transformation without Chaos
Co-authored by Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, and Steve Berez, Doing Agile Right: Transformation without Chaos makes for an indispensable book on any project manager’s bookshelf.
One of the Top 10 Technology Books of 2020 according to Forbes, it explains the Agile project management methodology and clears up the misconceptions around it, like the idea that it can magically transform any organization.
Rigby, Elk, and Berez want to help project managers fully understand and implement the Agile framework the right way, so their teams deliver projects faster and with fewer headaches.
15. Project Management for Humans: Helping People Get Things Done
Author Brett Harned believes that practicing effective project management is not about following a particular set of rules, but rather about developing interpersonal skills and intuition. Through these people skills, managers should have an easier time arriving at a method that suits everyone on the team, thus streamlining the actual work process.
Project Management for Humans: Helping People Get Things Done can be useful to all professionals (even non-managerial ones), as it covers creating project plans, identifying and addressing issues before they evolve, and holding people accountable.
Whether you’re new to project management because of personal interest or a force of circumstance, there are many resources that can help smoothen out the often bumpy learning curve.
On your path to becoming an experienced project manager and solving problems in real life, familiarizing yourself with the most popular project management methodologies is vital. Broadening your project management skills doesn’t end there though — as project management is more about managing people rather than managing tasks, continuing to build your interpersonal skills is also essential. As today’s workforce is often involved in multiple, simultaneous projects, a good project manager needs to be an excellent communicator and negotiator first.
No matter your background, mastering a new skill like effectively managing projects can take years of experience. So be patient, read books, and stay curious!
Have you read any of these books? Which did you find the most useful? Let us know in the comments!
Originally published 30 June 2019. Contains contributions by Siôn Phillpott.