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If you could recommend a single book that made you a better PM, which one would it be?

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Perhaps add a reason why @OrenD? Because most of the answers just link a book and I'm supposed to guess why everyone thinks it's awesome? Plus I see a lot of users adding multiple books, which have been named in other answers already. This makes it really hard to judge which of those books is worthwhile for me. –  Ivo Flipse Feb 11 '11 at 13:10
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40 Answers 40

The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks

Coming from a software development background, this was the first book I read that was written from a project management perspective. A lot of the lessons discussed are deeply ingrained in the software industry and are considered common knowledge, if not common sense. Some of the mistakes pointed out by Brooks are still being made today, so it appears (unfortunately) that the lessons are timeless.

Brooks' classic essay No Silver Bullet is included in the MMM 20th anniversary edition that I have, but you can also read it at the link provided.

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+1 without a doubt #1 for me. Chapt 16: No Silver Bullets –  DaveParillo Feb 8 '11 at 3:08
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This is a must-read for any programmer, and has great PM insights as well. –  Craig Villacorta Feb 8 '11 at 16:31
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Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister

I don't know if this book falls under the Project Management category. However, I found this book to have great insights on team development which I think is an important aspect of Project Management.

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Critical Chain by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt had a huge impact on me. This book had even more of an impact after I learned that many academics do not care for the book and I began to understand why many sharp engineers have been trained to be terrible project managers who get lost in multi-tasking their way through project meetings and managing their open issues decks as if all issues were created equally.

Critical Chain is about applying the Theory of Constraints to project management, staying on task, focusing on what needs to be done, paying attention to the key constaints (e.g. overburdened resources) that threaten to cause problems for tasks on the critical path.

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The author in general has amazing books, such as "the goal" or even "Theory of Constraints" which have taught me a lot of knowledge I can apply to various things. –  Incognito Feb 16 '11 at 21:14
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Rapid Development by Steve McConnell. Hit just the right level of technical and project related material and really inspired me to move on from being a software developer to wanting to manage my own projects.

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I personally enjoyed Scott Berkun's Making Things Happen book. While not PM-specific, Michael Loop's Managing Humans book is a great book on managing software teams.

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Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects - taught me a lot about how we set ourselves up for failure.

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The PMBOK

(I am not working for them :)

The training I did for PMP exam and the PMBOK answered many questions I had been asking myself for years. It provided a structured approach I had never been introduced to.

When and how do you define who does what, how do you document it, how do you make sure you don't forget something, how do you manage risks.

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Software Project Survival Guide - It helped me allot in my toddling period and still keep it as a good reference book.

Its written by Steve McConnell, also author of great book "Code Complete".

List of his other books.

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Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management

-- by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby

Practices of an Agile Developer

-- by Venkat Subramaniam and Andy Hunt

And for me, the best of all:

Ship It!: A Practical Guide to Successful Software Projects

-- by Jared Richardson, Will Gwaltney, Jr

Yes, I love The Pragmatic Bookshelf, they publish great sources of informations and inspirations !

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The Deadline: A Novel About Project Management by Tom Demarco

This one is a real page turner since it is a novel with management abstracts for the lessons learned - highly recommended!

See also my summery/review of the book (in German but getting the gist should not be a problem thanks to google translate ;-)
http://www.ephorie.de/demarco_projektmanagement.htm

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Death March, The Complete Software Developer's Guide to Surviving Mission Impossible Projects. by Ed Yourdon.

Peopleware, Tom de Marco and Timothy Lister (I have a signed copy from Timothy from a speech he gave in Monterrey Mexico)

Rita Mulcahy PMP Preparation Book.

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I would go with these three:

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The Essential Drucker -the father of modern management and godfather of project management.

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The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership.

Very nice, gave me a new perspective about leadership.

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Death March, The Complete Software Developer's Guide to Surviving Mission Impossible Projects. by Ed Yourdon.

I also recommend Getting Real and Rework. Both books, by 37Signals, are not directly PM-oriented but both contain the best ideas on gettng to the point and getting things done.

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The best two for me both come from the unique mind of Jim McCarthy:

Dynamics of Software Development - grew out of his famous presentations at PDCs in the early 90s, Jim give such sage advice as:

  • Never trade a bad date for a worse one: When your realize that the schedule date estimate you've given was wrong, don't immediately give another (probably much worse) estimate. Rather seek to find out why you were wrong, figure out how to eliminate those error sources and THEN give a date that actually means something.
  • Be like a doctor: When someone asks you a question you can't answer, bracket the possibilities with appropriate uncertainty declaration. Then do the tests that will help you figure out what the correct answer is.
  • Don't flip the Bozo bit: Don't cause (or allow) yourself to dismiss someone's ideas and information just because you don't agree.
  • Beware the guy in the room: You know, that guy who is the only one that can get the job done, because nobody understands him, or his idea.

My second selection is the logical follow-up and expansion of these ideas into a full training guide for teams. Software For Your Head. This book is so valuable because it builds out the concept that a good manager is all about building teams, not leading people. The simple truth is that each team needs to extract the best of each member, while limiting the exposure of the weaknesses of the members. A great manager shelters his team from distractions, guides the process and gets out of the way.

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Wow, great question. The one that got me thinking about something besides whips and chains was Barry Boehm's Software Engineering Economics. I have a number of the others mentioned on my shelf downstairs. DeMarco & Lister, Yourdon, McCarthy -- all very good.

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Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister

Software Project Survival Guide: How to Be Sure Your First Important Project Isn't Your Last. (Steve Mcconnell)

Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art (Steve Mcconnell)

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Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton, Heen and Fisher

Not a PM book per se, but is a fantastic resource for the most important of PM skills, communication.

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PMP Exam Prep, Sixth Edition: Rita's Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam , by Rita Mulcahy. It's the best you can find about project management, after PMBOK itself, of course.

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Picking only one would be hard. If I had to rank them:

  1. The Mythical Man-Month. Fred Brooks. This is the only book I would say should be required reading for any PM of a software project.
  2. Crystal Clear: A Human-Powered Methodology for Small Teams. Alistair Cockburn - showed me how lightweight an agile project could be and made me think about 'softer' PM skills.
  3. Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed. Boehm & Turner. This book has helped me many times communicate to management the complex balance between Agile and (most often) CMMI - it also has margin notes for time pressed executives!
  4. Five Core Metrics: The Intelligence Behind Successful Software Management. Putnam & Meyers - this got me re-thinking my use of COCOMO and my approach to cost estimation in general.
  5. Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace. Gordon MacKenzie. This is not a PM book, per se, but rather can help you as a PM tap into the creativity latent in you and your project team.

I also must say that even though the Pragmatic Programmer is not a PM book, it drastically affected the way I managed software projects. It's also the book I most often recommend to programmers to read.

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Leading a Software Development Team has got awesome, practical advice on the various challenges faced in software projects.

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Architect's Professional Practice Manual - it is about architecture and building construction but the methods and explanations are really smooth and easy for non-technical people to understand. I've used the ideas here for presenting and explaining IT projects.

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If I had to pick one I would have a hard time choosing between the following two:

The first one is a book by Klaus D. Tumuscheit. Unfortunately there doesn't appear to be an English translation available, which is a pity. The original is in German (Überleben im Projekt: 10 Projektfallen und wie man sie umgeht - ISBN-10: 3636012916) and there's also a Dutch translation (ISBN 9055941425). The advice given is timeless, not related to any industry (eg IT), funny, practical, as real as it gets, and just common good sense. If you master one of these languages, I highly recommend this book for seasoned or new project manager.

Secondly, I finally found what I think is the best resource on creating the WBS (and I've read a few!): "Building a Project Work Breakdown Structure: Visualising objectives, deliverables, activities, and schedules", Dennis P. Miller, CRC Press/ESI , 2009, isbn 978-1-4200-6969-3

Enjoy!

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Worth mention on decision making and understanding irrational decisions, is the book Sway.

It's focused on a few common causes of irrational behavior, and bad decision making.

For example, why the chief of safety for an airline would take off without authorization, killing everyone. It explains why that sort of thing happens.

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The Mythical Man Month. A classic with lots of lessons that are timeless. Even after a lots of years the knowledge that that book stores proves to be a very useful material in the world of Project Management, especially so when dealing with Software projects.

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Patrick Lencioni - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

A great book that shows a live example of how bad can happen when inside the team and at the interface between the team and PM.

After reading this book I had many thoughts about how to work with the team and I began to see the source of the dysfunctions in our environment.

I believe that reading the book made a lot of good things to the way I work, so I highly recommend it.

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The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder

It chronicles the experiences of a computer engineering team racing to design a next-generation computer at a blistering pace under tremendous pressure. The machine was launched in 1980 as the Data General Eclipse MV/8000. The book won the 1982 National Book Award for Nonfiction[1] and a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

...

The work environment described in the book is in many ways opposite of what is taught in business schools. Instead of top-down management, many of the innovations are started at the grassroots level. Instead of management having to coerce labor to work harder, labor volunteers to complete the project on-time. The reason for this is that people will give their best when the work itself is challenging and rewarding. Many of the engineers state that, "They don't work for the money", meaning they work for the challenge of inventing and creating. The motivational system is akin to the game of pinball, the analogy that if you win this round, you get to play the game again; that is, build the next generation of computers.
A running theme in the book is the tension between engineering quality and haste: the engineers, challenged to bring a minicomputer to market on a very short timeframe, are encouraged to cut corners on design. Tom West describes his motto as "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well," or "If you can do a quick-and-dirty job and it works, do it."The engineers, in turn, complain that the team's goal is to "put a bag on the side of the Eclipse" — in other words, to turn out an inferior product in order to have it completed more quickly.
Tom West practices the '"Mushroom Theory of Management" — "keeping them in the dark, feeding them shit, and watch them grow." That is, isolating the design team from outside influences and instead using the fear of the unknown to motivate the team.

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For me it is a book from a UK-based author: Richard Newton. He is not known outside Europe but his work is really great. The book is called The Project Manager - Mastering the Art of Delivery

I enjoyed it a lot because Richard writes in a very personal manner, based on his actual experience. Unlike other PM books, it is not a collection of dry & theoretical recommendations. It's simply real-life experience shared honestly with his readers.

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