Saturday, July 28, 2007

Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management, by Johanna Rothman

Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management, by Johanna Rothman

This book is best summed up on the cover: “There is no One True Way that works for all projects.” That message alone makes this one of the most valuable management texts I’ve read in a while. Most books in this genre detail a single approach to project management and claim superiority over all others. Rothman take a much more pragmatic approach (not too surprising as this is published under The Pragmatic Programmer banner) that is refreshing in its honesty. Instead of being told to drink the kool-aid for any one particular style, we are shown the buffet and told to take what we want.

There are many gems of wisdom here, several of which resonated with me. The variety of topics is wide, ranging from planning to completion, managing up as well as down, hardware projects (albeit briefly) as well as software, and managing multi-site projects and multi-project programs. The topic of testing has a good overview as well, from unit level at one end of the spectrum to system testing at the other. One interesting discussion describes the difference between QA and testing (and today’s reality that most QA groups are really testing groups): QA can and should reach into all aspects of a product—including the development process itself—and has the power to make changes to improve the quality of not just the product but the organization as a whole. I’ve met a few QA managers that fit this description, but by and large I realize my experience has been with mis-titled testers instead; I suspect this section will color my view towards this area of software development for the foreseeable future.

One piece of advice I liked was the recommendation for managers to develop multiple skills while on a project: interpersonal, functional, domain, and non-technical. Instead of simply getting to know the requirements and schedules, work with everyone involved to become a well-rounded manager in both knowledge and skill. Even if the project fails (and Rothman also advocates that knowing when it is time to leave a failing company or project is an important skill) your professional development still advances. Too often it is too easy for me to get caught up in the day-to-day demands of getting a project to completion; remembering to stop and smell the flowers and examine the big picture strikes me as an excellent idea.

This book covers a wealth of topics and yet is less than 350 pages; this means that many terms and approaches aren’t covered in great detail. They are all summarized, though, and a healthy bibliography is in the back so avenues of further research are easily discovered. If you are about to embark on your first management gig or if you are a grizzled veteran, this text should be on your bookshelf.

First Sentence:
The easiest way to start a project wrong is to just start.

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