Two Books on Project Management
I always feel badly about giving a book a poor review. Whatever else it may be, it's somebody's baby. Someone put hundreds or thousands of hours into saying something they thought was important (or at least, something they thought other people would spend money to know). Sometimes I find myself making excuses for books, like "Maybe I'm just not its target market" (translation: I can't imagine who it's for). But when I read two books on the same subject back to back, and one is so clearly better than the other, it's hard not to point that out.
So: Augustine's Managing Agile Projects was, unfortunately, not as good a book as Berkun's Art of Project Management. Its core content was solid enough: if you believe in agile methods (I'm still agnostic), then MAP is a usable description of what you have to do other than program in order to make a project succeed. However, I've had to sit through a lot of talks by managers who were using buzz words as a substitute for real understanding. As a result, when someone starts using terms like "fractal teams", I have to wonder whether I'm getting meat or bun. Similarly, telling me to evolve a shared team vision is all very nice (hugs all around!), but how do I know when I've got one? I mean, how do I actually know, unequivocally, that people are on the same page?
In contrast, it's clear from the first page of The Art of Project Management that Berkun understands how software developers think, what frustrates them, and what they want to know. The book is divided into three sections, called "Plans", "Skills", and "Management". Each is full of hardheaded advice on topics ranging from scheduling to decision making and what should be in a product requirements document.
Just as importantly, Berkun talks about the really important parts of management---team building, trust, and communication---in a much more concrete way than most other management books. There's no Zen, no quotes from German philosophers that I'm pretty sure he hasn't read, and no kayaking anecdotes. Instead, he says that if you've fallen behind, one way to catch up is to hide from everyone for a few days so that you won't be interrupted, and that another is to call in favors, beg, and bribe people. Don't be misled by the soft-edged diagrams: Berkun is clearly a get-it-done kind of manager, and this is very much a get-it-done book.
Sanjiv Augustine: Managing Agile Projects. Prentice Hall PTR, 2005, 0131240714, 229 pages.
Scott Berkun: The Art of Project Management. O'Reilly, 2005, 0596007868, 374 pages.