Category: project management books

Book Review: Lean from the Trenches

Cover of the book "Lean from the Trenches"

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”
– Yogi Berra. Or Albert Einstein. Or Jan L.A van de Snepscheut. Or…

Sometimes, we all get too caught up on the theories behind project management. Which process should we follow? Do we need to get certification from PMI, or in PRINCE2? Should we be using Kanban, XP, Agile, all of the above?

But it’s important to remember that the theory is only important when it helps with the practice of project management – in other words, when it actually helps us get projects done, quicker, cheaper, better.

That’s why Lean from the Trenches by Henrik Kniberg┬áis so useful. It isn’t trying to tell you the one true way of managing a project. It isn’t setting out exactly what you should do so your project can be classed as Lean. It isn’t a set of prescriptions on what you must do.

What it is is a description of one particular project, over one particular span of time, and the way that it was managed during that period. It lets you know the successes, and the difficulties, so you can see for yourself what worked and what didn’t.

And, as always, reality is much messier than the textbooks would have you believe. The project described, a large-scale software project for the Swedish police, is complicated and high-profile. The project team increases in size dramatically over the period this book covers. The release schedule doesn’t fit with the theories.

But… it works. It delivers. And that’s the most important thing for any project – delivery.

Kniberg explains what was done to help the project’s management, and how it worked or didn’t. It covers, very briefly, the key ideas behind Agile, Lean, Scrum, XP, and Kanban, but goes beyond them, showing you the way they were applied, tweaked, and adjusted to meet the needs of the project.

The story told of the project is interesting, and should spark ideas that go further than the theory alone. The way the principles behind the various Agile methods are applied offers greater understanding.

For myself, as a relative novice when it comes to purely software projects, I found it the most useful project management book I have ever read. If you want to get better by drawing on the experience of others, read this book.

Purchase on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk.

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Book Review: Networking for People Who Hate Networking

Cover Image for Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora ZackI’ll be honest with you: I used to hate networking. I really did. It always seemed like a pointless succession of stifling small-talk, cold canapes, and woeful wine. Despite what I wrote last time, Why Networking Matters, I used to rather be, well, pretty much anywhere else. I always figured that I was weird or odd – most everyone else I saw at these events seemed to enjoy them, while I forced myself through them.

Thankfully, Networking for People Who Hate Networking by Devora Zack has set me straight. It’s not that I’m not suited for networking, it’s that I’m not suited to doing it that way – I’m an introvert trying to ape an extrovert. And that just doesn’t work.

This book’s subtitle is “A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected”, and that is exactly what it is. Zack starts off by arguing that the ‘traditional’ tenets of networking aren’t wrong, but are only one way of approaching it. They are a set of advice and techniques that work well for people who are extroverted – in other words, people who are probably doing just that already!

But there is more than one way to network, and Zack sets out new principles and techniques for you to try, building on your own strengths. So, for example, she suggests that an extrovert would typically excel at a networking event, with light banter, while an introvert would impress after the event, by making thoughtful and helpful follow-ups. Both styles can work, both can be effective, but trying to follow the wrong style for you is going to be a disaster – and leave you like me, muttering that you hate networking.

The ‘right’ style for introverts is described with three simple rules, based around Pause, Process, and Pace. Networking for People Who Hate Networking uses these general principles, and shows how they can be applied to certain types of situations, ranging from networking events through business travel up to job searching. Throughout, Zack highlights ways introverts can apply their strengths to achieve impressive results.

This book absolutely isn’t for everyone – as it says in the title! – but it is a networking book which, unlike others I have read, actually seemed to be talking to me. The new techniques, and indeed the new way of looking at networking and my own abilities at it, have encouraged me to try new things, and get better at building my own personal network.

So if you’re a project manager who feels overwhelmed at networking events, who would prefer to be having an in-depth conversation rather than trifling small-talk, or who sometimes looks at social butterflies and wonders why you find it so hard, give it a try.

Purchase on Amazon.com, Amazon UK.

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Trust your team

Italian tug of war teamIt’s the people we work with who get projects done, but sometimes we don’t act like it.

When people talk about project management, a lot of the time they only seem to focus on the easy bits – the processes, procedures and methodologies. I don’t mean that these are simple to do, but they can be written down, tweaked, and agreed upon – they are easy to discuss.

What is less simple is team management, which is more important. No matter how good your plan, or how impressive your documentation, if your team aren’t committed to it, or just don’t know about it, then your project will fail.

That’s why I was interested to read two recent articles from Elizabeth Harrin’s blog, A Girl’s Guide To Project Management. They deal with the concept of team coaching, and what team leaders and members can do to help a team work well together.

The articles are an interview with Phil Hayes, and a review of his book. There are some interesting ideas in there, and they are certainly worth a read.

Personally, I think the only thing I’d add (or at least make more explicit) is the importance of trust within a team. All team members, including the nominal leader, need to be able to trust one another. As a project manager, I always try to demonstrate trust in my team by leaving them in peace to get on with assigned tasks, and by treating their concerns seriously.

This doesn’t mean I cross my fingers and hope work gets done – there are still regular update meetings. But this is about making sure everyone on the team knows where we are collectively, and is aware of any issues (and can suggest possible solutions!), and not an adversarial check on what they’ve done.

For my part, I try to show their trust in me is valid by dealing with problems promptly, always being available to help remove obstacles in the path of their work, and most importantly, letting them know I have confidence in them to get the work done.

I find once the team realises the project is a safe, shared environment, they are able to collaborate, and contribute, much more freely and effectively.

What about you? What are your tips for team management?

(Image courtesy of toffehoff. Some rights reserved.)

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