Mastering the art of project delivery

I’ve been a fan of Richard Newton’s book “The Project Manager — Mastering the Art of Delivery” since it first came out in 2005 and have pointed colleagues to it (sometimes “Wannabe PMs”) whenever they ask for a book recommendation.

But if you haven’t discovered it yet, please do buy it and read it.

Do NOT rely solely on Prince2 or PMP training — the methodologies will only get you so far and may clutter your head with some things which aren’t that important.

Anyway here are the first two pages of Richard Newton’s Introduction which will hopefully give you a flavour of his book...

The Secret Art

How do you consistently manage complex projects successfully?

There are people who are very successful at running projects. They have a track record in continuously meeting the objectives of complicated developments. When brought into conversation, and if they are being open, they will often query why people value what they do so highly. Not because the things delivered in projects are not highly valuable but because they think what they do is not that difficult. A regular argument is ‘it’s really just common sense isn’t it’. They work hard, but they do not get into that maniacal stress and overload that is often a feature of less well-run projects. They seem to be calmly in control. On the other hand there is a huge number of people, including many project managers, for whom delivery of projects is at best a hard fought struggle and at worst a complete mystery. A secret art that they have not mastered. They somehow do not have the same type of common sense referred to by their more successful peers. So what is this black magic that is so simple to some and yet impossibly hard to others?

It’s time to share some of the secrets.

Project management is a skill set greatly in demand within both the public and private sectors. A skill set that a few decades ago would probably not have been formally recognised in any consistent way. Now it exists internationally both as an established profession in its own right, and as a competence that forms a part of many managers’ general toolkit of capabilities. The demand for experienced project management professionals is a reflection of its success.

Why read this book?

And yet for all its success and demand, there is something wrong. Ask a cross-section of managers in any large organisation do they have absolute, or even high confidence in their organisation’s ability to deliver projects and you will get a resounding no. There have been countless studies of the low percentage of projects that are delivered to time and budget, or the high percentage that are late or even never completed, and the figures are usually depressing. For all the processes, training and methodologies there is a gap between the hype and expectations and the practical experience. And yet in contrast to this, most organisations have, or know of a few people, ‘safe pairs of hands’, who can consistently manage to deliver exceptional projects to time and budget. What causes this gap, and what is it that these individual safe pairs of hands do that is different?

To many people outside the project management profession it can seem at one extreme an almost mystically valuable black art and at the other a set of bureaucratic pomposity. At times the latter can be true, but project management is not magic and it is of tremendous value when well applied. The problem actually lies with those last three words of the previous sentence ‘when well applied’. Applying things well is hard enough, but on top of this there is little common consensus in the case of project management about what good application looks like.

At one level good application can be seen as the use of a quality project management approach. The profession is supported by a set of processes and methodologies which attempt to define ‘how’ to run a project. However, ask an experienced project manager what makes a good project manager and they will rarely mention understanding of the formal methodologies. The open secret among project managers is that good project management is about how you work, interact and communicate with people...

You can buy the latest edition of the book here.


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