The Art of Project Management by Scott Berkun, ISBN: 0-596-00786-8

Reviewed by: Thomas V. Kappel, PMP, July 2005
Published by: O'Reilly
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$39.95; CAN$55.95

Although the title of this book gives away its form and focus, it's not exactly your average project management book. Rather, it's a high flying personal view of project management by Scott Berkun, with dips, takeoffs and landings and lots of I's: I had, I often, I did, I was, and so on throughout the text. Berkun worked as a Project Manager (PM) at Microsoft for 10 years on Internet Explorer, MSN and Microsoft Windows projects.

Scott believes in 3's. There are three phases of project management: design, implementation, and testing. This book is also divided into three main sections: plans, skills, and management. Each section has exactly 5 chapters each running roughly 25 to 35 pages or so. The book has a total of 448 pages including notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, photo credits, and the index. I could almost reverse-engineer the Microsoft Project Schedule for writing this book.

As I indicated above, this is a different book about project management. It's a personal view, almost a group of essays, filled with the author's experiences, beliefs, thoughts and ideas. It is a book of advice. Some of the chapters are: Where Ideas Come From; Power and Politics; How to Make Things Happen; How Not to Annoy People: Process, E-mail and Meetings; End Game Strategy; What To Do When Things Go Wrong.

Perhaps the best example of the author's rare approach is the (usually) important chapter on project schedules. So often discussed in depth in other books, Berkun has it covered in only 22 of this book's 448 pages. The "About the Author" page does not have a picture of the author. Instead there is a picture of an empty bookshelf which the author states he intends to fill with books he is going to write—such as this first one. This is definitely a Zen-like approach to project management and one can assume that now that Berkun has a project history and schedule to work from, more books will be produced relatively quickly.

Even the form factor of this book is unusual. It is roughly a 5.5 x 8.5 inch trade paperback sized book. The pages look like regular sized 8.5 x 11 inches optically reduced in size and assembled and printed like a desktop published on-demand type of book which in fact it was. The book was converted into FrameMaker with a form conversion tool. The fonts, Adobe Meridien for text and ITC Bailey for headings, are crisp, clean and clear. Still, those of you to whom this information is important may find this book uncomfortable to read and you should take a look at it in a bookstore before buying.

So, enough said about the book itself, what about the content?

I often tell others that if I go to a meeting or read a book and I learn one thing or get one idea from the experience, then it is worth the money and the time spent. Knowledge is valuable and is our coin of the trade. There is a lot to learn in this book. Berkun brings intelligence, insight, thoughtful commentary and experiences learned from difficult Microsoft projects. It is like learning from and discussing the experiences of a peer or, for new project managers, learning theory and practice from a young master. What you will learn is one man's view of project management theory and practice. Granted, it is not the type of book that will greatly help you study and pass the Project Management Institute's (PMI) difficult test for Project Management Professional Certification (PMP), but it will definitely help you in performing real world project management.

In chapter 16, at the end of the book, you are taken aside and given a heart-to-heart talk about power and politics. This also is definitely not something you usually see in a book on project management. The sources of power, the misuse of power, the causes for the misuse of power, how to solve political problems and tactics for influencing power are all usually hard lessons learned in life, business and in running projects. The thoughts and ideas shared here will take you a long way in life and business.

Finally, the notes section at the end of the book gives you chapter by chapter comments, things to read to support the ideas in the chapter, and thoughts and comments that needed to be shared, but just didn't seem to fit into the body of the work. The very last part of the book is the annotated bibliography. This, more than any other part of the publication shows you its scope and viewpoint. References for philosophy and strategy books lead the list, along with psychology, management and politics, history and science. Software processes and methodology references end this valuable section.

I enjoyed many parts of the book. There's a lot packed into its nearly 500 pages of somewhat small print. A slightly bigger book and slightly larger font would have made it better with about the same number of paper pages, but perfection is elusive and a matter of opinion. Its rather small chapters, with bite size sections, are good for a busy PM to grab and read during breaks (yeah, right—like we get any), but certainly at lunch or at home before turning out the light. I recommend The Art of Project Management where the valuable information and advice overrides the questionable form factor.

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