Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Book Review: How to Cheat at IT Project Management by Susan Snedaker

Arguably the most vital role in an IT development project’s success is that of the Project Manager (PM). And in the big world of IT Project Management, there are many resources available to the PM from process improvement systems like CMMI and ISO 9000 to all-in-one reference guides, seminars, webinars and PM workshops.

Syngress Publishing’s How to Cheat at IT Project Management by Susan Snedaker is a recent entry into the project management reference guide category. And though this book is a reference guide, its title is somewhat misrepresentative. Not unlike crying in baseball, I say there is no cheating in project management. Effective project management requires too much preparation and planning to risk any half-baked shortcut that the word “cheating” implies. But don’t let my critique of the book’s title scare you away. Just read on.

How to Cheat at IT Project Management makes no bones about the results one can achieve by following its methods and techniques. The bar is set in the Foreword with the following statement: “In this book, you’ll learn how to become an exceptional IT professional.” Wow! I want to be an exceptional IT professional. I can’t wait to read this book!

From the start, it’s very obvious that the author is extremely knowledgeable about project management. She has not only accurately captured the more common and even obvious aspects of the role, but she speaks to topics such as politics, leadership buy-in and team member cultural issues—all subjects that are usually encountered on the job and not in books.

And as accurate and insightful as the information is, it is made even better in the way the book is organized. Each chapter contains a concise introduction, well developed topics, a thorough summary, concise bullet lists covering each section’s main points and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that reflect the chapter’s contents.

Additional features include:
  • Enterprise 128—This is a case study from an actual project gone awry that illustrates how effective project management could have helped avert its doomed destiny.
  • Cheat Sheets—These mini-topics (usually no more that a few short paragraphs) contain helpful tips on many subjects, including IT Team Performance, Task Ownership and Selecting Project Management Software Tools.
  • Applying your Knowledge—These topics help the reader apply what they’ve read in the previous section.
  • The IT Factor—These entries contain interesting and applicable information relating to the current topic.

Additionally, when you register at the publisher’s website, you get access to even more resources, including sample project management templates and supporting documentation, four e-booklets containing related topics from other Syngress books, links to resources listed in the book and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) reprinted from the first five chapters of the book (I’m not sure why all the FAQs from chapters 6–12 weren’t included.).

Visually, the book is quite nice. The text’s large point size makes it easy to highlight key points without unintentionally marking up other things. Headings and subheads really stand out. I like the author’s use of “chunking” in which the information is communicated into small and easily comprehendible pieces. Bolding along with numbered and bullet lists are used effectively throughout the book. The book also contains many useful tables, flows and charts.

The only negatives I could take away from this book are the occasional statement that I personally disagree with. See the following statement for an example of this: “Set clear expectations about their participation, and when the requirements are agreed upon, they should be ‘etched in stone’ to prevent scope creep.” This assumes that the PM can control variables that are typically, in my experience, out of a PM’s control.

I’m all for avoiding scope creep, but how about setting up a mechanism for unforeseen changes like a Change Request process? Who are we kidding, unforeseen changes will happen and it’s not always cost-effective to create another project for the additional functionality. As much as we wish it were true, etching requirements in stone isn’t always the right solution.

There is another passage where the author recommends that PMs “resist defining or managing big, complex projects.” In my experience, resisting managing a big, complex project can quickly turn into managing no projects at all if you catch my drift.

I believe both seasoned and newer PMs will enjoy the information this book provides. This book is not a complete end-to-end project management resource, nor does it claim to be. “It is intended to get you up and running in IT project management with the least amount of effort and the most amount of improvement possible.” And for that, I totally recommend How to Cheat at IT Project Management.


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