A New Book Review by a Critical Chain Aficionado, and What Does Each of My Books Offer?

A lot happened this past week: a trip to DC to present to the PMIWDC Chapter wound up leading to a meeting with a very bright and knowledgeable CCPM aficionada and author named Mike Hannon of Fortezza Consulting. Mike had recently read my book Managing Projects as Investments: Earned Value to Business Value, and had some very interesting questions and comments. He and I wound up in complete agreement that the Total Project Control (TPC) ideas, innovations and metrics described in that book offer great value to project management in any flavor: agile, CCPM or traditional.

Yesterday, I received an email from Mike with a link to his blog where he had gone ahead and posted an extremely complimentary (but also insightful!) review of Managing Projects as Investments. Mike thoroughly “gets it”, expanding on one of the book’s examples regarding a life-saving immunization program to further illustrate the importance of a project’s “business value”. And with his CCPM background, he is able to summarize:

1. The binary “success-or-failure” thinking that prevails in assessing project performance is shortsighted, as is the singular emphasis on delivering within planning constraints.

2. We PMs need much more than heroism to deliver outcomes that maximize value—we need to understand how every activity on the critical chain¹ affects the value that the project is expected to deliver.

I urge all readers, but especially those CCPM or agile fans who have often been resistant to the new techniques I’ve suggested in various Internet discussion groups to, first, read Mike’s review and then consider reading the entire book. None of us is helped by shutting our eyes to new ideas in any discipline, but particularly in one that is still young and growing and clearly in need of improved practice.

Indeed, on the flight back from Washington, I began reading Mike’s (et al.) book The CIO’s Guide to Breakthrough Project Portfolio Performance: Applying the Best of Critical Chain, Agile, and Lean, and I am finding it most interesting! I plan to post a review here when I finish it, not simply to return Mike’s courtesy but because distribution of good new ideas is something that all of project management needs!

By the way, again in Internet discussions, one person expressed doubt that any of these ideas could really be new and worthwhile. The one guarantee I will give is that if you are concerned that Managing Projects as Investments may be the “same old, same old” in terms of project management books, I promise you that it isn’t! There are many, many new ideas and techniques in it that you will not have come across before. And if you don’t believe me (or Mike’s review), here are two other reviews you can read:

After my presentation to PMIWDC, several attendees bought copies of both my books from the Chapter bookstore. However, some only wanted to buy one copy, and were uncertain which one they should purchase. So let me take a moment just to explain the differences:

Both book covers

  1. Managing Projects as Investments: Earned Value to Business Value is written for an audience of project managers on up the hierarchy, to functional managers, program managers, project sponsors and customers and, especially, senior management. It describes many of the destructive aspects to current approaches (arbitrary deadlines, misunderstood and misapplied metrics, failure to quantify and track both the expected project value and the value/cost of time’s impact on that value) and provides simple fixes for these flaws. It provides simple examples of the value and application of critical path analysis and critical path drag, but does not “get into the weeds” of the sort of detail where a PM or professional scheduler should be comfortable. Finally, I believe the final two chapters provide one of the most succinct yet thorough descriptions and analyses of earned value management (EVM), both basic and advanced, both distortions and fixes.
  2. Total Project Control: A Practitioner’s Guide to Managing Projects as Investments is the book for PMs, schedulers and project team members. It does “get into the weeds” of how to:
  • Define product and project scope;
  • Develop and use both a WBS and a value breakdown structure;
  • Create a critical path network using complex dependencies and lags;
  • Avoid pitfalls like the reverse critical path anomaly that can invisibly add time to the schedule;
  • Compute drag and drag cost with all the different kinds of dependencies;
  • Use such analysis to justify additional resources and optimize project value;
  • Understand the different types of resource leveling and use them to improve project efficiency and avoid surprises;
  • Use drag analysis to recover a slipping schedule during execution.

As far as uses as textbooks in graduate courses is concerned, I believe that Total Project Control is the best one for a basic text in a Master’s of Project Management degree program. It will teach serious PMs and schedulers all of the rudiments as well as many advanced techniques. A project manager who has mastered these concepts is one that I would hire.

By contrast, Managing Projects as Investments is a text I would recommend in almost any MBA program! Our MBAs desperately need to be, but frequently aren’t, able to understand, analyze, sponsor and control project performance, as well as to create organizational structures and processes that will stem the ubiquitous bleeding of both value and funding that is the current state of things. And I would also recommend it as an auxiliary text in an MPM program course to augment and enrich one of the 700 page tomes in project operations that are so often used to teach the basic techniques, but do so in a rather lifeless fashion.

In addition, if any instructor assigns either of my books and then has their students critique them, I would be delighted to engage in a dialogue with the students on the topic(s) of their comments.

Those are my feelings about my books. If you have any further comments or questions, please do not hesitate to raise them in the discussion FORUM.

Fraternally in project management,

Steve the Bajan

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