Category: My books shelf

“The biggest bluff” by Maria Konnikova

Project managers are decision-making machines. Every day, our brains process enormous amounts of information and engage in decision-making almost incessantly. It gives us the feeling of being in control.

Maria Konnikova challenges that with “We humans too often think ourselves in firm control when we are really playing by the rules of chance.” From academic research to gambling/poker, “The biggest bluff: how I learned to pay attention, take control and master the odds” is a witty immersion into psychology, people reading and emotional nuance. The book is beating out a number of illusions we hold dear in decision making.

It is not rare in project management to attribute success exclusively to skill and dismiss pure luck. In all of honesty, some things are pure chance. It is up to how humble we are to recognise it.

« Summing up: a professional memoir» by Bertram Fields

Why is this book on a project management blog? you might ask. Well, I am a believer in learning from every trade.

First about the book. As its title says, you’ll find there the mémoires of a prominent US entertainment lawyer, who is also a writer and teacher. He is also famous for having fired Trump (before his tenure).

His writing style is brilliant, soft and tender, balanced, honest, humorous and slightly ironic. The reader is not exhausted with legalistic tournure de phrase and is treated with care and friendliness. Which makes it inspirational for other lines of business.

There are numerous reasons for featuring this book review on this blog. It has many valuable insights into relationship and stakeholders management, the cornerstone of any project. Project managers can get tips here on negotiations and deals making along with contracts management, intrinsic to the management of any project. I absorbed the parts on his work ethics and the ways he dealt with dilemmas, some of which we also encounter in project management dealings. Never compromise your values regardless of the potential financial loss (see the firing of Trump).

Finally, the graciousness with which the author refers to his numerous opposing counselors and the other parties is worth following as an example in projects and beyond. And just one more – give credit where credit is due, especially to those who work behind the scenes.

The story of a book which saw the light in lockdown

On a bright April day, as I was casually browsing Linkedin for updates, I noticed a post by Peter Taylor:

A month into full lockdown, my brain jump at it with delight. “A legacy-book to be published in 21 days? Phew! Why so long?!” I thought to myself. So, I responded to the challenge and so did 55 other project managers across industries from around the world.

“The Projectless Manager: Inspirational Thoughts from a World of Project Managers” is now on Amazon, both in paperback and for Kindle.

It is dedicated to “A global community of health carers and key workers. Its proceeds go to NHS. The book is, as Peter puts it, “unique ‘in the moment’ and ‘of the moment’ book.”

It was such a by-the-book project by itself: on time, within budget and objective – achieved, all this with members of a tribe who basically only know each other by Linkedin profiles.

I have to mention kids here. Those who know me, know that I am a full-time kids’ advocate. The cover is a result of a challenge for 9 year olds. So, it is also an inter-generational act of contribution and sharing. Kudos to kids!

“Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great” by Carmine Gallo

Persuasion is an ancient art many know about and very few excel at. Carmine Gallo, bestselling author of Talk Like TED, builds the bridge between ancient Aristotle’s formula of persuasion to our modern era of “tectonic change”.

The book is full of evidence that communication is a must-have skill, collected from works of and interviews with renown economists, neuroscientists, global business leaders and billionaires.

Communication is the top skill which sets apart successful project managers. Team communication, stakeholders communication, sponsors communication and, sometimes – self-talk, are daily tasks and duties of a project management.

The author shares tips on how to master the art of communication from good to great. I wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone aspiring to do so.

“Securing the 21st century. Protecting the Planet” address by James D.Wolfensohn

Look what I found in my home library! The address of the World Bank President to the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. October 2004.

It contains some promising headlines: “We can meet the challenge”; “Protecting the Planet: Environment Sustainability”; “Scaling up the Fight against Poverty”; “Youth and Education”; “Global Leadership for the21st Century”; “Conclusions: Promises to keep”. All the right words and calls for action.

An address or a speech is not a report. It is still a public statement by a person with power. People in power are accountable in every deed and word. I know I am a bit over-stretching it. Still, I am curious if there was any follow-up. Fifteen years forward, according to Greta Thunberg, a voice of youth, who took seriously the decades of silence: ‘Almost nothing is being done’ (COP25 summit,  Madrid 2019).

In development management there are many who say that they will do it and then do not. My take-away – if you say you’ll do it, do it. Be one of the rare ones.

Text available here: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/801111468149959845/Securing-the-21st-century-protecting-the-planet

“How good people make tough choices. Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living” by Rushworth M. Kidder

While choices and decisions in project management might not be as extreme as some of the examples in the book, I find it an useful resource to come back to, when options are analysed and decisions need to be made.

The author tells us from onset that “The book is for those who want to address and resolve tough choices by energetic self-reflection”. Tough choices are defined as those putting one “right” value against another. These fell, in the book, in four paradigms:

⁃ Truth versus loyalty;

⁃ Individual versus community;

⁃ Short-term versus long-term; and

⁃ Justice versus mercy.

I experienced or witnessed some of the above dilemmas, either in projects I managed or in my fellow colleagues’ projects. Ethical fitness is required in each of these dilemmas. It can be built, the same way as physical fitness, by practice.

Case in point 1. Truth vs loyalty

Mary was given a project in its last phase of implementation. It had clear symptoms of a troubled project: budget underspending, unfinished deliverables, unhappy sponsor, to name a few. Mary assessed what would be the best course of action. On the one hand she could not possibly do in 6 months what was not done in 18 months. Speaking the truth would have put the previous project manager in a negative light and would have helped Mary save face. Recovering the project, on the other hand, would have demonstrated Mary’s loyalty to her values of professionalism and to the sponsor and client. After days of weighting both choices, Mary chose loyalty and delivered the project on time and with a 85% budget spent.

Case in point 2. Short term vs long term

Peter was caught into the design of a project which was at risk of a huge scope creep. It was a multi-stakeholder project and everyone wanted a piece of pie. Accepting all demands would have played well in the short run. All stakeholders would be happy and presumably committed to the project. In the medium to long term, it would have imploded, as Peter knew from experience that it could not be done within the budget the sponsor was willing to commit. Quality would also be compromised and the chances of accessing future funds from this same donor would shrink. Peter was frank at the last stakeholders meeting. He was explicit on consequences of “accepting it all” and also acknowledged the disappointment of having to drop some desires. He lost couple of supporters at that meeting. He regained them though in 12 months through excellent project delivery.

“The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance and Happiness”, by James Altucher and Claudia Azula

The book is centered around stories told in turn by authors. These are personal stories and examples. I read the book in 2015. I find it continuously relevant in professional and personal environments.

Any project manager finds him/herself overwhelmed with demands and requests. The book offers tips on how to regain the control of your project. As they say, “it is you who manages the project, not the other way around”.

The-Power-of-No

Of the tips of interest, I collected for instance:

– how to say No to stress;

– how to get unstuck;

– what thoughts are useful or unuseful or how to separate yourself from your brain;

– burn the excuses (“I cannot change”, “I have too many responsibilities”, “what would they say”….);

– “no-complaints” diet.

I loved the concept of “Homo luminous” this book introduced. The book suggests quite a few practices/exercises to make it happen. Gratitude is one of them. This part inspired me to start sending hand-written Winter Holidays cards, to express my gratitude to anyone who has done me a favour or was of good service and/or made a difference in a project.

“The Lazy project manager” by Peter Taylor

I liked Taylor’s book “The Project manager who smiled”. I also liked “The Lazy project manager”.

I find the book’s lazy stuff very entertaining. Being on a train back from a mission and with two very serious gentlemen did not stop me from bursting into a loud laugh. You’ll read the story of Peter’s photograph taken in a giant bright orange and green carrot outfit, when he worked on the introduction of project management methodology in a company, and you’ll understand it. I could have used it when I worked in a project management office and had the same carrot or stick dilemma to incentivize the introduction of a similar methodology. Even only if to diffuse the tension around it.

The book spoke to me, as it seemed in parts dedicated to me: “You are on yet another flight, either to or from your latest project engagement, somewhere in the world.” Yes, that’s where I read it.

Taylor is honest. He does not present it as a project management book. Still, anyone on a learning path will find something useful. There were a number of things I learned. There were others I changed perspective on. Depending on your background and experience in project management, some of the lines of the book might resonate with you. Some may do so to a less extent. For example, for me the part on “complex project – senior project manager” in the context of risks raised other considerations. In addition to the number of years of experience, I would also consider the risk aversion. Some senior project managers might take on more risks, namely because of their experience. At the same time, some project managers at the start of their career might embrace a more cautious approach.

If you adhere to the productive laziness approach, you will find many useful tips in this book. Still, regardless of your productivity philosophy, I wish you to enjoy a pleasant project management ride wherever you are.

Books, external views and why they matter in projects

Last month I went to the presentation of the book entitled “Moldova at the crossroads between worlds“, written by the Honorary Senator, Honorary member of PACE, Josette Durrieu and Science Po Paris Professor, Researcher Associate HEC, Florent Permentier.

I will not go into the content of the book. That deserves a separate post. I have collected a number of take aways of a different nature valid for the project management practice:

1. It is always refreshing to look at things/places/processes you know (or you think you know) through external eyes. It is a good tip to remember when going trough projects’ assumptions. It is equally valuable valuable to peer review projects proposals, for an external view.

2. Bringing in testimonials of those who lived through the times described in the book enriches (would have, in this case) the discussion. It is what we call “inclusive stakeholders’ discussion” and respect for diversity in project management.

3. What is the motivation behind those external eyes is as important at the cover of the book/report. We know what they say about the cover of the book. Also, as Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize-winning psychologist, puts it “Motives are rarely straightforward”. In project’s design, assumptions about stakeholders’ motivation can make or break a project. Also, the legitimacy of sources of info is paramount.

4. The past is important. So, are lessons learned. Yet, these alone are not predictive of what the future holds in store. This is important to remember in development management in what we call “the era of disruption”.

This book presentation reminded me of the book I proudly contributed to in 2004 together with a group of co-national and international authors – “The EU and Moldova. On a fault-line of Europe” (London: Federal Trust for Education and Research, edited by Ann Lewis).