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Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management (Theory in Practice) Revised Edition

53 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0596517717
ISBN-10: 0596517718
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Editorial Reviews Review

Based on his nine years of experience as a program manager for Microsoft’s biggest projects, Berkun explains to technical and non-technical readers alike what it takes to lead critical projects from start to finish. Here are 16 chapters on the critical and common challenges of leading projects and managing teams, diagrams, photography, and war stories of success and failure. Berkun offers practical tools and methods to make sure your projects succeed.

What To Do When Things Go Wrong
From Making Things Happen, Chapter 11

1. Calm down. Nothing makes a situation worse than basing your actions on fear, anger, or frustration. If something bad happens to you, you will have these emotions whether you’re aware of them or not. They will also influence your thinking and behavior whether you’re aware of it or not. (Rule of thumb: the less aware you are of your feelings, the more vulnerable you are to them influencing you.) Don’t flinch or overreact—be patient, keep breathing, and pay attention.

2. Evaluate the problem in relation to the project. Just because someone else thinks the sky has fallen doesn’t mean that it has. Is this really a problem at all? Whose problem is it? How much of the project (or its goals) is at risk or may need to change because of this situation: 5%? 20%? 90%? Put things in perspective. Will anyone die because of this mistake (you’re not a brain surgeon, are you?)? Will any cities be leveled? Plagues delivered on the innocent? Help everyone frame the problem to the right emotional and intellectual scale. Ask tons of questions and get people thinking rather than reacting. Work to eliminate assumptions. Make sure you have a tangible understanding of the problem and its true impact. Then, prioritize: emergency (now!), big concern (today), minor concern (this or next week), bogus (never). Know how long your fuse is to respond and prioritize this new issue against all existing work. If it’s a bogus issue, make sure whoever cried wolf learns some new questions to ask before raising the red flag again.

3. Calm down again. Now that you know something about the problem, you might really get upset (“How could those idiots let happen!?”). Find a way to express emotions safely: scream at the sky, workout at the gym, or talk to a friend. But do express them. Know what works for you, and use it. Then return to the problem. Not only do you need to be calm to make good decisions, but you need your team to be calm. Pay attention to who is upset and help them calm down. Humor, candor, food, and drink are good places to start. Being calm and collected yourself goes a long way toward calming others. And taking responsibility for the situation (see the later section “Take responsibility”), regardless of whose fault it was, accelerates a team’s recovery from a problem.

4. Get the right people in the room Any major problem won’t impact you alone. Identify who else is most responsible, knowledgeable, and useful and get them in together straight away. Pull them out of other meetings and tasks: if it’s urgent, act with urgency, and interrupt anything that stands in your way. Sit them down, close the door, and run through what you learned in step 2. Keep this group small; the more complex the issue, the smaller the group should be. Also, consider that (often) you might not be part of this group: get the people in the room, communicate the problem, and then delegate. Offer your support, but get out of their way (seriously—leave the room if you’re not needed). Clearly identify who is in charge for driving this issue to resolution, whether it’s you or someone else.

5. Explore alternatives. After answering any questions and clarifying the situation, figure out what your options are. Sometimes this might take some research: delegate it out. Make sure it’s flagged as urgent if necessary; don’t ever assume people understand how urgent something is. Be as specific as possible in your expectation for when answers are needed.

6. Make the simplest plan. Weigh the options, pick the best choice, and make a simple plan. The best available choice is the best available choice, no matter how much it sucks (a crisis is not the time for idealism). The more urgent the issue, the simpler your plan. The bigger the hole you’re in, the more direct your path out of it should be. Break the plan into simple steps to make sure no one gets confused. Identify two lists of people: those whose approval you need for the plan, and those who need to be informed of the plan before it is executed. Go to the first group, present the plan, consider their feedback, and get their support. Then communicate that information to the second group.

7. Execute. Make it happen. Ensure whoever is doing the work was involved in the process and has an intimate understanding of why he’s doing it. There is no room for assumption or ambiguity. Have specific checkpoints (hourly, daily, weekly) to make sure the plan has the desired effect and to force you and others in power to consider any additional effort that needs to be spent on this issue. If new problems do arise, start over at step 1.

8. Debrief. After the fire is out, get the right people in the room and generate a list of lessons learned. (This group may be different from the right people in step 4 because you want to include people impacted by, but not involved in, the decision process.) Ask the question: “What can we do next time to avoid this?” The bigger the issue, the more answers you’ll have to this question. Prioritize the list. Consider who should be responsible for making sure each of the first few items happens.

About the Author

Scott Berkun worked on the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft from 1994-1999 and left the company in 2003 with the goal of writing enough books to fill a shelf. The Myths of Innovation is his second book: he wrote the best seller, The Art of Project Management (O'Reilly 2005). He makes a living writing, teaching and speaking. He teaches a graduate course in creative thinking at the University of Washington, runs the sacred places architecture tour at NYC's GEL conference, and writes about innovation, design and management on his personal website.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 410 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; Revised edition (April 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596517718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596517717
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #161,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Scott Berkun (@berkun) is the best selling author of six books, including Making Things Happen, The Myths of Innovation, Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Year Without Pants. His work has appeared in the The Washington Post, The New York Times, Wired Magazine, Fast Company, The Economist, Forbes Magazine, and other media. He has taught creative thinking at the University of Washington and has been a regular commentator on CNBC, MSNBC and National Public Radio. His many popular essays and entertaining lectures can be found for free on his blog at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Leam Hall on April 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
Okay, let's get the one downer about the book out of the way; it's a second edition of Scott's The Art of Project Management (Theory in Practice (O'Reilly)). Not sure why the name was changed but it might confuse some folks. Okay, it confused me, not sure about anyone else. If you've recently read the first edition then you may want to borrow someone's copy to go over the exercises/discussion at the end of each chapter.

If you haven't read the first edition, you're in for a great time! This isn't a reference book, nor is it a cheat-sheet for passing your PMP. Scott writes as friends chat over coffee. To really "get it" you need that same head game. Find your personal motivation for making things happen, either at work or in your life, and slowly reflect on a single chapter over a hot cup of joe. Even better, find a couple friends who are just as success driven as you and work through the exercises together.

My introversion is so strong that last sentence was almost painful to write, but a deeply reflective level of mental processing is what you need for this book. When you have a chapter in your head you can go over the events of the past week and generally find ways you could have handled something better. Write them down, go implement the ideas, and keep doing that as your success rate grows. Use the exercies as dry-run scenarios and really put some thought into them. Build your experience and expertise in the shadows; when the spotlight is on you'll be ready to make things happen in a big way.
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Terry MacDonald on January 17, 2014
Format: Paperback
There is a lot of praise out there for Scott Berkun and this book in particular. I feel a bit silly adding to the list of reviews, but I decided to go forward anyway when I tasked myself with writing the best review ever. I think a lot of us are looking to figure out what is the best in a fast fashion. Word of mouth is always king, so Amazon reviews come as close as they can. So, why read Making Things Happen?

- Note that it is the new edition of The Art of Project Management.
- You will gain personal motivation to make things happen either at work or in life.
- The book covers how to be a great project manager, from gathering ideas to managing teams and schedules.
- It may not be all new news, but it's all the best management practices in one well-designed book.
- He introduces several key concepts and brings perspective to areas that may seem like common sense, but as the wise saying goes: "We need not be so much instructed but reminded."
- This book is more than just an overview, but you do need to continue to learn. For more in-depth looks into project management, one can read up on the Agile Manifesto, Lean Kanban principles; SEI's CRM for risk management; and The Practice of Creativity: A Manual for Dynamic Group Problem-Solving
- Scott Berkun's style of writing is really wonderful. His voice is both practical and vivid, engaging and clear. His level of expertise in communicating what it means to be a great project manager has transcended from author to teacher, which means you know he's good!

I hope you find this review helpful. Now, go make things happen!
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Dan McKinnon VINE VOICE on May 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
In the field of project management, 'Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management' is one of the finest books I have ever had the chance to peruse. From gathering ideas to managing teams and schedules, everything and anything is in this book that is a MUST BUY for all project managers or group leaders that want to update or learn new techniques for creating widgets in the real world and doing so efficiently and successfully. I think a chapter overview would be helpful to help the reader get an idea of the wonderous content contained within:

01. History of Project Management


02. Schedules
03. What To Do
04. Vision
05. Ideas and how they come about
06. What do to with your great idea


07. Writing good specifications
08. Good decision-making
09. Communication and relationships
10. Process, Email, Meetings - Don't waste people's time
11. When things go wrong


12. Leadership & Trust
13. Making things happen
14. Middle-game strategy
15. End-game strategy
16. Power and Politics

I was originally going to Highly Recommend this book but I think it's so fantastic I'm going to up it to HPR. If you are any way related to making progress at your job or possibly even life this can be useful, this book is a must read... NOW.

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133 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Qiulang on May 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
For those who gave this book a 5 star rating, I really suggest you think it again. To me, this book is over praised, way too much!! And there are several reasons why I am saying that.

First of all, the majority of the content has been expressed long before; I don't see anything new or groundbreaking. For example the author talked a lot about the importance of communication, trust, relationship, etc. in project management. But isn't that just common sense? Whoever does the project management job should know that pretty well. Not to mention that Agile/Scrum/XP guys have been saying these things for many years and in a much better and enlightened way.

Second, the book is flawed in the topics the authors chose to address. For example risk management is a big topic in project management, while there is only a chapter called "what to do when things go wrong" (which is not risk management exactly) and look at what he said, "calm down ... take responsibility ... do damage control ..." Again, common sense. And let's look at what the author said about the topic of execution, which makes things happen (Or "Getting things done") -- "Priorities Make Things Happen ... Things Happen When You Say No ... ". Well, I don't see any breakthrough ideas. And what I don't get is that, while the author spent so little time in talking about big topics like risk management and execution, he spent several chapters talking about how to deal with ideas, especially the ideas in design phase -- Chapter 5 "Where ideas come from" , Chapter 6 "What to do with ideas once you have them", Chapter 7 "Writing good specifications (i.e. writing the idea down)" and Chapter 8 "How to make good decisions (when facing several ideas)".
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