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
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
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
Top Customer Reviews
It's good and full of a lot of useful information, but not great. Berkun worked at Microsoft and was a project manager on Internet Explorer 1.0 - 5.0.
A caveat - Internet Explorer is not my favorite product (even pre-Mozilla). But it is a complex product that requires extensive analysis, design, development and testing - and Berkun clearly knows the product development process well.
The book does not offer any overall paradigm or methodology for project management. Rather it has short sections on subjects such as 'requirements' where Berkun will share whatever gems of knowledge he amassed in his years at Microsoft. Though I'm normally partial to books where the author presents an overall technique, I do find his anecdotes / advice to be useful. It provides a general context to making good decisions in product development.
The only place where I'd really fault the book is that it leans very heavily to a waterfall process, and some of the advice is definitely more useable in a large organization than in a small one. If the book had less waterfall assumptions, I'd probably be willing to give it 5 stars.
Despite this, Berkun's insights are still quite useful to someone even in a small startup environment, or pursuing product development in an agile framework.
The book can be a bit boring in some sections, but is always informative and offers good advice.
Kindly keep in mind that the above is not necessarily meant to be any sort of condemnation of the book. There are, in fact, many interesting ideas conveyed therein. But to represent this book as Mastering Project Management, as its subtitle imples, is really quite a stretch. One could probably make a good case that Mastering Project Management requires acquiring a working knowledge of the Project Management Body of Knowledge. And Amazon also makes available a very good and handy Guide to this Body of Knowledge. However, I would argue that Phillip Metzger's classic, "Managing a Programming Project", could more rightly be judged as accomplishing the goal of Mastering Project Management in a single volume. Now, readers of that wonderful book could point out that Metzger's book has a decidely Armonk, which is to say, IBM, flavor. However, Metzger's book really does provide a much better general overview to the topic of project management. Scott Berkun's book is not bad. It is simply not, as another reviewer has averred, deserving of the lavish encomiums heaped upon it by the majority of other, previous reviewers. If you want to learn how things were done successfully at Microsoft, by all means, pick up this book. But if you are looking for a more general representation of the serious business of project managment, I'd stick with Phil Metzger's. God bless.
- 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!