project management books, agile, learning

Project Management Books

I often get asked what courses, books and experiences I would recommend to someone new to project management. Or someone who is thinking about going into project management. It’s a big question with many possible answers. How to introduce someone to a new world in a way where they learn enough to get started, and not too much that it’s overwhelming? I truly believe that leading change is a calling, and you have to love it. It’s a tough job at the best of times – at the worst of times you have to genuinely want to do it, or I imagine it would be unbearable. There are a large number of project management books and resources available, and that can be both helpful and a bit much. This is what I would do…

Start with an Experience

Before rushing off to buy books, I would look for a one day introduction to project management live training with an experienced practitioner and engaging trainer. Stephen Dowling from ETM is a great place to start if you are in Melbourne. A live training not only exposes you to a range of concepts in a short period of time, but gives you the opportunity to ask questions, clarify and learn with others. Leading change is a team sport Рyou may as well start as you mean to go on Рwith others!

Project Management Books to Read

With so many project management books available, and having read many myself, I took the question to my LinkedIn network to gather more ideas. My network responded beautifully. I was both reminded of my favourite resources but the conversation also introduced me to some new books that I have since read (or at least started to!). I’m not going to call this ‘The Top 10 Must Reads’ or ‘The Definitive List’ etc because there is no such thing (except in the world of click bait). It’s a list for right now that I trust will evolve.

To rank these books would be like picking our favourite child or pet, so in no particular order, here goes…

The Agile Project Manager – Me ūüôā – A shameless but heartfelt plug. I wrote this book for my 25 year old self. As I was starting out in project management, I went on short courses and consumed many books, and I know I would have benefited from one book (preferably not too long) that laid out the most important concepts and ideas in a way I could put into action. The Agile Project Manager is not just about managing an Agile project, but being agile in your approach to achieving outcomes. I believe it is a must for anyone starting out and needs an intro, as well as a seasoned practitioner.

Scrappy Project Management – Kimberly Wiefling. I cannot believe I had not found this amazing book before now. Kimberly takes a no-nonsense, real and raw approach to project management, and pulls no punches on her thoughts on project managers who do not take a proactive approach to leading their projects. One of my favourite quotes was how she feels about project managers who manage via email: “Paper cuts all over my body just prior to a lemon juice bath couldn’t have sent me into more intense convulsions”. A great introduction to project management but also some excellent strategies and reminders for¬†experienced practitioners.

Stand Back and Deliver: Accelerating Business Agility – Pollyanna Pixton, Niel Nickolaisen, Todd Little, Kent J. McDonald. This book touches on a topic¬†close to my heart – stakeholder engagement. I truly believe all the answers we need when leading change are already in our organisations – we just need to engage the right people. I love how this book talks to aligning with purpose, and not being afraid to have the tough conversations. The concepts in the book are brought to life through real life stories – the good, bad and ugly. I’m still reading this but loving where it is going.

Project Management for Humans – Brett Harned. I have only just started this one but LOVE where it’s going. Projects are about people. Our ability to interact with fellow humans and facilitate conversations that result in outcomes is critical. The emphasis on human centred design (something we should all know about) and the examples from the real world were a reminder to me of what is important, and a great introduction to someone new to project management.

Conversations of Change – Dr Jennifer Frahm. Jen is an experienced change practitioner, and her recently released book provides fabulous insights brought to life through real life stories of leading and measuring change. The book is so aptly named as it truly is like having a conversation. A conversations that breaks down the complexity of change into strategies that anyone in the business of leading change must know.

Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge – Geoffrey M. Bellman. So very relevant for now, given the distributed nature of teams and the shift of power in organisations. As a project manager, if you can’t influence, you can’t lead. And don’t even think you can just tell people what to do… Let’s face it, we’re not in charge, but there are some great tools and techniques at our disposal to get things done.

Agile Project Management for Dummies –¬†Mark C. Layton – a book I overlooked when writing The Agile Project Manager but it was recently brought to my attention. The For Dummies series are well written and informative, and a great resource for people new to and experienced with Agile Project Management. I found it a handy reminder of concepts and a great tool for looking up different techniques to try.

PMP¬ģ¬†Exam Prep, Eighth Edition – Rita Mulcahy.¬†Anyone who has studied for their PMP knows Rita. Rita’s book effectively translates the PMBOK Guide into more manageable chunks. A great introduction to the knowledge areas of PMBOK as well as a general introduction to project management concepts. The book contains practice exams as well as more of an emphasis on real world project management.

Head First PMP – Jennifer Greene & Andrew Stellman – Like Rita’s book, Head First PMP is both a handy¬†study guide for the PMP exam but also a great introduction to project management. The concepts are laid out simply and it’s easy to digest. People new to project management will not be overwhelmed, and experienced practitioners will benefit from brushing up occasionally with this content.

The PMBOK Guide – No list would be complete without this resource. At the same time I wouldn’t start here as a new project manager. As Kimberley Wiefling says, it’s like saying the English Dictionary is a best seller in English Literature! It’s a resource to use in a similar way to how one might¬†use a dictionary – look up and reference terms – but it’s not a book you would read and be inspired to explore project management more. The Sixth Edition has just been released and there is more emphasis on communication and stakeholder management (not enough in my opinion but it’s a start!). I would also love to see Agile integrated in with the PMBOK rather than as a separate qualification. Having said that, PMI is releasing an Agile Practice Guide in October – it will be interesting to look at given PMI would not be my first port of call to learn all things Agile. But like all traditional institutions they are being disrupted and adapting. Watch this space!

Take Action

Movement creates momentum Рjust doing one small thing to either begin, continue or supercharge your project leadership capability is a great start. Read one of these books, or check out short courses (live and online) that provide a different perspective to influencing change, to stretch your thinking and give you different tools and strategies. Or perhaps you have a resource to add to the list. Please do!

As Tony Robbins says: “If you’re not green and growing, you’re ripe and rotting” – I know what I would rather be!

In Melbourne on 3rd October? I am supporting Jude Horrill of The Agility Collective in a Lean Change Master class. In this interactive one day session we will explore the different mindset and supporting tools and techniques  you need to lead change in the disrupted new world. Early bird tickets are still available Рwe would love to see you there.



Like what you read? Continue the conversation on The Agile Project Manager Facebook page.

Want more Agile goodness? Sign up to our monthly newsletter and receive a monthly update designed to keep you on track with your Agile goals.

Want The Agile Project Manager book? Get your hands on a copy here. Your future Agile self will thank you for it!

About Emma Sharrock

Emma is the author of The Agile Project Manager: Thrive in Change with Agile. An experienced change leader, Emma is passionate about working with people to facilitate successful change. Emma utilises Agile techniques, coupled with the Agile mindset to coach leaders and teams to achieve their business goals.