Karl Hughes
The Best Project Management Books

The Best Project Management Books

Being a project manager is not for everyone. The wide range of planning, financial, execution, communication, and monitoring tasks makes it a dynamic and challenging role. Being accountable for the entire team’s progress means that project managers are often on the line when their projects succeed or fail.

To be a good project manager, you need to sharpen and improve your skills constantly. While working in startups, I often took on a de facto role as a project manager, so I’ve read a lot of the classic books on the topic. In this list, I wanted to share my top picks for the best project management books. Hopefully, some of these reads will help you advance your career and practice as well.

Learning Project Management

Books in this category are for junior-level project managers and will help you build a good “base” for further learning and skill-sharpening.

1. Essential Managers: Project Management

This is an excellent book for any entry-level project manager because it covers all the main aspects of project management. Although it’s not breaking new ground in the field, it’s a great reference to have on hand. In the book, Peter Hobbs talks about the step-by-step process of defining goals, checking progress, and keeping things moving.

“It’s not just for work. Our lives are filled with projects: planning vacation, choosing a pet, remodeling the kitchen, helping Dad downsize. If we think of all of our tasks like projects, we just may be more productive.”

2. The Art of Project Management

Written by the best-selling author of seven books, Scott Berkun, this book is like having an experienced mentor to help guide you on your journey. It contains well-organized and useful guidance on how to tie mission, goals, and features together and get things done. I really like how Berkun managed to put so much useful information into an easy-to-read textbook.

“Great book! The descriptions provided detail on all aspects of project management. I would recommend this to all PMPs as well as anyone doing professional development as well.”

3. Identifying and Managing Project Risk

Identifying and Managing Project Risk book cover

All projects come with a certain amount of risk. However, complex projects might lead to a huge failure, even if you are an experienced project manager. It’s crucial to identify all the potential risks before starting each project to evade any possible turmoil. In this book, Kendrik gives a totally different approach to identifying the risk and does a great job at making the challenge interesting.

“While project management scopes, schedules, and plans resources to achieve project requirements, Kendrick makes clear the essence of successful project management is having the agility to properly assess and respond to the risks and opportunities inherent in all projects and particularly complex, long-duration technology projects.”

4. Financial Intelligence

One of the aspects of project management that doesn’t get talked about enough is budget and finances. This book helps you understand the numbers and discuss financial data like an executive manager. I really like how such an easy-to-read book can teach you so much about things like cash-flow statements, capital expenditures, and predicting budgetary shortfalls.

“I purchased the book from Amazon and I read it in about two weeks. I literally could not put it down. The authors speak like human beings and actually make math and finance fun and interesting. In those two weeks alone, I not only gained a better understanding of accounting, but I learned how to evaluate investments and make management decisions based on company finances.”

Communication and Negotiation

In this category, I collected a few books that will help you with your communication and negotiation skills. It’s an essential skill that every project manager should have, so be sure to check these out.

5. Never Split the Difference

Often, being a good project manager requires finding compromises between disparate parties. This book tells a story about Chris Voss, a hostage negotiator who negotiated between an array of criminals during his career in the FBI. I liked the value this book provides, learning you to negotiate as if your life depends on it.

“A couple of weeks after starting the book I negotiated a vendor at work from a ‘list price’ of about £68,000 for some equipment down to about £22,000, partly by applying techniques from this book. Given that I spent £4.45 on the book, I think it’s paid for itself by now.”

6. Four Essential Keys to Effective Communication

This book is basically a how-to guide for winning over the important people in your life - no matter if it’s your partner or a customer. Not only that it will help you become a better negotiator, but it will also teach you to listen with greater empathy and understand what the other person is feeling. Basically, it teaches you to hear the entire message instead of just hearing words.

“A gem of a little self-improvement book. I love it when each sentence is one I can take in - instead of racking my brain trying to figure out what the author means. Bento Leal III did a great job at making a common problem rather simple to solve: if we follow the plan through, of course. It works! I tried it! The language is warm, alive, and unique. Well done!”

7. Getting to Yes

Getting to Yes book cover

Although it might be slightly difficult to read, Getting to Yes offers some of the best tactics for coming to a mutual agreement in any kind of conflict. No matter if you need to settle differences in views between your colleagues, or simply don’t want to give in when a client wants an unjustified discount.

“This book is not about teaching one a bag of tricks or, acting unnaturally during negotiations. Rather, it informs on genuine, obviously well studied, techniques that refine natural interactions. It takes into account that opposing parties may be genuinely convinced of being in the right.”

8. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Written by an expert in the field of influence and persuasion, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini, this book is a real gem that every project manager should read. Cialdini provides six principles of influence that you can apply in any conflict and also teaches how to defend yourself in case of dishonest influence attempts.

“A phenomenal book that provides example after example of how human beings are continuously duped into making automatic decisions without thinking them through, resulting in an invaluable series of lessons to be learned about self-awareness.”

Agile Project Management

Books in this category will teach you how to properly implement agile project management. They will help you operate in a high-velocity environment and improve collaboration among your team members.

9. Essential Scrum

You probably know that Scrum is a framework that helps teams work together. However, using it efficiently at scale can be a bit tricky. Essential Scrum is a fantastic book that will help you out, no matter if you are a beginner or years into use. It will provide you with practical knowledge for getting your team to its peak performance.

“We found Ken’s book to be the one that we can all align on. It’s prescriptive enough to be useful but loose enough that teams feel the freedom to innovate. The examples and pictures are at just the right level. You can tell it’s written by somebody who lives Agile, and this helps developers respect the content and have more open minds.”

10. Lean from the Trenches

This book is light, and yet, provides a lot of valuable information. It will teach you, from start to finish, how to build a successful product using Lean principles. Also, the book describes how to keep the whole team moving in the same direction without micromanagement, and how to balance between low and high-level focus.

“This account by Henrik on how the Swedish Police used a Kanban Agile process to deliver a nationwide new application platform and services is a must-read for anybody deploying and wanting to deploy Lean-Agile using Kanban. Great practical examples, photographs, and factual accounts. You will learn new details about how to use Kanban in Agile software development and deployment.”

11. Doing Agile Right

Doing Agile Right book cover

No matter if your company needs a transition, or you simply want to keep high agility, this book will provide you with tons of quality tips. The book tells a story of a fictional product owner, Brian, who leads the launch of a new product line. As he tries to do everything perfectly, he faces various organizational pitfalls that prevent his team from being agile. His journey will show you various destructive business practices and teach you how to avoid them.

“Doing Agile Right is a great overview of agile as a concept and in practice, backed up by data proving its efficacy as a working methodology. The book includes pitfalls to avoid when implementing agile and tactical advice to clearing organizational roadblocks.”

Organization and Process Design

The proper organization is crucial for any team and is a must-have skill for every project manager. Books on this list will provide you with a totally different way of thinking and enhance your organizational skills.

12. Thinking in Systems

This book explains every possible problem and scenario when it comes to system traps that are being used in the real world. For example, even the biggest problems such as hunger and poverty are caused by the bad system organization. Thinking in Systems will help you avoid confusion and find proactive and effective solutions, not only in business but in real life, too.

“A beautiful and brilliant work that gifts us with a world view to aspire to. If I was king, this would be required reading for all humanity. “

13. Mythical Man-Month

If you need to manage complex projects, this book is a must-read for you. Brooks was a manager for the IBM System/360 computer family, and two decades later, he revised his original ideas and added new pieces of advice. After reading his essays, you will notice all the things you were doing wrong as a project manager.

“I read the original version when it was published and it’s been immensely helpful for years. And now it’s updated and even better. If you read and understand this book you know why your phone and Windows operating system need to get updates every few days, and why this situation will never change.”

14. The Goal

The Goal book cover

I really like how this book gives so much valuable information while being a fast-paced novel. It tells the story of Alex Rogo whose business is going to disaster while he desperately tries to save it. His story will provide you with insights and ideas that are applicable from the very first moment you finish the book.

“I was expecting to read another management book broken up by non-fiction style topics and how-to format. I was pleasantly surprised when it read like a novel. Real characters, and not just office characters - but wife, kids, parents, the whole set.”

Productivity

It’s amazing if you can work less and achieve more, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. However, these three books will change the way you think when it comes to productivity.

15. Getting Things Done

According to Allen, to reach peak productivity, you need to be able to relax and think with a clear mind. In Getting Things Done, Allen will show you his system for reassess tasks, planning projects, and steering clear of anxiety while feeling great about what you are doing.

“This revolutionized my life. I have been well organized… but I didn’t know how to organize the flow of paperwork in my life. How to keep my inbox empty. !! My desk was always a pile of paper that I didn’t know where to put things… and I would actually lose things on my desk. Whew! No more!”

16. Great at Work

Great at Work reveals a completely new perspective on “great performance” in business. While writing the book, Morten considered over 200 published academic studies related to smarter working, and presented the results in a light, easy-to-read way. In this book, Morten will show you how to master your own work and working with others, as well as how to master the work-life balance.

“Morten defies convention by providing a new perspective profound beliefs from the learnings within the chapter. A person doesn’t have to change his or her life by any modern standard, but this appreciably readable book is not in the business of following the status quo. Not only does this book elucidate the keys for top work performance, it provides a new perspective which could change one’s approach in all fields of life and maintain a positive work life balance.”

17. Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency

Slack book cover

In some cases, for the company to grow, it needs a certain degree of freedom, known as “slack”. It allows the company to change by embracing risk and removing fear, which potentially leads to growth. However, implementing slack in business can be a bit challenging, so if you are a product manager, I strongly suggest you read this one.

“I agree that this is simultaneously a great screed on the inanity of most corporate management, and also a powerful indictment of the tendency of IT management to just go along, accepting a premise that is false and on most projects, is life-threatening.”

Next Up

So what books should I put on my list? Let me hear your suggestions on Twitter or by email.

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