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Project Management: Two Books for Beginners

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Project Management, 2d ed. by Sunny Baker, Ph.D. and Kim E. Baker; Alpha Books, 2000; 404 pages, $18.95 (paperback); ISBN 0-02-863920-0

Project Management for Dummies,
by Stanley E. Portny; Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2001; 350 pages, $21.99 (paperback); ISBN 0-7645-5283-X

Reviewed by Vernon J. Edwards

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One of the big management developments of the last decade was the growing interest in project management. As a recognized organizational discipline project management has been around since the 1950s, but interest in it exploded during the 1990s when businesses like AT&T, General Motors, IBM, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others invested large sums in professional training for their employees. In response to the interest, several American universities began offering degrees in project management, including The George Washington University, Naval Postgraduate School, Florida Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, University of Alaska, University of Maryland, and University of Texas, to name just a few.

A professional organization, the Project Management Institute (PMI), was founded in 1965 and now has more than 100,000 members worldwide (http://www.pmi.org/). It has developed a project management “body of knowledge” (PMBOK), which is the basis for a professional certification program. It has even developed a special supplement to that body of knowledge for government projects. IBM employs more than 5,000 PMI members and Hewlett Packard employs nearly 2,000. AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola and other companies each employ more than 500, and Microsoft employs more than 300. Unlike some management fads, project management appears to be here to stay.

The Project Management Institute defines a project as “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service.” According to PMI, organizational work can be grouped into two categories: operations and projects. Both types of work are performed by people, constrained by limited resources, and must be planned, executed and controlled, but projects differ from operations in that they are temporary and unique. Projects managers must work within a “triple constraint” — quality, time and budget, and it is the unique combination of the three constraints which makes project management a special challenge. In the world of government acquisition, many contract actions are projects, whether the acquisition is a “recompete” of an on-going service requirement, a contract for the development of a new weapon system, or an OMB Circular A-76 public-private competition.

Project management’s techniques for project initiation, planning, execution, control and closeout can be powerful tools for acquisition professionals. Boiled down to its essence, project management is an approach to the organization and management of work that is based on a set of well-defined methods, such as work breakdown analysis, network scheduling, risk analysis, change control and earned value management, and personal skills, such as leadership, communication, negotiation and conflict resolution. Used effectively, these methods and skills make a big difference in project outcomes, especially in a world in which few if any project managers have authority commensurate with their responsibility. Since every acquisition professional manages a project when he or she conducts an acquisition, every acquisition professional should have at least a working knowledge of project management thinking, methods and skills.

You can take a class on project management — there are hundreds of offerings — but its easier and less expensive to read a book or two, at least at the outset. There is no shortage of books about project management. A search at Amazon.Com for books with “project management” in their title yielded 1,087 hits, ranging from classics like Harold Kerzner’s Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, now in its eighth edition, and Project Management: Strategic Design and Implementation, by David Cleland and Lewis Ireland, now in its fourth edition, to books that will almost certainly drop from sight shortly after publication. Many of the titles are devoted to specific kinds of projects — such as construction, IT systems and software development, facilities operation, manufacturing, arranging corporate events, architecture, and weapon systems development — but there are many introductory texts. There is a “ten minute guide,” a “little black book,” a “portable MBA,” and a “pocket guide,” and there are “fact books,” “primers,” “handbooks,” “toolkits,” — you name it. There is even a novel about project management: The Deadline, by Tom Demarco.

Fortunately, two relatively recent and very good books provide thorough and easy-to-read introductions to project management: Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Project Management, 2d ed., by Sunny and Kim E. Baker. Both books are organized around the main phases of project management: initiation, planning, execution, control and closeout, and both do a good job of discussing project management skills (team-building, communications, conflict resolution and leadership) and methods (work breakdown analysis, scheduling, resource estimating and project monitoring).

The ultimate test of any book about project management is how well it describes the crucial processes of work breakdown analysis and work breakdown structure development. These are the most important tasks in project management and the most difficult to explain, and both books provide clear explanations. Both books also provide good introductions to network scheduling and critical path analysis. Project Management for Dummies is better on resource estimation, and only Project Management for Dummies devotes any space to earned value analysis, which in my opinion gives it an overall edge over the Idiot’s Guide. However, the Idiot’s Guide devotes more space to subjects like leadership, communication, conflict resolution and negotiation. Both books include ample and clear graphics and both include brief glossaries of project management terms.

In today’s flattened, empowered (some would say, undisciplined) organizations, project management methods and skills increase the likelihood of getting a job done well, on time and within budget. Good project management is essential to the effective conduct of a public-private competition under OMB Circular A-76, especially now that the circular sets strict time limits for completing a competition. Even an ordinary source selection would benefit from the application of project management methods. Acquisition professionals have much to gain by learning at least the rudiments of project management, and these two books are a good place to start the learning process. Contracting officers as business managers? Here’s a good place to start.
Vernon J. Edwards is a researcher, writer, and teacher of federal contracting.  Copyright © 2002 by Vernon J. Edwards 


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