Our top 9 project management books
Search for ‘project management books’ on Amazon and you get 75 pages of hits. That’s around 1500 titles, so there’s no shortage of project managers anxious to go into print and spread the word. You’d be very impressed if I said I’d read every single one of them for this review but in the unlikely event that I could get through one book per day and retain my sanity that would be over 4 years of reading by which time in all probability another 1500 project management books would have been launched into the world.
So, while I may not have read every book on project management, these are the ones I think are the best project management books of all time and well worth a read.
I should also add that none of these books are about certification and while having that Prince 2 or PMP certification might make you more employable they won’t necessarily turn you into a good project manager. These books concentrate on how to manage projects and less on the paperwork and bureaucracy that certification inevitably focuses on.
This is one of the acknowledged classics of the world of project management books and deserves its place in our list. It’s well laid out, engaging and easy to read, short on jargon and strong on practicalities. It seems to strike a good balance between expressing the right principles and not getting too bogged down in detail. It’s also easy to use as a reference book, dipping into the parts you need at any one time.
This book is about as comprehensive as it gets and covers planning, risk and issue management, quality, estimation and tracking progress, leading effective teams, running better meetings and lessons learned. Read Brilliant Project Management
I love this book mainly because it just about agrees with everything my many years’ experience of project management tells me to be true! Andy Crowe surveyed over 5,000 project managers and their stakeholders to try to find out what works and what doesn’t. From the data he works out what the best ‘Alpha’ project managers do that elevate them above the pack. All of those surveyed had to pass an experience test (number of hours project managing) as well as having team members and a customer prepared to take part in the survey – so this really was the 360-degree feedback that HR departments like so much. It brings out excellent, common sense insights into communication, process, leadership, developing people, managing scope, risks and issues and much more. An easy choice for one of our best project management books.
If you only have the time to read one book on project management, then read this one. Read Alpha Project Managers
The Lazy Project Manager: How to be Twice as Productive and Still Leave the Office Early by Peter Taylor
Hard to produce a list of the best project management books and not include this one. I’ve been at a Peter Taylor seminar where he said the main reason that he’d written the book was to launch a career in public speaking and that it had worked. Which led to what isn’t clear but the book has also turned into a best seller in project management books and a bit of a cottage industry as Peter has published variants of the original volume. One of the reasons for its success is that it is presented with considerable humour – not a bad idea for what is essentially a dry subject. It concentrates on what project managers should do to avoid leading stressful lives, helping you to concentrate on minimum input for maximum impact. This isn’t a bad principle given most project managers seem to live on the edge and tend to only learn what not to do by traumatic experience. Peter points out that 1/5 of the world’s GDP is spent on projects so we should definitely be trying to get better at managing them.
A fun, informative and entertaining read – definitely the one to pick up for that long train or plane journey – it’ll make you laugh as well as teaching you lots of useful stuff. Read The Lazy Project Manager.
Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager by Kory Kogon, Suzette Blakemore and James Wood
I like this book because it concentrates on something I’ve written about before – accidental project managers. Lots of people end up being asked to manage a project because it falls into their area of technical expertise and often because there’s no-one else to do it. Project management usually isn’t any part of their expertise and was never mentioned as being part of their day job. Unsurprisingly they usually struggle and can end up scarred by the experience.
This book concentrates on bootstrapping green project managers into ones who can competently carry out the role.
It’s very digestible at 200 pages. It follows the basic PMBOK/Prince 2 stages of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and closing projects. It includes checklists and walk throughs of common situations using real-world examples to illustrate how these scenarios play out.
A well rated, easy to understand and clear book for rookie project managers. Read Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager.
This is another easy to read project management book. It rather interestingly transports its reader (and project manager) back to ancient Egypt and the construction of the pyramids to illustrate the dos and don’ts of project management.
The author through this prism covers the well-trodden paths of good project management discipline from managing stakeholders and properly defining what’s required to managing delivery and project closure. We even get a glossary of Egyptian terms to go with a more conventional glossary of project management terms.
It’s always tricky to get across what is essentially a dry subject and avoid the inevitable drooping eyelids. David Hinde has come up with this novel and effective approach so finds his way into our list of best project management books. Read The Project Manager and the Pyramid.
So why does a book on change management appear on our list of the best project management books? Well, project managers are agents of change. Every project initiates change, so I can’t emphasise enough how much project managers need to be aware of the issues that arise from the implementation of change. I led a process change team who had worked on a project where they implemented extensive changes to the processes used by a team working on insurance policies. After the change had been implemented business management reported that there seemed to be no difference to the outcomes. It turned out the team had disliked the changes and collectively agreed to ignore them once the process change team had moved on. There’s little point in implementing change to the unwilling. There are countless stories of IT systems being either abandoned or being years overdue because the initial implementations turned out to be unusable.
This volume tells you how to avoid disasters like that and is one of the best books ever published on this subject. If you want to be a successful project manager, read it! Read Change Management: The People Side of Change.
If there’s one project management mantra I never stop repeating it’s to understand risk before you start and continue to monitor it right through the project. It’s no bad idea to try to think of all of the things that might go wrong and work out what you need to do to avoid them happening. This isn’t about damping down creativity and initiative, in fact just the reverse, you need to show considerable creativity just to imagine what might go wrong! You almost certainly won’t catch them all, some you have to put down to bad luck and/or experience but you’re courting certain disaster if you just dive in and disregard risk. I’ve come across a few people who have done just that and lived to well and truly regret it. So, I was bound to warm to this book.
The authors introduce the concept of Risk Up Front (RUP) which is an approach to identifying risks without drowning under gallons of paperwork and process. Its pragmatic and works. The book illustrates the effectiveness of their approach with real world examples.
So the message of this book is while it might sound a lot more fun to just dive in and get on with it, you’ll have fewer sleepless nights if you try to imagine what might go wrong and then try to avoid or control it. Go out and buy it now. Read Risk Up Front: Managing Projects in a Complex World.
And finally blowing my own trumpet….
Project Management for SMEs (UK edition) and Project Management for SMBs (US edition) by Gren Gale
When I wrote these books I couldn’t see anyone who had specifically addressed managing projects for small and medium businesses. This is surprising given that the consequence of getting a project badly wrong for a small business could be a lot more than an embarrassing failure, it could be fatal for the business. I wanted to get a methodology across that was simple, low in bureaucracy but high on the avoidance of risk.
Liked our review of the best project management books of all time? Look at our other reviews in our reviews section.
Gren Gale is a consultant in Remote Work and Project Management and has been named as one of the top 19 Key Opinion Leaders globally in remote work in Who’s Who in Remote Working? He is author of the Remote Project Manager and Remote Work The New Normal.
Articles and reviews on this site are written from an unbiased viewpoint. We only review products which are relevant to Remote Work or Project Management and ones we believe in. Once this article on the best project management books of all time was written we looked to see if some of the links could generate affiliate income. It won’t make us rich but it helps pay the rent!