Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review - "The Handbook of Program Management"

I just finished The Handbook of Program Management by James T. Brown.

If you are a program manager, or thinking of becoming one, you will want this book. Dr. Brown shares his wisdom on the program management without overburdening you with methodology. In reading the book, I often felt like I was having a discussion about program management with a knowledgeable and experienced colleague.

Dr. Brown clearly knows what he is talking about. His time at NASA seems to have been a large influence on his perspective of programs. There is probably no better place to learn and experience a program management culture. Dr. Brown seeds the book with "scenarios" from his extensive experience to tie a real life event to the topic under discussion.

A couple of things I really liked about the book:
  • Dr. Brown is very well-read, and not just on program management topics. He sites authors such as Dale Carnage and Robert Cialdini. He understands the broad set of skills that are needed by a program manager, and he also consistently returns to the importance of people. He has a lot of charts and "tips", but the management of the people is always in the forefront.
  • The book is very well laid out - 10 chapters covering the fundamentals. Each chapter contains advice, tips, and useful tools. Dr. Brown does not stress the tools, rather he uses them as examples or methods of achieving the goals. In the risk chapter he has an example of a 5x5 risk matrix, but goes on to say that a 3x3 or 4x4 will work just as well. He stresses that important point is to perform the risk analysis and management, not get caught up in the details of the tools.
  • There are several quotes that really hit home. Early in the book he talks about program management being the place where "operations and project management collide." EXACTLY - we've all faced the challenge of trying to explain that a program is not a project to the project managers, and trying to convince operations that it's not a department.
  • Another favorite that I will freely steal is "kill what's ugly while it's young" - AMEN!!! This brings to mind the practice of Spartans to take their "ugly" children out into the wilderness - well maybe not exactly the same thing, but I've seen a few ugly projects that never should have been allowed to grow.
So - great book - it is on my shelf, now dog eared and full of highlights. It will make me a better program manager, and I know it will help anyone else who reads it.


Denis said...

I've just started reading this book. It's interesting that you say the experience was like having a conversation with a senior colleague. When I first stated in program management I had a senior colleague mentor me for several months – looking back it was the most valuable learning experience I’ve had in program management since starting on this career path.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I enjoyed reading through your posts. Just wondering if you have reviewed the recent book - Business Driven PMO.

Derry Simmel said...

I have not read Mark's book yet, but I am planning on it. I am up to my ears in agile and lean at the moment, also very interesting!

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