Book Review: Managing Projects: A Practical Guide for Learning Professionals

    By: Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PhD, NPDP on Aug 19, 2013

    Book Review: Managing Projects: A Practical Guide for Learning Professionals

     By:Lou Russel. Pfeiffer, 2012. 205 pages.      Book Review             

    While Lou Russell’s “Managing Projects is directed toward learning professionals, new product development professionals (NPDP) and innovation practitioners can most certainly benefit from her basic approaches. Organized to bring together soft skills development with visual project management tools, this book is easy-to-read in chronological order or to reference the odd chapter as needed.

    Chapter 1 emphasizes the need for effective planning, as indicated by the apropos title of “Start Well to End Well.” The author couples historical lack of project success with negative emotions, like stress and frustration. Learning that “project success through good project management is all about communication” (p. 3) sets the stage for defining “clear and measurable criteria” (p. 7) for the project.

    Projects are differentiated from processes, such as Stage-Gate™ (Cooper, 2001). The project will produce the new product, yet the process allows a firm to do so repeatedly. While significantly more simplistic than a typical innovation process, “Managing Projects” offers a development process for projects with incremental innovations or small line extensions.

    Chapters 2 through 5 detail the small project management process as Define, Plan, Manage and Review. Define needs to answer the question why they product is under development and why the project is being done. Plan will answer the questions of how the product will be developed and how the project will be run to meet business goals. Manage addresses project implementation, and requires the project leader and the NPD team to seek adaptations and alternatives in problem-solving. Finally, Review focuses on the product post-launch reviews and requires the NPD team and leader to learn from each project as a matter of continuous improvement.

    While NPDPs and innovation practitioners tend to think of a product development project as serving a customer, Russell describes project business objectives using the acronym IRACIS (p. 24): Increase Revenue, Avoid Cost or Improved Service. “The value of every project can be described using these three very good reasons” (p. 25), as can almost any good innovation project.

    “Managing Projects” presents visual tools, such as the Scope Diagram in Chapter 2 to replace the normal obtusely worded project charter. Based on a mind-mapping technique, the Scope Diagram brings together elements of traditional project management (the work breakdown structure, Gantt chart and organizational chart) into a single graphic. Readers may conclude that the Scope Diagram’s effectiveness is limited to small projects, such as product improvements only.

    Chapter 3 describes creating a simple project plan and answers the key question for a project leader—“How can I bring the right people, resources and tasks together to meet the business objectives for the project?” (p. 65). The author recommends Excel to prepare a quick and dirty project schedule using a backward pass methodology—that is, determining the absolute deadline for product delivery and working backward to find the absolute latest date the project can kick off.

    Mixing soft skills with scheduling tips, the author acknowledges that tasks assigned to key stakeholders can be the most difficult to reach completion and to manage (p. 88). Managing pushback from stakeholders falls again into effectively managing communications. Chapter 4, on implementing the project, continues in this vein by offering tools to deal with conflict and stress. An introductory discussion of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), DiSC® profiles, and emotional maturity can help a new project leader gain insight into his/her team’s behaviors during product development. 

    Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the organization as a larger entity outside the product development project itself.  Projects are done principally to create change—remember IRACIS? However, individuals accept and adapt to change at different rates such that teams may struggle with organizational change as a whole. The NPD team leader must be effective at communicating the strategic, operational and tactical (p. 163-164) initiatives to accomplish the business objectives.  Firms that use a project management office (PMO) will help leaders of small projects continually improve and help the organization to visualize a big-picture view of all product investments (p. 175).

    “Managing Projects” closes with a chapter titled “Insanity is Just a Project Constraint.” Anyone who has worked on simple or complex NPD projects can readily identify with the chaos of delivering a unique innovation to a fickle marketplace. Of the 10 tips Russell offers in Chapter 7, perhaps No. 10—Laugh—is the most useful for tackling today’s hectic world.

    Russell’s “Managing Projects” offers simple tools and techniques for small projects. NPD practitioners and professionals will enjoy this facile book that will help them increase effectiveness and productivity in project execution.


    Cooper, R. G. (2001). Winning at New Products, 3rd ed. Cambridge: Perseus.


    Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, NPDP

    Global NP Solutions

    Released: August 19, 2013, 7:55 am | Updated: September 5, 2013, 9:56 am
    Keywords: PDMA Blog

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