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Book Review: Managing Projects
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Book Review: Managing Projects by Mary Grace Duffy

Managing Projects

Written by: Nick Morgan, Mary Grace Duffy (Mentor), Leading Temas by Anne Donnellon (Mentor) and Running Meetings Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2006. 100+x pages.
Reviewed by: Gerald Mulenburg

Managing Projects

This review covers a set of three small books in the publisher's Pocket Mentor series, which are intended for novice readers who want to improve themselves in these specific areas. The expressed intent is to provide portable guides for “immediate solutions to common challenges managers face on the job every day” (back cover). About the size of 5″× 7″ index cards and three-eighths of an inch thick, they are not really pocket sized, and the need for portability is questionable. Each is prepared by a mentor to “help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, and hone critical skills” (back cover). A description of what each book does for the reader begins with a Mentor's Message, followed by some elementary information about the subject. How-tos describe planning and accomplishing the stated goals for managing a project, leading a team, and running a meeting, respectively. The end section of each book includes tips and tools and self-tests of the material including additional resources for deeper examination of the subject matter. Exercises and short vignettes provide examples that clarify the principles discussed. A brief summary here describes the pertinent content of each book.

In Managing Projects, the Mentor's Message describes the complexity of projects as “Project management is a mass of contradictions,” (p. ix) and the definition of a project generalized as “a job that has to get done” (p. 8). This is followed by a list of needed skills and project examples. The book walks the reader through the basics of planning a project, getting it going, managing it, dealing with problems, and ending it. This is not a book for professional project managers, as much of its terminology, definitions, and approaches do not fit current use in professional project management practice. To learn actually how to do project management, Project Management for Dummies (Portny, 2006) is a better choice for novices.

In Leading Teams, the Mentor's Message focuses on differences between leading and managing: Managing is handling day-to-day needs, and leading is “about guiding people” (p. x). This is boldly followed by, “Almost anyone can lead a team effectively” (p. ix). Two essentials include understanding how teams work and the use of techniques such as emotional intelligence. How to plan and form a productive team follows a description of one. The largest section, 20 pages, describes how to lead a team and includes several worksheets and tips about doing so. For new managers or ones who know they need help in leading a team, this book may help guide them toward improving their skills.

Because running a meeting is more mechanical and simpler than managing projects or leading teams, Running Meetings provides the most immediately applicable guidance of the three. It begins with the why, who, and what of a meeting, followed by basic steps for preparing and conducting a meeting. Supplemented with a description of group decision making and tips for managing a meeting, the advice is sound, applicable, and with practice can help the reader make meetings more effective.

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