How do you become a better project manager?
It is not an easy question to answer.
One way is to read books and learn more about the profession.
But, which books are the best and worthy of your time?
Today, I will show you my top 19 project management books that will help you expand your knowledge and become exceptionally valuable to yourself and your clients.
This list might not be like your average project management book list. Rather than focusing on project approaches, principles and methodologies – these books will teach you the more softer and interpersonal skills required to excel as a project manager and move to the next level.
I have made no ranking between the books since they all cater different skill areas and a comparison between them would make no sense.
The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win
The book is written like a novel and tells the story of Bill Palmer, an IT manager at Parts Unlimited. One Tuesday morning Bill receives a call from the CEO of the company and he wants him to take charge of a critical project called “The Phoenix Project”.
Bill reluctantly accepts the task and we will then follow Bill’s journey throughout the project. During this journey Bill will encounter a lot of difficulties and problems, many that will make you smiley in resemblance.
But, as you can imagine, after changing the methods and culture within the company, Bill manages to make the project a success.
The book is quite helpful for project managers since it will give you insights, methods and an overview of how improvements can be made to better execute IT projects. If not, it will at least tell you an interesting story spiced with a great deal of humor.
The book is already somewhat a classic within the IT world and considered a “must-read” for IT-professionals.
Smarter Faster Better is written by Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and BusinessCharles Duhigg and was published in 2016.
Duhigg is a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter from The New York Times. With this background one would expect a well written piece – and he doesn’t let you down in that regard.
The book is made up of a few stories promoting different concept that promises you to become more productive and effective if life and business.
While the ideas are not bad, they are not really new either. However, since they are complemented with engaging storytelling this makes the book an easy and interesting read.
Overall, Charles promises to help you become better in these areas:
- Goal setting
- Managing others
- Decision making
- Absorbing data
As a project manager the ideas can help you, as claimed by Charles, to become more productive and more effective. But, bare in mind it is a long read for a few concept which could be gathered elsewhere in a less time-consuming fashion.
Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works
Running Lean is written by Ash Maurya and the first edition of the book was published in 2012.
Ash is truly living as he learns. Ash didn’t just write the book directly, rather he began the book process by publishing various articles on his blog. He later turned those articles into a book using the methods and principle he preach.
The book will give you a blueprint for achieving a “product/market fit” for your venture. He claims this strategy could be used on any idea you have but they are primarily for IT adventures.
I’d highly recommend you to try, if not all, but some of the strategies, methods and techniques in your next project. This is about as agile/lean as you can get.
The basic ideas are nothing revolutionary, but Ash manages to put it all together with practical and helpful techniques.
You will probably find yourself coming back to the book when you need guidance and advice running lean projects.
Coaching Agile Teams is written by Coaching Agile Teams: A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in TransitionLyssa Adkins and was published in 2010.
In this book Lyssa guides the reader to what it takes to become an agile coach and the different paths one could choose to achieve that.
Lyssa holds nothing back and the book is full with tips and tricks for the different roles and scenarios you might end up in as an agile coach.
You will get information on a quite detailed level like exact questions to use and how to act as an agile coach – this is all very useful and practical.
The famous agile master Mike Cohn seems to have been quite involved before and during the writings of the book, this gives the rather unknown author extra credibility.
As a project manager this book will help you take your career to the next step and embrace the role as an agile coach.
TED Talks is written by the TED Talks curator TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public SpeakingChris Anderson and was published in 2016.
The speakers at TED events are generally considered to be the best in the world. The talks generates millions of views and likes.
It would then seem like a pretty good idea to learn from speakers to learn what makes them so interesting. This is exactly what Chris Anderson has done and put together in this book.
Chris has been working with TED since 2001 and helped their speakers to perform at their best.
The book covers the following topics:
- Talk tools
- Preparation process
- On stage
As a project manager you will end up speaking to people in both formal and informal settings. Therefore, this book is really helpful in order to improve your techniques and perform better at presentations, talks etc.
Getting to Yes is written by Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving InRoger Fisher , William L. Ury and Bruce Patton . The edition reviewed here was published in 2011, although the first version was published back in 1983.
Since this book has been around for such a long time it has gathered a lot of fans and is considered a classic “must-read” within the negotiation genre.
The book promises you to learn:
- Disentangle the people from the problem
- Focus on interests, not positions
- Work together to find create and fair options
- Negotiate successfully with anybody at any level
As a project manager you can never learn to much about negotiations and conflict resolutions. Therefore, this book can really help you become a better project manager.
So Good They Can’t Ignore You is written by So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You LoveCal Newport and published in 2012.
Cal doesn’t give much for the saying “follow your passion”. Passion is not predetermined, but rather the results of being really good at something.
Accordingly to Cal you should focus on becoming a master of your craft, and only then you will experience what we call passion.
This mindset is really useful to remember when you are experience rough times in your work life. When you do, remember that changing to another professional that you have a “passion” for might not be the solution.
Rather, you should focus on getting better at your craft, learn from your mistakes and not give up.
As a project manager that would equal to educate yourself and continuously learn new stuff to excel in your field. By doing this you will get better and better and as a results, your passion for project management will increase.
Influencer is written by Influencer: The New Science of Leading ChangeJoseph Grenny , Kerry Patterson , David Maxfield , Ron McMillan and Al Switzler and was published in 2013.
The authors behind this book represents a great deal of knowledge and experience, and they have published many other books under their brand VitalSmarts.
Influencer will give you the tools and techniques in order to excel in the field of change and behavioral management. The knowledge can be either applied on a team or personal level.
After reading this book it will become quite clear the change doesn’t come by accident, but it is the results of careful diagnosis, “patient” testing and eventually success will follow.
The book is highly relevant for project managers since all projects bring change. And it is up to the project manager to prepare and allow people to embrace this change with a positive attitude.
After reading and absorbing the thoughts from this book you will be much better prepared.
Never Split the Difference is written by Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On ItChris Voss and published in 2016.
Negotiating is a crucial project management skill in order to deal and make progress with all different stakeholders.
Therefore, Chris comes to the rescue with his latest book Never Split The Difference.
The former FBI hostage negotiator has written an engaging book where he teaches his wisdom regarding negotiation.
One could argue that the scenarios where Chris learned and applied his techniques are so far off from the situations of a project manager. But, in the end we are all human beings and negotiating is really about human psychology which can be applied regardless of the situation.
As many other authors Chris enforces his ideas with real life stories. This makes it easier to remember and read.
The main ideas are:
- Be a mirror
- Don’t feel their pain, label it
- Beware Yes – master No
- Trigger words
- Bend their reality
- Create the illusion of control
- Guarantee execution
- Bargain hard
Influence is written by Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionRobert B. Cialdini and was published in 2006.
This book has been around for a while, the first edition was published back in 1984. But, the ideas, which are based on human psychology, are still as relevant now as then.
You have probably heard or experienced the six main ideas in one form or another already:
- Social Proof
These concepts are not new, but they are very well described and filled with references to scientific studies and real life stories.
This makes you really understand and remember the ideas so that you can start using them in your life and business.
As a project manager you will often find yourself in the position of persuasions and negotiations with client and other team members. And when you do, you will be glad that you read this book.
Crucial Conversations is authored by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler from Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are HighCrucial Skills and was published in 2011 (second edition).
If you are a person that doesn’t like to take the difficult conversions this book is for you.
The authors has put together a nice piece that promise to:
- Prepare for high-stakes situations
- Transform anger and hurt feelings into powerful dialogue
- Make it safe to talk about almost anything
- Be persuasive, not abrasive
There are a lot of scenario in projects that can lead to crucial conversations. Avoiding them seldom solves anything, except the temporarily relief of putting of a problem to another day.
Therefore, this book comes in handy to give you the knowledge and tools to master these type of conversations.
I know from experience that it is much better to take the crucial conversation rather than to avoid it. And this book will help you to do just that.
Hooked is written by Nir Eyal and published in 2014. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
This might seem to be an odd choice for a list of project management books. However, Nir has written a must-read book in order to understand how some products become successful and some not.
Big surprise – it is mostly driven by getting us hooked on your product.
But, how you do build a product that make the users come back for more many times per day?
Well, you use these four techniques:
- Trigger use of the product
- Use call to actions
- Give the user variable rewards
- Make the user invest in your product
The book will give you a lot of eye openers in how easily you are triggered to use certain apps like Facebook or LinkedIn – they all use these techniques.
As a project manager you can use these techniques in order to make products more used, more loved and more addictive.
Power Questions is written by Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence OthersAndrew Sobel and Jerold Panas and was published in 2012.
Another book on on the same topic , “The Coaching Habit”, gives us 7 powerful questions. In this book Andrew and Jerold has put together 337!
The have grouped the question together for different situations like holding a meeting, discussing a proposal and so on.
Since there are so many question is can be hard to remember them all, so this book works rather like a guide that you can pick up just before you enter one of the situations described.
As a project manager many of these questions are highly relevant when building relationships and making deals with project stakeholders and customers.
Lean Enterprise is written by Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at ScaleJez Humble , Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reilly and was published in 2015.
Lean Enterprise is about doing lean/agile within bigger companies. For smaller startups it comes naturally and they strive in an innovative setting.
However, large enterprises are often controlled and structured in a way that makes going lean difficult. An example of this is described in the book “The Phoenix Project” (also on this list) where an large organization turns the tides from not so much lean to very lean.
If you also want to make this change, then this book if you for. It will give you practical advice how to change your organization or project to being more lean within a large enterprise.
The book has become somewhat an authoritative reference for how large enterprises can embrace and become lean.
Deep Work is written by Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted WorldCal Newport and was published in 2016.
Cal is the youngest author who made it to this list. However, his idea are in clear contrast to what most of today’s youth are doing.
“Deep Work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.”
With that statement Cal claims that the most important skill you should develop is the ability to do deep work. Most of today’s workforce are spending their time with shallow activities which contributes little or no value.
Deep work is tough and requires both effort and training. The basic concept is to set aside a time slot which is 100% dedicated to a demanding, not shallow, task. Remove all distractions and focus purely on your task.
This book and concept is really useful to understand and apply for project managers. If your team members are working on demanding tasks – make sure they can fully focus on the task and do not let any distractions get in their way.
Leaders Eat Last is written by Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’tSimon Sinek and was published in 2014.
In his book Simon digs deeper into why some team works some why some don’t. The main idea is that higher performing teams have a deep sense of security and trust among the team members, while poor performing teams does not.
Simon also explains how this can be achieved with a focusing on the behavior and attitude from the team leader. The ideas are complemented with true stories from the military and corporate sector.
Understanding how and why some teams outperform others is a crucial knowledge for every project manager. That is why books like these should be must reads for all persons serious about getting good at project management.
Start with Why is written by Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionSimon Sinek and was published in 2011.
Why do you read this article of project management books?
If you don’t know the answer to that question, then you should read this book.
Simon begins the book with telling us the whole idea started with he asking himself why did he do what he did. He struggled to find meaning and purpose in life and business.
So, in this book he explains the importance of knowing why you do what you do and how to discover your own why.
This skill and mindset of understanding the why is very useful and a must to apply in project teams. If you can get each and every team member to identify their own why, your team will be one step closer to becoming a truly high performing team.
The Coaching Habit is written by The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead ForeverMichael Bungay Stanier and was published in 2016.
This little gem is a short and quick read. Michael has done a great job with keeping it fun and easy to read – yet the content is super practical and helpful.
Basically, Michael gives you 7 different questions to use when talking to or coaching others.
- What’s on your mind?
- And what else?
- What’s the real challenge here for you?
- What do you want?
- How can I help?
- If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
- What was most useful for you?
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to learn these. But, you do need some context and practice to use them wisely together. And it is only then, when used together, these questions really becomes a powerful tool when you need to coach someone.
For project managers these questions are amazing. They will be the backbone of your one-on-one with different team members and help you to really dig down and help the other person identify and deal with their problems.
Sprint is written by Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five DaysJake Knapp , John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz and was published in 2016.
What if you only had one week to test and prove an idea?
No problem! At least not after you have read this book.
The three authors all have a background from Google Ventures, and it was there, during hundreds of sprints they developed the method described in the book.
The idea is that you put together a team working 100% for five days (monday-friday) developing and trying out an idea to see if it has the potential to be successful or not.
By doing this as a first step you drastically reduce the risk of committing more fully to the idea.
For project managers this approach can be really useful when working in a project which require the team to be innovative and come up with new ideas.