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July 08, 2022

10 best project management books

Project Management
Jerzy Żurawiecki Content Specialist @BigPicture

The world of Project Management is vast, and it requires diverse skills to navigate it successfully. There are multiple ways of learning, but nothing beats a good book. Here is a list of the ten best Project Management books that focus on areas critical for managing any project and developing valuable abilities.

Reading the entries from this list will help you become a better manager, increase your competence level, and improve the inner workings of projects in your organization. The article is divided into the essential categories for project management. Each one contains a stand-out representative. Be sure to add them to your reading list.

Theoretical background

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), Seventh Edition

Best Project Management Books: The PMBOK

The list of the best project management books would be incomplete without the PMBOK®. It is a hugely valuable resource as far as project management theory is concerned. The guide is a deep dive into terminologies, processes, best practices, and guidelines considered standard practice in project management. In other words, it’s everything a project manager should know about the subject.

The Project Management Institute updates the PMBOK® every few years to reflect changes in the project management sphere as it grows. The seventh edition of the PMBOK® Guide:

PMBOK topics

Aside from that, the latest update of the PMBOK® Guide ventures into 12 principles of project management as well as eight critical performance domains. The book is accredited by the American National Standards Institute, which means it adheres to the official standards of project management.

Leadership

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Best Project Management Books: Extreme Ownership

When it comes to the ultimate form of stakes and leadership, look no further than the military. Lessons learned on the battlefield can be implemented in the world of business. Two highly decorated Navy SEALS –Jocko Willink and Leif Babin – did just that.

Extreme Ownership provides guidelines to excel in leadership roles and lift teams up instead of bringing them down. It can be an invaluable source for project managers looking to improve their team’s effectiveness and become better leaders.

One of the key terms covered in the book is Decentralized Command. This approach involves team members having a clear set of areas they are responsible for. Responsibility and ownership are the backbones of the two Navy SEALs’ bestseller. Other notable topics of Extreme Ownership include managing egos, support, planning, and clarity of communication, to name a few.

Even though many of the lessons of Extreme Ownership also apply to everyday life, project managers are more likely to get even more out of the book. After all, they rely on teams to complete initiatives on a daily basis. It’s a space where leadership determines success or failure.

Setting objectives

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs – John Doerr

Best Project Management Books: Measure What Matters

The book centers around the concept of OKRs – Objectives and Key Results – created by Andrew Grove at Intel in the 1970s. Doerr, the author of Measure What Matters, has applied the approach in other companies throughout his career as a venture capitalist.

Simply put, objectives define what we seek to achieve; key results are how those top-priority goals will be attained with specific, measurable actions within a set time frame.”

A combination of theory and practice makes the book educational and engaging. Doerr explains the idea behind OKRs, describes Grove’s approach in detail and provides successful use cases that span decades of his entrepreneurial experience.

It’s one of the most popular books on setting objectives, and the success stories of people like Bill Gates and Bono are a testament to the power of OKRs. As a staple in PM literature, it had to find its way into the top 10 best project management books.

Agile transformation

Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos – Darell Rigby, Sarah Elk, Steve Berez

Best Project Management Books: Doing Agile Right

Agile has taken the world of business by storm. The thing is, not all companies know how to implement the methodology to become agile.

Doing Agile Right takes a deeper look at what it means for the business to be agile and how not to do it. The authors “dispel the myths and misconceptions that have accompanied Agile’s growth – the idea that it can reshape your organization all at once, for instance, or that it should be used in every function and for all types of work.

The book discusses the areas that benefit from implementing Agile, i.e., the ones that should be innovative at its core and those that thrive under the watchful eye of traditional bureaucracy.

Furthermore, Doing Agile Right lays out the fundamentals of Agile in various contexts: planning, budgeting, organization, structure, processes, and technology, to name a few. The authors have decided against focusing on a specific framework since it would only serve a part of its readers.

It’s a must-read for those who wish to implement Agile in their team or organization but aren’t sure if it is the right choice in their context.

Team management

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable – Patrick Lencioni

Best Project Management Books: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

With the recent emergence of distributed teams, it’s even more challenging to keep the entire team on track with the business goals than ever before. The thing is, there are other glaring issues project managers face as team leaders.

Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team points out the most significant problems modern teams struggle with and dives deep into them. That’s why it’s part of the best project management books lineup. Aside from diagnosing the problem, the book delves into the root causes of team dissatisfaction and offers solutions to help remedy the unpleasant and ineffective situations in the workplace. Here is Lencioni’s model of categorizing the most common team dysfunctions:

5 dysfunctions of a team pyramid

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is an excellent read for managers and other team members. This book is more appealing because of its fable-like storytelling approach. It’s a much more digestible alternative to a textbook form.

Salvaging projects

Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure – Todd Williams

Best Project Management Books: Rescue the Problem Project

With the concerning amount of projects that end up spiraling into a Death March, it’s vital to know how to spot one that is likely to fail and turn it around before it’s too late. That’s what Rescue the Problem Project is about.

Based on his experience in saving projects from the brink of collapse, Williams has created an in-depth guide to help managers and executives understand the following topics:

  • Identifying the project’s problem.
  • Auditing the project the right way.
  • Planning for the recovery by using data.
  • Negotiating and implementing corrective solutions.
  • Avoiding problems in future projects.

The book provides “nearly 70 real-world examples of what works, what doesn’t, and why”. This addition of a practical perspective reinforces the validity of the content presented in other chapters and increases the author’s credibility.

Rescue the Problem Project is a comprehensive journey into a crucial area of project management, and it had to find its way to the list of best project management books for this very reason.

Communication

Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say – and What You Don’t – L. David Marquet

Best Project Management Books: Leadership is Language

Communication is a cornerstone of great leadership. Whether it’s to explain, motivate, or provide feedback – a great manager is a great communicator, too. This book might interest you if you want to use language to communicate more effectively.

Leadership is Language centers around six plays and the way they utilize language. After all, how you say things is as important as what you say, if not more:

Key rules in Leadership is Language

As for why this should be on your reading list, I’ll use the quote from the book’s publisher, Penguin Random House: In Leadership is Language, you’ll learn how choosing your words can dramatically improve decision-making and execution on your team.”

Productivity

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity – David Allen

Best Project Management Books: Getting Things Done

Personal productivity is a topic that most people don’t think about often. Lack of time and other more important things tend to take priority. However, being able to organize ideas or tasks and keep them in a visible space can be immensely beneficial.

That’s just a part of what David Allen talks about in Getting Things Done. After much deliberation, he has devised a system that helps declutter the mind and leave more firepower for creativity instead of worrying about things to do. As per one of Allen’s famous quotes: “your brain is for having ideas, not holding them.”

The GTD Method consists of five stages:

  • Capture
  • Process
  • Organize
  • Review
  • Engage

The book explains each part in detail and provides the readers with a blueprint to apply in their everyday lives. The solutions of Getting Things Done apply to anyone who wants to be more productive, not just project managers. Having said that, since project managers are keen on increasing productivity, they will appreciate it the most.

Product Management

Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value – Melissa Perri

Best Project Management Books: Escaping te Build Trap

The emergence of Agile showed the business world that it’s possible to succeed while focusing on the customers and their needs. However, creating a valuable product instead of a feature-packed one requires a substantial organizational change.

How to foster a company culture that favors value instead of features as an approach to the product? That’s what Melissa Perri focuses on in Escaping the Build Trap. Some of the key aspects covered in Perri’s book include:

Escaping the Build Trap – key questions the book answers

Product managers will learn more about their role, the proper structure and a strategy that supports effective decision-making. On top of that, Escaping the Build Trap delves into successful organizational policies and their impact on company culture. All in all, it’s one of the best project management books as far as the product is concerned.

Process improvement

Gemba Kaizen: A Commonsense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy – Masaaki Imai

Best Project Management Books: Gemba Kaizen

“If you’re not moving forward, you begin to move backward” is a saying that is true both in business and life. To combat this unfavorable state, the Japanese have developed a philosophy of continuous improvement called Kaizen. Masaaki Imai, the founder of the Kaizen Institute, has created a comprehensive resource for those who want to implement the philosophy in their businesses. Here are some of the subjects that Gemba Kaizen tackles in an in-depth manner:

The chapters in Gemba Kaizen

Aside from a thorough explanation and examination of Kaizen, the book offers tools needed to implement lean management in an organization. Furthermore, the second edition adds a number of use cases of companies that have applied Kaizen successfully worldwide.