Project management’s techniques for project initiation, planning, execution, control and closeout can be powerful tools for acquisition professionals. Boiled down to its essence, project management is an approach to the organization and management of work that is based on a set of well-defined methods, such as work breakdown analysis, network scheduling, risk analysis, change control and earned value management, and personal skills, such as leadership, communication, negotiation and conflict resolution. Used effectively, these methods and skills make a big difference in project outcomes, especially in a world in which few if any project managers have authority commensurate with their responsibility. Since every acquisition professional manages a project when he or she conducts an acquisition, every acquisition professional should have at least a working knowledge of project management thinking, methods and skills.
You can take a class on project management — there are hundreds of offerings — but its easier and less expensive to read a book or two, at least at the outset. There is no shortage of books about project management. A search at Amazon.Com for books with “project management” in their title yielded 1,087 hits, ranging from classics like Harold Kerzner’s Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling, now in its eighth edition, and Project Management: Strategic Design and Implementation, by David Cleland and Lewis Ireland, now in its fourth edition, to books that will almost certainly drop from sight shortly after publication. Many of the titles are devoted to specific kinds of projects — such as construction, IT systems and software development, facilities operation, manufacturing, arranging corporate events, architecture, and weapon systems development — but there are many introductory texts. There is a “ten minute guide,” a “little black book,” a “portable MBA,” and a “pocket guide,” and there are “fact books,” “primers,” “handbooks,” “toolkits,” — you name it. There is even a novel about project management: The Deadline, by Tom Demarco.
Fortunately, two relatively recent and very good books provide thorough and easy-to-read introductions to project management: Project Management for Dummies, by Stanley E. Portny and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Project Management, 2d ed., by Sunny and Kim E. Baker. Both books are organized around the main phases of project management: initiation, planning, execution, control and closeout, and both do a good job of discussing project management skills (team-building, communications, conflict resolution and leadership) and methods (work breakdown analysis, scheduling, resource estimating and project monitoring).
The ultimate test of any book about project management is how well it describes the crucial processes of work breakdown analysis and work breakdown structure development. These are the most important tasks in project management and the most difficult to explain, and both books provide clear explanations. Both books also provide good introductions to network scheduling and critical path analysis. Project Management for Dummies is better on resource estimation, and only Project Management for Dummies devotes any space to earned value analysis, which in my opinion gives it an overall edge over the Idiot’s Guide. However, the Idiot’s Guide devotes more space to subjects like leadership, communication, conflict resolution and negotiation. Both books include ample and clear graphics and both include brief glossaries of project management terms.