Project Management: 10 basic books on three key topics
26 Jan 2023

Project managers, or PMs, are the core of any project team. These books, recommended by experienced EPAM PMs, will get you started on your path to becoming one. 

Project managers are responsible for allocating resources, assigning tasks, tracking the progress, and assessing its effectiveness at each stage, not to mention that they are personally accountable for the project's success. And they also need strong technical expertise. Sounds exciting? Perhaps, you should consider a career as an IT project manager.

To learn more about this professional skillset, check out our list of 10 recommended books on project management.

Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)

Begin with the Project Management Body of Knowledge or PMBOK (we'd recommend editions 6 and 7). One of the most cited and discussed books for project managers, it is a collection of standards, best practices, and procedures for successful project planning and delivery. Although it can be a bit challenging for novices to understand, you'll find that you refer to it more and more as you continue your journey. The PMBOK should be at the top of your book shopping list, followed by other required reading.

Alternatively, try Brett Harned. Project Management for Humans: Helping People Get Things Done

If you're not ready to tackle the PMBOK right away, read this “lite version” which is a good starting point for a beginner. Even if you don't plan to become a project manager, the skills you'll learn — resource assessment, task planning, effective communication, identifying project weaknesses, problem-solving, and taking responsibility for results — will be valuable in many areas of life.

Leadership and people management

Patrick Lencioni. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

This New York Times bestseller follows the fictional story of Kathryn, the new CEO of DecionTech, a Silicon Valley-based tech startup. Kathryn joins the team, which still struggles to work effectively despite having all the advantages. Together with the protagonist, we need to find out why.

The first thing Kathryn does is speak with the key players involved. Through authentic dialogue and questions, she untangles the complicated situation threatening to destroy the team.

With Kathryn's hands, the author sifts through the problems, identifies and prioritizes the main ones, and provides readers with practical tools to address them. The last third of the book is a debriefing containing a condensed description (spoiler alert 😅) of five dysfunctions, followed by a detailed analysis of each, along with exercises for managers to help bring positive changes to a dysfunctional team.

Ray Dalio. Principles: Life and Work

Who is better to offer advice on risk assessment and team management than the "Steve Jobs of the investment world"? Ray Dalio made his first investment at 12 by purchasing $300 worth of airline shares, which yielded a threefold profit. Fourteen years and business school, a stock-trading career, and a layoff later, he founded Bridgewater Associates. In his semi-autobiographical book, Ray discusses his philosophy of life and the principles that support the idea that managing teams is similar to coaching a sports team.

Why should you read this book? Here you will find 5 principles that will help you achieve any goal; instructions on correct formulation and analysis of tasks; clarity, transparency, and honesty without any unnecessary fluff; examples from the author's personal life interwoven with funny stories and anecdotes. Team leaders, in particular, will benefit from the third chapter on building a healthy business through the right culture, team selection, and protocols that will define the company in its tiniest manifestations.

Scrum, Kanban and Agile

Jeff Sutherland. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

By and large, Scrum has become the industry standard for team management in many organizations. However, there is a catch: Scrum will not work if only top management recognizes the importance and benefits of implementing a new transparent system.

You may have heard Jeff Sutherland's name in this context; he was one of the creators of the Scrum methodology and a contributor to the Agile Manifesto. Jeff believed in cleaning up one's own messes, and that led him to write a book explaining the benefits of implementing Scrum at all levels of responsibility. If you've ever wondered if daily meetings are necessary to keep things under control or how to handle a high volume of calls (which, by the way, is a sign that your team's Scrum implementation isn't working correctly), this book will provide insight into the rationale behind each tenet of the Scrum philosophy.

Jurgen Appelo. Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders

Have you ever heard of complexity theory? It's a scientific concept that explains how multicomponent systems like living organisms, ecosystems, societies, and large organizations are structured. The book's standout feature is the examination of Agile management principles, which focuses on collaboration, flexibility, and continuous improvement, from the viewpoint of psychology, complexity theory, and design thinking. Don't let the intimidating terminology scare you off: the book is written in a clear and accessible manner, so you'll have no trouble following along. Our PM experts recommend it as a must-read for beginners.

This book isn't reinventing the wheel; instead, it gathers various information on Agile management and presents it logically and consistently (with amusing examples and practical exercises). The book is organized into sections that cover the integral elements of the Agile approach, such as feedback, delegation, motivation, communication, culture, scaling, and other buzzwords.

David J. Anderson. Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology

Kanban (Japanese for a signboard or a billboard) is an approach to organizing teamwork that originated in 1940 at Toyota. As a trademark of Japanese philosophy, Kanban is simple yet effective and follows five principles, including visualizing and limiting work in progress. But do not underestimate this system because of its simplicity!

The Kanban system can improve work quality, reduce burnout risk in the team, and make product development processes more transparent and flexible. For practical advice on implementing Kanban, check out this book by one of its pioneers.

Time management

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

Do you feel overwhelmed by unfinished tasks and to-do lists? This book can be a lifeline for your mental health. Does our brain really work like a computer? Why do the best ideas come while driving? What do you do when you have an obsessive thought stuck in your head? How do you turn abstract ideas into actionable steps? Learn the answers to all these questions from the book Forbes included in their list of "10 Books That Will Make You Smarter, Richer, and Happier." You shouldn't just take their word for it; read the book to see for yourself.

John Doerr. Measure what matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs

Learn to set goals like Google engineers with "Measure what matters". This book focuses on OKR (Objectives and Key Results) system used to set goals and measure success. The author uses real-life examples of the world's largest companies and organizations to illustrate their approach to planning, tracking progress, and achieving success, so the book has more to offer than just dry theory. It is structured as a step-by-step guide, providing enough examples to avoid reading like an encyclopedia and enough practical advice to ensure that it doesn't collect dust on your bookshelf.

Erin Meyer. The Culture Map.

When a team from 5 countries gathers for a status meeting, even the most experienced manager might feel insecure. Is there a guide on managing a team from different backgrounds and time zones? How can you make teamwork effective, even with language and cultural barriers?

Without exaggeration, this book is a GPS navigator for managers dealing with the tension within multinational teams. It explains how your cultural background can affect your perception of others and helps foster mutual respect and productive work relationships with professionals from around the globe. The book analyzes linguistic and historical characteristics of different cultures, identifies common sources of tension and misunderstandings, and shows how to see yourself from others' perspectives while understanding theirs.

Basically, this list is your project management "starter package". View our educational programs schedule and register to broaden and enrich your knowledge with practical experience.