It Sounded Good When We Started: A Project Manager's Guide to Working with People on Projects provides essential reading for project managers trying to understand the trials and triumphs that can arise in any project setting.
The authors, both respected project managers with sixty years of experience between them, describe their own mistakes as well as the many valuable lessons they drew from them. Instead of trying to formulate these in abstract theory, Phillips and O’Bryan tell the stories surrounding a particular project, providing a more memorable, real-world, and practical set of examples.
Written in a distinctly nontechnical style, this is a general troubleshooting guide for people who work on projects together. As such, its content proves useful in many different settings and applies to many different kinds of endeavors. Most of the stories are about problems—since it's the problems we often remember more than the successes—and what was learned from them. After describing a given problem, the authors analyze the issues that led to it and work towards various ways they've discovered to create a better project environment, one where problems get solved easier and happen less frequently.
It Sounded Good When We Started offers a highly readable go-to for engineers, scientists, computer professionals, and anyone working on specialized, collaborative projects.
Review By: Catherine Wolfe 07/09/2010
This book covers the people management side of project management. The book uses the "Delphi" project because it was a long-term project that had several project managers trying to wrangle resources and schedules. The comparisons of these managers and their approaches to problems and people were valuable and objective. An interesting point made was the impact of each manager as it related to when in the project they were in charge. The book concludes with a section summarizing people management sprinkled with sage advice from the author.
Topics are addressed chronologically as they would occur during a project's development. The topics are presented from the aspect of dealing with people, not the process. Yet, I believe this book to be a practical tool for anyone tasked with project management. I enjoyed the author's real-life comparison to each topic—it gave a personal application and a way to cement the example in your mind.
Along with relating all topics to people and their behavior, the authors include key phrases often heard from members of a project team when stepping into troubled areas. The author gives suggestions on how to use this information to ward off the problems these phrases indicate. These key phrases are also repeated, for easy reference, at the end of each chapter in a "conclusions" section that I found particularly helpful.
I especially liked the chapter entitled "Fear of Stepping on Superman’s Cape: Not Holding Meaningful Internal Reviews." This chapter covers the touchy subject of how to critique the brightest and best team members while maintaining the confidence and self-esteem of both the stars and those still learning. This chapter offers some practical advice on doing internal reviews or inspections, which includes: inspecting the project manager's work (setting an example), talking about things not people, and using inclusive language.
The book also tackles the valuable subject of outsourcing. The author discusses how to get value from the outsourcer, how to spot warning signs of cost overrun or schedule slippage, and how to maintain a strong relationship with your third-party teams.
The book is written in a style that lets the reader feel as if he's getting the inside scoop from an experienced project manager. This makes the messages seem less like a lesson and more like advice from one professional to another. I found the book to be a slow starter, but the last half of the book very insightful and entertaining. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone dealing with project management challenges.