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Best Project Management Books: Your Step-stones to Success

Experience is vital. Training is Great. But there's still nothing to beat reading a good book to expand your mental horizons. They are your step-stones to career success. So, in this article, I want to showcase my picks for the best Project Management books.

Best Project Management Books: Your Step-stones to Success

Yes, we’ve had a huge revolution in how we can learn and teach ourselves. And you may be ready for a project management course. But, for a new project manager, project management books are still a great way to learn. And for those of us with experience under our belts, the right project management books can offer new insights and ideas.

So, what are the Best Project Management books that I Recommend to a Project Manager?

That’s the question I have set out to answer in this article. Any selection of the best project management books must be subjective and this is no different. But in this revised version of an old article, I have tried to make it as useful as possible, by dividing it into four sections.

But There is one thing that is new, since the earlier version (apart from some added recommendations). At the end of each section, I will crown one book as the best of the section. If you don't read any of the others, that'll be the one to read.

Best Project Management Books: Your Step-stones to Success

Structure of this Article

I'll split my recommendations into four sections:

Let's get going...

So with this explanation, but with no apology for the subjective selections, here are my recommendations. Please add your own to the comments section below.

Please note that the Amazon links in this article are affiliated. I'll earn a small commission to support this site, if you decide to buy one of these books. But, I stand behind these recommendations and believe you will get great value from any of these books.

Part 1: Best Project Management Books for an Easy-to-Read Introduction

Let’s say you are a real beginner. You’ve been tasked with a project and have no formal project management training. You may have no experience either. But perhaps more likely, you’ve delivered small personal projects before… and maybe even some small organizational projects.

What project management books will give you a straightforward, easy to follow, intro to doing your first structured project?

Here, I am looking for:

  • Easy to read – the author must be a confident and effective communicator
  • Simple but authoritative – the author’s project process must be straightforward, but be rooted in strong best practice
  • Clearly structured – the book needs to follow a solid structure, making it easy for the reader to get repeatable results

The result is five project management books.

And this time, I am not going to be coy. I wrote my own introductory book to meet the three criteria above, so I shall start with that one.

How to Manage a Great Project: On budget. On target. On time.

Author: Mike Clayton

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton

Of all my project management books, this is the fundamental one. I designed it to take a beginer to a good level of competence, in eight easy steps.

So instead of telling you what I think, here is what Anne-Marie O’Hara, Head of Projects at The National Trust for Scotland, said:

"Read this book, follow his advice and you will succeed.’"

Read it because: You follow my articles, so you probably like my style.

What You Need to Know about Project Management

Author: Fergus O’Connell

What You Need to Know about Project Management

In my opinion, this is the next best of the lightweight mass market trade paperbacks about project management. It has all the basics written clearly in bite-sized chunks.

Rather than follow a project lifecycle approach (like How to Manage a Great Project), this project management book focuses on the key skills you need to focus on, to deliver a successful project.

Read it because: It's full of bite-sized ideas to implement quickly.

Project Management for Humans: Helping People Get Things Done Paperback

Author: Brett Harned

Helping People Get Things Done Paperback

This book places its emphasis firmly on managing your projects through people.

And it is also distinctive on this list for being focused mainly on digital project management - but not about 'how to be agile'. 

It's full of good sense, practical advice, and engaging anecdotes.

Read it because: project management is a human enterprise.

Project Management For Dummies

Author: Stanley E Portney

Project Management for Dummies

I’ll admit it… For years, I held out against Dummies books for, well, snobbish reasons. I’m not a Dummy.

But this book, like its modern stable mates, does not treat you like a dummy.

Read it because: Quite simply, it’s very good.

Project Management for You: How to Turn Your Ideas Into Reality, Deliver On Your Promises, and Get Things Done

Author: Cesar Abeid

Project Management for You

I don’t usually like nor recommend self-published, Kindle-only books. But I will make an exception for this well-written ebook.

It is written in a personal, first person style that you may or may not like, but it is full of good pragmatic advice, clearly explained.

Read it because: Abeid's anecdotes and experience bring project management to life.

20:20 Project Management: How to Deliver on Time, on Budget and on Spec

Author: Tony Marks

20:20 Project Management

This is a project management book that was recommended by OnlinePMCourses reader, Angus Duncan in his comment to the previous version of this article. I have taken a look at this book, though not thoroughly. And I was impressed.

It takes a similar, lifecycle approach to How to Manage a Great Project. It is written for a slightly more experienced reader, but I think it still fits with this group, rather than the next.

Read it because: It adds case studies to the introductory format.

Crowned the Best...

How to Manage a Great Project

Because...

I wrote this book to match this niche.

After 20 years of training new project managers, I know what ways of explaining things work. And I have turned those live courses into a book.

You'll find it:

  • Easy to read
  • Covers all the ground you need
  • Solid theory with practical advice
How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton

Part 2: Best Project Management Books for Next-step PMs with some Experience under Your Belt

The first set of books is great for beginners. And they also offer plenty to learn for those readers who have done a few projects and want to refresh their learning and spot areas where you can brush up.

But what if you want to go further?

You have a few projects under your belt. So, now you want to stretch your thinking and improve your project management practice. What are the next-step project management books to speed you on your way to mastery of your craft?

My criteria for these books are:

  • The author is eminent and clearly writes from a standpoint of their own mastery
  • The book will make you think – it has ideas that take you beyond our Part 1 Project Management books
  • Yet the author still writes in a clear and compelling way, without hiding behind jargon and unnecessary complexity.

Performance-Based Project Management: Increasing the Probability of Project Success

Author: Glen B Alleman

Performance-Based Project Management

Glen Alleman really knows his stuff, so this is rigorous, reliable, yet completely straightforward. This represents the distillation into simple ideas of a vast wealth of experience delivering high value, high criticality projects – often in software systems. As soon as I knew Glen was writing a book, I was confident it would rank highly among my best project management books.

Glen is also a frequent project management blogger and has contributed an excellent article on Capabilities Based Planning to OnlinePMCourses.

Read it because: No-one does rigorous thinking as well as Glen Alleman.

Alpha Project Managers

Author: Andy Crowe

Alpha Project Managers

This book blew me away.

Andy Crowe has created a thorough survey and deftly extracted large amounts of gold from the data he’s mined. I learnt so much from it that I wrote a comprehensive review of the book for an earlier article. Please do take a look at that.

Then buy and read this book.

Read it because: Andy has researched and tell us what really works.

Herding Chickens. Innovative Techniques for Project Management

Author: Dan Bradbary and David Garrett

Herding Chickens

The title is a metaphor for the challenges of project management. The book’s principal author, Dan Bradary, has clearly been around the block a few times (he’s a PMP with 30 years’ experience when he wrote the book).

So Herding Chickens tackles some of the thorny challenges project managers face day-to-day. And he offers a range of valuable insights drawing on a wide range of ideas and models. His is an approach very similar to mine: read widely, learn from anything, draw it into your practice to test it out, then pass it on if it works.

Read it because: Bite-sized insights from a seasoned career as a Project Manager.

Project Management Coaching Workbook: Six Steps to Unleashing Your Potential

Author: Susanne Madsen

Project Management Coaching Workbook

If you want to self-coach, to become a better PM, and are prepared to put in the work of doing her exercises, Susanne offers a great book. It is one of those project management books you are likely to return to at different stages of your career. She comes from a business project background.

Read it because: The emphasis is on you, as a professional.

Brilliant Project Leader: What the Best Project Leaders Know, Do, and Say to Get Results, Evert Time

Author: Mike Clayton

Brilliant Project Leader by Mike Clayton

Declaration: this is another one of mine.

This books has three parts.

  1. The first looks at the four essentials of team leadership in a project context, and offers a wealth of tools and tips for each. 
  2. Part 2 sets out the things you need to do to move from project manager to project leader, in each of the four primary project stages.
  3. And finally, the last part offers tips and tools for a project leader who needs to deal with tough times – which you will do one day.

Read it because: It draws clear lines between the management and leadership aspects of our role - and shows you how to do the leadership bit.

Making Things Happen

Author: Scott Berkun

Making Things Happen

This comes highly recommended to me as a book full of experience around making the basics of project management work in a challenging corporate environment.

The focus is on pragmatism and it's full of anecdotes and ideas.

Read it because: It will make the basics of day-to-day PM work stand out.

Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams

Author: Terry Schmidt

Strategic Project Management Made Simple

As the title suggests, this book has a strategic focus - and one around meeting organizational goals. 

This book has a lot in it - tools, methods, insights. It will help you graduate to a broader perspective on your project management.

Read it because: you'll need to move up in your career and manage multiple projects within a wider organizational context.  

Crowned the Best...

Alpha Project Managers

Because...

There is just so much in here to learn from. Click the image to read our full review.

Alpha Project Managers

Close second: Strategic Project Management Made Simple: Practical Tools for Leaders and Teams

Part 3: Best Project Management Books for Your Next-steps in Specific Project Management Disciplines

In this part, let’s look at some of the specific topics you’ll want to study, as you develop your project management career.

Here, I’m looking for pretty much the same things as I was in Part 2.

Risk Happens! Managing Risk and Avoiding Failure in Business Projects

Author: Mike Clayton

2nd Edition: Revised and Enlarged

Risk Happens! 2nd Ed

This is another of my own books, but I firmly believe it is the best introductory level project risk management book out there.

It’s written for early-stage project managers who want to go beyond the hour or so of coverage the subject got in their project management training. And it is stuffed full of tables, tools, and diagrams to make a tricky subject easy to understand and practical to implement.

This new edition is revised and enlarged with new content.

Read it because: Risk Management is Essential - and this is the best introduction I know.

Identifying and Managing Project Risk

Author: Tom Kendrick

Identifying and Managing Project Risk

This is the intermediate volume between Risk Happens! (above) and Effective Risk Management (in Part 4, below). It’s a big read with more detail than the former. But it is far less rigorous and technical than the latter.

I love Kendrick’s telling of the story of the Panama canal, as the end piece to each chapter.

Read it because: Kendrick balances rigor with ease-of-reading.

Engaging Stakeholders on Projects : How to Harness People Power

Author: Elizabeth Harrin

Engaging stakeholders on projects

This is a brand new book and it is clearly (to me) the best simple introduction to Stakeholder Engagement you can buy

It provides all the resources you need, to understand the process and take it on confidently.

Read it because: This book will get you from the 'one-chapter' intro of general PM books to a solid level of knowledge quickly

The Influence Agenda: A Systematic Approach to Aligning Stakeholders in Times of Change

Author: Mike Clayton

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

This is the fourth (and last) of my own project management books that I am listing. And I think it’s the best.

It is a comprehensive guide to project stakeholder engagement. It avoids proprietary models and cover a huge range of ideas: from stakeholder analysis techniques to persuasive writing, to behavioral economics, to stakeholder campaign management. This is a topic with a paucity of decent books, so this one fills a big gap. It will also give you a three page history of the concept of a stakeholder!

Read it because: If you want more depth than Elizabeth's basic introduction, above, this one ghas it. It very nearly went into Part 4.

Agile Project Management for Dummies

Author: Mark C Layton and Steven J Ostermiller

Agile Project Managemnt for Dummies

This is not the book if you want a rigorous text on applying Agile to your projects. But, if you want an easy-to-read introduction that will leave you feeling fully familiar with the principles and practices of Agile, it’s a great book.

Read it because: Sometimes we just want a simple introduction, rather than in-depth information.

The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile: Principles and Practices for an Adaptive Approach

Author: Charles (Chuck) Cobb

The Project Managers Guide to Mastering Agile- Chuck Cobb

Chuck Cobb is a good friend of OnlinePMCourses, and if you want to learn Agile Project Management, then we recommend his courses.

But we choose our friends carefully. Chuck knows his stuff and has a highly pragmatic approach to Agile, which allows you to adopt it at any level from the local to the enterprise, and in any degree of rigor, from pure Scrum through to an adaptive blend of methodologies.

Read it because: this is a solid introduction to all-things agile.

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

Author: Jeff Sutherland

Scrum - The art of doing twice the work in half the time

Frankly, this is a love-it or hate-it book that makes the case for Scrum by one of the founders. Don't expect to learn as much about how to practice Scrum.

It's self-serving and insightful by degrees. Buy with caution. Not everyone will like this. Just take a look at the Amazon reviews!

Read it because: you want to hear how Jeff Sutherland views his creation.

Green Project Management

Authors: Richard Maltzman and David Shirley

Green Project Management

Think long-term when planning and delivering your projects.This book is practical and packed with real examples that show how you can make a positive environmental impact in the way you deliver your projects.

Learn more about Green Project Management from one of the authors, in our feature article by Rich Maltzman: Green Project Management: Are You Ready to Think Sustainably?

Read it because: if you aren't thinking sustainably, then you are one or more steps behind the leaders in our profession.

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2

Author: Nigel Bennett

Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2

There are lots of introductory and explanatory guides to PRINCE2 on the market, but if you're serious…

This is the authoritative guide published by the current owners of the PRINCE2 methodology set. The methodology has evolved a lot since I bought my 1998 edition, so do spend the money and get a current copy, if you are going to be studying the PRINCE2 methodology.

Read it because: This is the authoritative text on PRINCE2.

Crowned the Best...

Agile Project Management for Dummies

Because...

If you aren't yet aware of the basics of Agile, you need to be. And this book makes it easy to absorb them.

Do also look at our roadmap and resource guide: I Want to Study Agile Project Management, here on this site.

Agile Project Managemnt for Dummies

Close second: Green Project Management

Part 4: Best Project Management Books that are More-demanding Reads, with a Higher Technical Content

Our last part is dedicated to serious students of Project Management. I only recommend these for people with some solid experience under you belt.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK Guide 6th Edition

Author: Project Management Institute

PMBOK Guide 6th Edition

PMBOK Guide 6th Edition


This is the PMI’s guide to its body of knowledge. It is a hugely valuable reference book but a poor place to start learning from. It contains a huge amount of information but does not set out to teach or to describe the underlying principles.

If you plan to get either the PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) or Certified Associate in Project Management qualification (CAPM), this will be your primary reference work.

This 6th Edition ( 2017) dwarfs my first edition (1996)! But I'll need to update this entru as soon as the 7th edition Drops (early 2021, some say). We are promised a slimmed down volume and links to assets on a PMI website.

This is a reference book, but if you are serious about a project management career, this is one of the few essential project management books.

You can also get PMBOK6 packaged with PMI’s Agile Practice Guide, co-authored with the Agile Alliance. That’s the link I’ll give below. The price is only a little more.

<rant> 

 I can’t complete this without sharing my BIG GRIPE about this book. PMI cares about copyright theft. So this book is printed on special anti-counterfeit paper that has a sort of watermark that renders its pages a not-quite-uniform gray. This makes it hard to read. It’s a slap in the face for everyone who pays a lot of money to buy a copy, including PMI’s own members, whom I believe PMI should treat with more respect.
</rant>

Read it because: You have to. If you need the qualification, you have to. Otherwise, frankly, don't waste your money. Buy any other set of books on this list for the same coin.

APM Body of Knowledge 7th Edition

Author: Association for Project Management

The APM Body of Knowledge 7th Ed

This is shorter, sharper and, in many ways, much better than the PMI's Body of Knowledge.

It is largely a source-book - a guide to the knowledge you need and places to find it, rather than giving all that knowledge.

Learn more about this book from our in-depth review: APM Body of Knowledge: What is it, Do You Need it?

Read it because: You want a guide to the knowledge areas to build up on - or to study for an APM exam.

Effective Risk Management: Some Keys to Success

Author: Edmund H Conrow

Effective Risk Management

Here’s a book with one of the most self-effacing subtitles: ‘some keys to success’. It hides the fact that this is the book you go to when you want an authoritative guide to project risk management… and you are prepared to put the work in.

This is not an easy book. But it is well written and, if you are a serious PM who needs to manage risk rigorously on major projects, it’s the book for you.

Read it because: you need to become expert in project risk management.

Filling Execution Gaps: How Executives and Project Managers Turn Corporate Strategy into Successful Projects

Author: Todd Williams

Filling Execution Gaps

Every now and then, I read a book I really wish I had written. And this is one.

Todd Williams's approach is very much like mine and this is a heavy book that goes into his ideas in great detail. But don't think it's full of padding: just the opposite. You'll find plenty of gold-dust in here.

Todd's writing is clear, if dense in ideas. And those ideas are fundamental. You will want to return to this book as your career develops.

This is a truly exceptional project management book, and one for pride of place in your library... After you have read it thoroughly and covered it in sticky notes and underlines!

Read it because: it's filled with important insights for anyone managing projects and programs at a strategic level.

Critical Chain

Author: Eliyahu Goldratt

Critical Chain

This book s written as a novel. It introduces the ideas of the Theory of Constraints (TOC), as applied to projects, and the Critical Chain.

These are important ideas for project managers to understand - although perhaps not as revolutionary and game-changing as they were touted to be.

Find out the answer to 'What is a Critical Chain?'

Read it because: your peers have done - and you'll want to hve an opinion on it.

Capital Projects: What Every Executive Needs to Know to Avoid Costly Mistakes and Make Major Investments Pay Off

Author: Paul Barshop

Capital Projects

If you need to understand the business aspects of capital projects, then this is the book for you.

It presents lots of data to help understand why large projects succeed... or fail.

Read it because: if you are going to play in the big league, you need to know the way the game is played.

Project Management: A Managerial Approach

Author: Jack R. Meredith & Samuel J. Mantel Jr.

Project Management: A Managerial Approach

My original copy is the third edition and 20 years old. But this was my reference manual when I was learning, so I can heartily recommend the latest edition. It’s a textbook, so you get a huge amount of content, lots of detail and, whilst easily readable, it ain’t reading-for-pleasure.

But if you’re a serious student of PM, or you want a good solid reference book on your shelves, to see you through years of ‘let me just look that up‘, then you’ll want this.

As a text book, it's very pricey. So, maybe save some money by picking up a second hand 7th or 8th edition. For me, this is one of my truly indispensible project management books. I recently upgraded to a 7th edition at a very low cost.

Read it because: You want a solid academic understanding of the broad sweep of PM.

Project Management in Practice

Author: Jack R. Meredith, Samuel J. Mantel Jr, Scott M. Shafer & Margaret M. Sutton

Project Management in Practice

A lighter-weight text book than its cousin (above). I haven’t seen it, but this may suit you as a halfway house (though it’s priced a little beyond half way).

Textbook pricing is shocking (and arguably unethical). And, for reasons I cannot fathom, the 6th Edition is currently not on sale as a print copy in the UK Amazon.

Again, consider a second-hand copy of an earlier edition - mine is the 3rd Ed.

Read it because: you want a textbook approach - but a lighter-weight volume than the one above.

Crowned the Best...

APM Body of Knowledge 7th Edition

Because...

This is a book full of references. It's deeply flawed in some ways, but its mission is sound: to guide you in career-long professional development.

The APM Body of Knowledge 7th Ed

Close second: Filling Execution Gaps

My Own Project Management Bookshelf

In case you think I am bluffing on all of this, here is a picture of my own project management bookshelf. Not every book in the list is here - but plenty are.

Oh, and where are my own books (the ones I wrote)? They live on a separate shelf.

Mike's 2020 Project Management Bookshelf - best project management books

What Project Management Books do You Recommend?

We’d love to hear about the books you liked, or your comments on our own recommendations. Add your thoughts to the comments below, and we’ll respond to every contribution.



 

The links here are affiliate links. If you are interested in buying one of these books, please use these links, to support our blog. Many thanks… Mike

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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