Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Best Research On Project Management

Some really insightful data backed research on project management comes from Bent Flyvbjerg. He’s originally from Denmark, but now at Oxford University’s business school. You can see a good summary of his research here, and he has a name that’s pretty easy to find on Google.

His recent article in Harvard Business review explains why projects can be subject to the black swan problem.

And a number of his publications discuss the problems of inaccurate cost estimates, especially in public projects, but here is a good summary of reference class forecasting.

Project management is often a fairly practical subject, and so it’s interesting to see the level of deep, theoretical rigor that Flyvbjerg brings to the topic.

17 Beliefs For Project Managers

Bob Sutton is a management professor at Stanford, and publishes a useful blog, he doesn’t publish often but it’s always high quality content and perhaps most importantly, his work is grounded in empirical, research based analysis. It’s oriented towards managers rather than project managers, but there’s obviously a lot of overlap in applicability. Below are his 17 beliefs, which link to the related posts in most cases:

1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!

2. Indifference is as important as passion.

3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.

4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

5. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.

6. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.

7. The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.

8. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.

9. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?

10. Anyone can learn to be creative, it just takes a lot of practice and little confidence

11. “Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.”

12. If you are an expert, seek-out novices or experts in other fields. If you are a novice, seek out experts.

13. Sutton’s Law: “If you think that you have a new idea, you are wrong. Someone else probably already had it. This idea isn’t original either; I stole it from someone else”

14. “Am I a success or a failure?” is not a very useful question

15. The world would be a better place if people slept more and took more naps

16. Strive for simplicity and competence, but embrace the confusion and messiness along the way.

17. Jimmy Maloney is right, work is an overrated activity.

Book Review – Mindfire

This is the most provocative book I’ve read in months. The ideas contained in the essays are persuasive and it’s a fun, well focused read. Ideally, I’d like the book to be longer than 30 relatively short essays (hence 4 stars, not 5) but the quality bar is super-high and everything is well written in Scott’s energetic and personal style, and a does a great job of making you take a step back and think/reflect. The essays are short enough that even if one of them isn’t your thing, you’re pretty quickly on to the next one.

To give examples of essays they include topics like “How to give and receive criticism”, which describes how criticism isn’t just about your own views and a perspective and a single correct answer, but also about thinking how different people will interpret the thing that’s being criticized. Many of the essays tend to be motivational such as “The surprise inspiration of death” or “How to be passionate”.

As the author discloses, the essays in this book can also be found on his blog, but either because of the editorial work that’s gone into the book or because of simply reading it on my Kindle rather than a webpage I found it a much more engaging experience than hunting around on the web.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it. If you’re into the writing style of Malcom Gladwell or Michael Lewis then it’s a reasonable bet that you’ll enjoy this, and it’s sufficiently short and focused that it’s a very easy book to get through.

You can find it here on Amazon’s US site.

The Ig Nobel Prize and Innovation – Tanks and Structured Procrastination

Ever since the bra as gas mask idea, the Ig Nobel Awards have been worth following. They follow the same structure as the Nobel Prize, but focus on the most creative and improbable research conducted over the past year. Some are ideas are simply odd, but many are surprisingly clever and insightful here are two of the highlights from this year’s awards.

Using Tanks To Deal With Illegally Parked Cars

The mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania by dealing with the problem of illegally parked cars by running them over with a tank.


Structured Procrastination

According to John Perry of Stanford, you can still get things done if you procrastinate, the way to do it is to make sure that you rank all the things you have to do. You’ll still procrastinate and delay the top ranked item, but as long as your lower ranked items are worth doing you’ll still get things done. Therefore, the way to get things done is to work on many important things, rather than one single important thing. The article is here.