Lessons learned from experience: A review of 'Lessons in Program Management'

Unlike other books of its ilk, "Lessons in Program Management" does not set out to teach you about some complicated project management scheme. Instead, it simply tries to teach some basic concepts that apply no matter what complicated project management scheme you're trying to use.

It does this by using a series of vignettes. The premise is that the author was recently hired by a large manufacturing company to mentor and assist the company's project managers. In this position, he comes into contact with many different project managers working on many different types of projects who have many different types of problems.

Each vignette -- there are 50 in all -- starts by telling a story about a particular problem that one of the project managers is having. The "mentor" then discusses that problem in terms of one of the following project management steps: defining the work, building a workplan, managing the workplan, managing project scope, managing risk, managing documents, managing quality and managing metrics. The goal is for the reader to learn a lesson from the situation and to then apply that to his or her own project.

For example, Lesson 31 tells the story of a project manager, Danielle Bartlett, who was just given responsibility for developing a Web-based portal for the company's facilities department and its vendors. While everyone is telling her that this project should be a no-brainer, she's uneasy about it. Her fears turn out to be well founded and, in discussing the project with the author, they identify several risks that could torpedo the project.

The lesson, of course, is that before you begin working on a project, you should identify as many potential risks as you can. Armed with this information, you'll be better able to deal with them. In Danielle's project, for example, one of the risks she identified was her and her team's inexperience with Web projects. Knowing this was a risk, Danielle could then find someone with experience in Web development to work with the team or send team members for training.

The book comes with a CD-ROM that contains forms that can be used to help put the lessons you learn to good use. For example, there is a checklist on the CD-ROM to help identify potential risks.

Perhaps the best lesson this book teaches is that before you begin a project -- and when you begin having problems with a project -- it's best to step back and evaluate the project as dispassionately as possible. The role of the mentor here is to look at the big picture and, from that vantage point, advise wisely.

"Lessons in Program Management" by Tom Mochal and Jeff Mochal. ISBN 1-59059-127-5. 312 pages. APress, Berkeley, Calif., 2004.

About the Author

Dan Romanchik is an engineering manager turned writer and Web developer. His current passion is amateur radio. You can read his amateur radio blog at


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