Cover Image: Harvard Business Review Project Management Handbook

Harvard Business Review Project Management Handbook

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

There’s a new project management ‘bible’ in town and it could displace some of the weighty tomes you have on the shelf (Lock, I’m looking at you).
HBR Project Management Handbook cover
Get your copy

The Harvard Business Review Project Management Handbook: How to Launch, Lead, and Sponsor Successful Projects is a masterclass in how to make project management work in modern businesses. Written by past PMI Chair and PM champion Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, the book’s goal is to elevate project management competencies to management levels.

The book starts with an effective and articulate explanation of why projects are required in a modern economy (the “project economy”) and why leaders can’t ignore the discipline any longer.
The Project Canvas

The Handbook introduces the idea of the Project Canvas, a simple way to build a common foundation for a project by linking the people with the way the work will be delivered, and matching that to the investment and benefits: kind of like a business case on a page. I love this idea and think it will help organizations adopting project portfolio management to identify and prioritize incoming ideas.

There are four parts to the book:

    Project fundamentals for everybody, which looks at the context of project management and how it fits into the business.
    The Project Canvas, which introduces the domains and building blocks of the tool that forms the framework for the book
    Individual and organizational project competencies, which explores the skills and capabilities required to be successful
    A better future through projects, which is about the intersection of project management and megatrends affecting business, creating opportunities and presenting challenges we can’t overlook.

While there is some context-setting and business theory, there is also a lot of practical content in this book. I liked the idea of matching implementation methods to project type and that’s explained really well. The graphics are good, relevant and help make the book easy to digest, even when the concepts may feel new or tricky.

There are some odd things that seem to have slipped through, like calling out IPMA and APM separately, given that APM is one of the membership organizations within IPMA and there are lots of other international bodies that are the national equivalents of APM that don’t get a mention. Maybe that’s a reflection on the likelihood that this book will mainly reach an English-speaking audience at this time? PRINCE2 is not spelled correctly in places (“Prince 2”) and while other certification bodies get a mention, AXELOS as the awarding body and ‘guardian’ of PRINCE2 doesn’t. But those are small things and don’t detract from the big messages in the book.
Bringing benefits into project management

I remember having a debate with someone many years ago who felt project benefits should not be part of project management, and that’s never sat well with me. I loved the fact that Nieto-Rodriguez doesn’t entertain the idea that benefits fall outside the project’s responsibility.

Benefits are very much part of the project lifecycle, and the way that’s explained in the book makes it clear why.
New thinking

The book also challenged my own assumptions and beliefs by including ‘run’ as part of the scope of the project lifecycle: I suppose how much you get involved with that depends on your role. As a program manager, the running was very much my responsibility when I look back, at least for the projects that had completed while the program was still going.

In the section on ‘what project management is now’ there are other moments that will make you go, ‘ah, yes!’ like the discussion on the new triple constraints. There is also a lot of helpful stuff on project prioritization and portfolio management – discussion points you can bring up with your exec team to help them see the value of not doing All. The. Things. at the same time.
A manifesto for a new way of project success

The final section of the book looks at the future of project management, including crisis management, diversity, the role of technology and sustainability: all topics we need to embrace and deal with in a project setting, probably more so than we are actively doing now.

The book ends with Nieto-Rodriguez’s manifesto to help organizations develop and cope with the level of project work required to succeed in today’s economy.

This is a timely, much-needed book that you can buy for your executive team. Many people who have been working in projects for years will be nodding along as they read it: the Handbook makes how we feel about project management transparent and elevates the day job into the domain of strategic influence – and yet you put the book down feeling like achieving that is totally manageable and realistic. Nieto-Rodriguez has articulated where project management as a profession should be and where it’s going: with a seat (and a voice) firmly at the table.
Was this review helpful?
A must read book; lots of good content about how to launch, lead and sponsor successful projects.

I liked and enjoyed a lot:
- The project canvas framework to analyze and achieve the best of every #project. Clear, visual and user friendly.
- The relevance of Purpose to choose and prioritize projects. Why are we doing this, what is the true motivation and value added? Yes, there's something more impactful and engaging than just kpis and excel files.
- Reference to sustainability as a decision criteria and a whole section to sustainable project management as one of the top trends.
- Detailed real examples of iconic inspiring #projects like Covid vaccine, restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris or the launch of Boing 777 among many others.

Thanks so much Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez for putting all that together.
Was this review helpful?
Don't think this book is only for 'Project Managers' - it is not.  
It will be useful for anyone involved in a project (from personal to major organisational initiatives), and certainly for sponsors and those who must lead and/or support change.

I found the book easy to read, and found practical ideas I can use immediately with my own projects.

More importantly, it identifies and fills in some critical gaps in the current project management methodologies and practices, namely:
1.	It focuses on the fact that projects are approved in order to realise some benefit, and unless that benefit is realised they have essentially failed.  Antonio gives good examples of the damage and sheer wastage when we lose sight of the benefits.  
2.	It addresses the key ‘building blocks’ that research and long experience in project management have shown must be addressed to achieve project success.
3.	It illustrates clearly that these ‘building blocks’ apply equally to all projects, big or small, agile or predictive, whatever arena they address.
In Parts One and Two we at last get a clear and simple outline of what it takes to make projects succeed, in everyday terms, and on top of that we get a practical tool, the Project Canvas, to help us do that, with useful guidelines.  I believe this will also provide a solid basis for effective project management competency development and awareness building at all levels.
Is the Project Canvas the only tool you need to achieve project success?  
Antonio does not claim or expect this, but what the Project Canvas does is ensure that core basics are in place:
•	Why are we doing the project?
•	Who is leading the project?
•	Do we have what we need to make the project a success?
•	How will we create the value expected by the project?

For the simplest projects I suggest it quite possibly is the only tool you need - but for most projects you will still need to use more detailed project and change management tools and techniques to manage the underlying details of the project e.g. schedules, budgets, risks, resources and ensure project controls and communications are effective.  In these more complex project environments I see the Project Canvas as a top level dashboard for governance and communication using language that is understandable to everyone, both in terms of what the purpose and status of the project is, but also what the implications are initially and on an on-going basis, as a guide to likely project success.  

In Parts 3 and 4 Antonio introduces key concepts and guidelines for multi-project management, how the Project Canvas helps here, and future directions of the Project Economy and project management technology that raise interesting points for further exploration and debate.

I urge everyone to read this book, pick a project, any project, and start using the Project Canvas.  

I have started already!

Finally, thank you to Harvard Business Review, Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez and NetGalley for making the ARC available for me to review.  It has been a real opportunity for me to validate and consider my own 45+ years of project and portfolio management experience in ways I would probably not have found time to do without the impetus of reviewing this book.
Was this review helpful?
The book is an exquisite work by Antonio-Nieto Rodriguez where he manages, in a clear and didactic way, to convey the entire universe of Project Management to the reader.
It is not a particularly technical book, but it manages to incorporate within its three hundred pages of text all the apparatus necessary to understand the entire organic process of projects and how these projects are part of our entire life, both private and professional.
I believe that Antônio managed to convey to readers a vision that is perhaps quite unknown to those who do not deal with projects on a day-to-day basis and who have not had a technical background in Project Management, when he addresses both issues related to hard skills such as, for example, predictive and adaptive methodologies, portfolio and program management, use of technology and especially when entering the soft skills arena not only for the Project Manager (or Project Leader) as for a participant in the project process who is the sponsor, that should be the subject of a new book.
It is important to mention the inclusion of relevant topics today such as the use of IA, crisis management, diversity, and sustainability.
As a project manager with decades of career, I am happy to have available now a book that brilliantly manages to present to a wider audience all the necessary framework to understand the real Project Economy.
Was this review helpful?
Harvard Business Review Project Management Handbook by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez was a great way to learn about project management. Who could know better than Harvard? The author gives real world examples and actionable strategies I can’t wait to incorporate into my own work!
Was this review helpful?
I'm PMI/Scrum Master certified and appreciated how this book deals with the general picture and the different types of projects.
It's not a methodological guide but there's plenty of ideas and suggestions that can be useful regardless of the project methodology.
A useful and informative read for any type of stakeholder or pm.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
Was this review helpful?
This book is great for those established in their career, career changers, and new graduates.  It has a textbook feel in regards to explanations and the girth of information, which leads me to believe this would be a great staple in one’s office. 

Overall I think this book has key elements that will help readers become more developed in project management and the nuances of leadership.
Was this review helpful?
An informative Project Management guide with useful context for new and seasoned project managers.  An insightful guide with helpful tools and frameworks.  

Thank you NetGalley for the advanced readers copy.
Was this review helpful?
A very useful book for anyone who is starting out on, or looking to support their career in project management. PM skills are essential for any professional work, to be honest, so anyone looking to enhance their career development and prospects would do well to check out HBR's relevant content.

Recommended.
Was this review helpful?
An excellent text providing a large overview of Project Management from definitions to case studies the author Antionio Nieto-Rodriguez hand-picked to provide context to the management of projects at your organization.

The author introduces the reader to his methodology for project management oversight - The Project Canvas.  The PMC provides a one-page summary of the key salient points of your project including the foundation, its people, why it was created, and more!

The text then covers the competencies required to become a good project manager, provides some frameworks and tools that can be used in managing your projects, speaks to agile project management, and closes with a healthy discussion on the future of project management.  The text speaks to and how project management has been used recently in crisis management, speaks about the importance of diverse teams and diversity within a modern organization and glances on the topic of sustainability and green thinking.

The book concludes with the author's Project Manifesto and his encouragement and reinforces his enthusiasm for the topic of project management.

Where I think the book suffers is that it is trying quite hard to be all things to all people - and weighing in at over 300 pages the author has managed admirably.

Where I think the author has succeeded is through his use of case studies and a summary of best practices and tools and solutions for use by practitioners.  This book would be a great text for an introductory under-grad course or graduate-level topical course on Project Management.  It would also make an excellent reference guide for a practitioner to refer to its tools and frameworks.  Finally, the Project Canvas provides a strong summarization tool for use in actual project management.

Thank you to Harvard Business Review, author Antionio Nieto-Rodriguez and Net Galley for making a copy available via adobe digital editions in return for my honest review.  The review is my own opinion and is not influenced in any way.
Was this review helpful?