Project Delivery Reading List

Continuing the theme of developing into a rounded project delivery professional I thought it might be useful to share some of the more useful things that I’ve read that have helped me to better understand how to successfully deliver change. This list isn’t intended to be exhaustive, or even definitive, but I hope it helps people to expand their horizons and learn a little. If you have your own recommendations please share them, especially if you have a review to help others decide whether or not they’d find the book interesting. This is my suggested project delivery reading list.

Project Delivery Reading List

  1. The Black Swan – Nicolas Nassim Taleb
  2. Peopleware (Third Edition)
  3. Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
  4. Superforecasting – Dan Gardner & Philip Tetlock
  5. Government Service Design Manual
  6. Freakonomics – Stephen Levitt & Stephen Dubner
  7. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy – Richard Rumelt
  8. On Representative Government – J.S. Mill
  9. Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed
  10. Thinking Fast & Slow – Daniel Kahneman

These aren’t in an particular order, nor are they specifically about projects. In fact if they have a common thread it is about how we think about ideas, make choices and come to decisions. They help us understand our limitations, our strengths and how we deal with failure. In turn this helps us to be better at planning and dealing with the unexpected, which leads to improved project delivery.

The Black Swan by Nicolas Nassim Taleb

The Black Swan has become the symbol of the Project Delivery Profession across government, naturally that makes it top of the project delivery reading list. There’s a good reason for this. Black Swans are the random events that underly our lives, from bestsellers to world disasters. Their impact is huge; they’re nearly impossible to predict; yet after they happen we always try to rationalise them. The book shows us how to stop trying to predict everything and take advantage of uncertainty. Definitely required reading for everyone in the profession.

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

The book is about developing a growth mindset and how this shapes how we operate. The key to this is how failure is perceived. Two examples permeate the book, one the medical profession and the other aviation. In medicine failures are seldom acknowledged properly, and where they are blame is usually attached. In aviation every failure is seen as a learning opportunity, to the point where aviation safety is second to none. Accepting failure and learning from it leads to better performance, and that’s something we should embrace.

Peopleware (Third Edition)

A really honest take on managing people in projects. It’s an american perspective and comes from an IT background, but pretty much it is about seeing people as people and making sure that we work in a way that helps us to deliver while still treating people as humans. I thought it was so good that I bought a copy for every member of my SLT.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

A fab summary of experiments that show how our brains work and how you can harness that. If you’ve done the Unconscious Bias training this book unpacks some of the cognitive biases that underpin that. The main things are that how things are presented shapes our reaction to them. There’s a good Yes Minister episode where Sir Humphrey demonstrates this with Bernard.  Similar works are Nudge, Stupid and Bounce.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

Looking for long-term explanations of phenomena rather than the short-term ones. It really opened my eyes to the bigger picture and thinking about consequences. Entertaining too and an easy read. There is a sequel and The Undercover Economist is ace on this too, you should read them all.

Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock & Dan Gardner

Superforecasting is a very readable explanation of the good judgement project that looked at how to improve forecasting. The good news is that the superforecasting process can be learnt. There’s more skill than judgement needed to do superforecasting. It’ll help you a lot with those very early project plans, and also on thinking about risks etc.

Government Service Design Manual

Not really a book, but it changed how I approach things at work. Some really good things in there, and much of it is applicable more widely than to digital projects. If nothing else “recognising user needs” and “doing the hard work to make things simple” are good takeaways.

Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

Along with Mintzberg’s Strategy Bites Back, this helped me get my head around what I was doing at work and understand strategy and strategic thinking better than I had before. It also gave me something to point others at if they wanted to self-educate.

On Representative Government by J.S. Mill

I studied this while doing political economy  at university as an elective to make up points to complete my degree.  At the time I had no intention of becoming a civil servant, however it was good training for options appraisal and introduces you to the concept of utilitarianism, and also about the pros and cons of different types of government.

Thinking Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This is another one about the way we think, and how we can train ourselves to make better decisions. Again really useful when thinking about the early stages of projects, and also in working with stakeholders.

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