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PM Crash CourseTM: A Revolutionary Guide to what REALLY Matters When Managing Projects

Rita Mulcahy
RMC Publications, 2007
ISBN: 1932735070

As one of those project managers who originally got anointed to serve with no actual training, I was curious to see how this new book would deliver on the promise of its title. The author says right out that this book provides the answer she would give to any new project manager asking, "What's most important for me to know how to do?"

My verdict is that this book is in line with how I would answer that question after all my years in project management. It focuses heavily on the front end, where all good things are set as a foundation, or the seeds of later project destruction are sown by lack of attention to the correct project setup.

In terms of content, PM Crash CourseTM presents a basic, practical introduction to project management for anyone taking on their first project. It also seems appropriate for anyone who is already managing projects without formal project management training, who needs to make sure they have attended to the early project basics.

It opens with a practical introduction to the process framework of project management. While this section is consistent with the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®), it uses plain language phrases to describe the work in each stage of a project—a welcome change from the usual terse, formal terminology. The book then focuses heavily on the front end of the project, including key tasks such as writing a Project Charter and Scope Statement, creating a Work Breakdown Structure, identifying stakeholders, scheduling the project, managing risks, and managing communication. It does not, however, spend as much time on team composition and setup. For each activity, the chapter contains an explanation of the concept, contents of the deliverable, and an example deliverable format. The content is formatted nicely for a quick first read and later rescan and easy location of the key concepts and techniques. This has become a litmus test of mine; I just find it hard to grasp how-to from dense text. Give me lists, bullets, icons, bolded headings. The book passed my test on that score.

Additionally, the cover touts this as "A Course in a Book," and that approach is evident in the organization of each chapter. Concepts are introduced and examples are provided. Then the reader is given questions to consider and personal exercises to complete in order to apply the concepts and techniques to example project situations and/or to their own current projects. Space is even provided for writing answers straight into the book.

Other unique aspects of the book include:

  • A companion website for interaction, additional tips, and related documents.
  • Tips from practicing project managers for each project management activity covered in the text.
  • "Tricks of the trade" paragraphs, clearly marked, to provide practical tips beyond the standard how-to for executing each activity and deliverable.
  • A section called "Throughout the Project" for each major subject, instructing the reader on how a front-end deliverable such as a WBS should be used throughout the project, rather than written and put on the shelf.

Those last two items provide much of the real world value of the book. The main concept text in each chapter would be nothing new for someone who has had basic PM training, or who is in an organization that already dictates the use of standard documents such as project charters. But these paragraphs on tips from the field and tricks of the trade deliver some useful information that less experienced PMs often want when they're first applying all those basics: "Yeah, but how do I really do that in the real world?"

Overall, PM Crash Course does deliver on the promise of a quick, painless, practical, jargon-free introduction to key tasks of project management, especially in the critical front end. The book is appropriate for anyone who needs a better foundation on the basics of project management and which aspects are most critical for their time and attention and why. Because of its very approachable writing style, it is particularly appropriate for all those "people managing projects" who may never have the Project Manager title, but who nonetheless need a grasp of the project management basics and a practical grounding in how to apply them in the real world.

Contributed by Cinda Voegtli

[Full disclosure: ProjectConnections is proud to count RMC Project Management among our long-time advertisers, however (aside from receiving a review copy of the book itself) we received no compensation for this review. All book reviews on are independent reviews of books we think you might like to know about.]

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