The Project Manager's Bookshelf
A Broad Survey of Wisdom for Project Managers

Author: Harvey A. Levine
The Project Knowledge Group
Saratoga Springs, NY & San Diego, CA

As we grow in our profession, we build on three things:

  1. A base of formal education and instruction in our chosen discipline
  2. Our experiences in applying our professional skills
  3. The people who influence us along the way

The third item can come to us in several ways:

  1. Mentors and people with whom we work
  2. Seminars and lectures
  3. Via books (and other media) presenting groundbreaking concepts by visionaries

I have no doubt than my craft has been strengthened by dozens of these visionaries; men and women who have had the foresight to see the forest for the trees and the courage to carry their message to the masses.

My personal library is stocked with the published works of these giants who have made a difference in the way that we manage. Most of these are not “project management” books, but rather books that address the issues that we all face, in any discipline. This broader understanding is essential, as we cannot be successful in our project management endeavors by just applying the technical practices of project management. In the project management arena, we deal with more than scheduling and cost control. We have to also excel in problem solving and decision making, in communication, and in all those “people skills” that help us to work together and to get the most out of our efforts. Hundreds of management books have been published on these topics. The books that I have selected here all have a direct bearing on how we can be successful in the practice of project management. Here, then, is a selected list of visionaries, their concepts, and their publications.

General Management Topics
Joseph Scanlon
Joe Scanlon worked closely with Douglas McGregor, starting in 1946. His concepts of the nature of man in the workplace matched McGregor’s “Theory X”. He proposed methods for labor and management to join in meeting the business goals and to share in the gains for such success.

Among these methods were: (1) bonuses to be shared by the entire team for meeting goals, (2) employee cost savings programs, (3) gain sharing, and (4) open book management. The key idea behind these methods was that the workers were in the best position to contribute to improved methods and productivity and that they should be partners with management, rather than the typical boss/worker rule. Many companies went on to adopt what became known as the “Scanlon Plan”.

Ref: A collection of papers on Scanlon’s ideas and work can be found on the website of the Scanlon Leadership Network:

See also: Douglas McGregor, “The Human Side of Enterprise”, McGraw-Hill, 1960. This essential component of our library contains a chapter on the Scanlon Plan as well as the rest of the author’s profound discussion of his “Theory Y”.

Edgar H. Schein
Authority, according to Schein (re-stating a view postulated by Bernard & Simon), implies the willingness on the part of a subordinate to obey because he consents, that is, he grants to the person in authority the right to dictate to him.

Schein goes on to claim that "an organization cannot function unless the members consent to the operating authority system, and that this consent hinges upon the upholding of the psychological contract between the organization and the member."

According to Schein, for these individuals to achieve these goals in the workplace, and to obtain satisfaction from their work, depends to a large measure on two conditions.

  • First, is the degree in which their own expectations of what the organization will provide them and what they owe the organization, match what the organization's expectations are of what it will give and get.
  • Second (assuming that there is an agreement on expectations) is what is actually exchanged -- money in exchange for time at work; social-need satisfaction and security in exchange for work and loyalty; opportunities for self-actualization and challenging work in exchange for high productivity, quality work, and creative effort in the service of organizational goals; or various combinations of these and other things.

Ref: Edgar H. Schein, “Organizational Psychology”, Prentice-Hall, 1970

Rosabeth Moss Kanter
In her critically acclaimed book, The Change Masters: Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation, Rosabeth Moss Kanter asks: "How can an internal environment be created for members of the organization which will enable them to grow in their own unique capacities?" "How can organizations be designed to create optimum relationships between various subgroups which tend to develop within them?"

She then goes on to cite examples where such an environment was created and discusses the results. Her findings and advice have helped to move organizations to adopt behavior that motivates individuals to excel.

Ref: Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “The Change Masters: Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation”, Simon & Schuster, 1983

Geoffrey A. Moore
In his two monumental books: Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado, Moore provides insight into market dynamics. He discusses the life cycle of a product and what happens when the demand for the product peaks. There are some important messages for project managers about the explosive benefits that may result from being the first one to market. This provides ample justification for accelerating project deliverables.

Ref: Geoffrey A. Moore, “Inside the Tornado”, Harper Business, 1995 (Also: “Crossing the Chasm”, 1991)

Charles H. Kepner & Benjamin B. Tregoe
A significant function of project management is problem solving. We’ve all seen situations where the PM, ever anxious to move beyond a problem, throws all kinds of resources at the problem without ever really figuring out what is wrong.

Kepner & Tregoe point out the folly of such behavior and lay out a structure for getting at the cause of problems and moving toward a rational decision for corrective action. Since I read their book, about 35 years ago, I always face a problem with the question: “What has changed?”

Ref: Charles H. Kepner & Benjamin B. Tregoe, “The Rational Manager: A Systematic Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making”, McGraw-Hill, 1965 (Also, “The New Rational Manager”, Princeton Research Press, 1981)

Scott Adams
Who says that wisdom has to be dry? With great wit, bordering on the absurd, Adams reminds us of the very stupid conventions that often get in the way of getting to the goal.

Ref: Scott Adams, “The Dilbert Principle”, Harper Business, 1996

Project Management Topics
It seems as if everyone who owns a word processor is publishing a book on project management (even I have two of them). There’s lots of good stuff out there, including classics from recognized and prolific authors (Cleland, Kerzner, Mantel & Meridith, and Dinsmore). I have selected a few others that have found their way to my bookshelf because of what the say or how they say it.

Robert J. Graham
Bob Graham and I shared a cubicle in 1986 while on a consulting engagement. I found that his insights on the behavioral side of this project management business were quite profound. They are interestingly presented in his 1985 publication.

Ref: Robert J. Graham, “Project Management: Combining Technical and Behavioral Approaches for Effective Implementation”, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1985

James P. Lewis
Of all of the books on the basics of project management, Jim Lewis finds a way to make this complex discipline appear to be simple. Here, the essentials of project management are presented with clarity and precision.

Ref: James P. Lewis, “Project Planning, Scheduling & Control”, Irwin, 1995

Quentin W. Fleming & Joel M. Koppelman
Quentin Fleming is the recognized guru on Earned Value Analysis (EVA). His 1988 book, Cost/Schedule Control Systems Criteria, is the bible for EVA. He later teamed with Joel Koppelman to publish a book on EVA for the layman. This was a welcome edition on EVA, as it recognized the value of earned value performance measurement for every project (rather than just for projects where C/SCSC was required on selected government contracts).
As you will find from reading this book, EVA is a very simple and valuable capability that is available in most project management software.

Ref: Quentin W. Fleming & Joel M. Koppelman, “Earned Value Project Management”, Project Management Institute, 1996

Eliyahu M. Goldratt
There are two significant things about Eli Goldratt’s book, Critical Chain. One is the subject. Critical Chain Project Management is based on Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, and represents a branching away from the traditional CPM. It has created quite a stir as the CCPM camp argues with the traditional camp about the virtues of each philosophy.

The other significant aspect of this book is its format. It is written as a novel. It makes for some very interesting and enjoyable reading, even if you do not fully buy into its premise.

Ref: Eliyahu M. Goldratt, “Critical Chain”, The North River Press, 1997

Other Topics

Deborah Tannen
Nothing in project management is as important as communication. Yet, it is this function that often suffers the most – with potentially disastrous results.

Dr. Tannen, a professor of linguistics, cleverly illustrates how people often hear things differently than we intended them to do.

Ref: Deborah Tannen, “That’s Not What I Meant”, Ballantine Books, Reprints 1991-1992. (Also available on audio tape)

Transactional Analysis
Many of my favorite books were published in the mid 60’s. This era of the “flower child” also favored the emergence of numerous self-improvement philosophies and a raised awareness of our behavioral interactions.

This was the period of books and classes on Transactional Analysis. We learned how to act in our Adult ego state, and how to guide others to do so (rather than to revert to Parent or Child ego states – which are destructive). While, on the surface, T/A might appear to be just some psychobabble, it was startling to see the effect of moving in and out of these ego states during class exercises.

Ref: Eric Berne, “Games People Play”, Grove Press, 1964. Also: Thomas A. Harris, “I’m Ok – You’re Ok”, Harper & Row, 1969. Also: Muriel James & Dorothy Jongeward, “Born to Win

Harvey A. Levine, with 43 years of service to the project management industry, is founder of The Project Knowledge Group, a consulting firm specializing in PM training, PM software selection, evaluation & implementation, and PM using microcomputers. He has implemented or enhanced the project management capabilities of numerous firms, often combined with the selection or implementation of computerized project management tools. For more information on Harvey Levine or the Project Knowledge Group, please visit

Mr. Levine is the leading consultant to the project management software industry and is recognized as the leading expert in tools for project management. He has been Adjunct Professor of Project Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Boston University. He has conducted project management public seminars for ASCE, AMA, IBM, PMI.

Mr. Levine is the author of books, articles and videos on Project Management. His 2002 book, "Practical Project Management: Tips, Tactics, and Tools", is still available from John Wiley & Sons. Mr. Levine's new book, "Project Portfolio Management, A Practical Guide to Selecting Projects, Managing Portfolios, and Maximizing Benefits", Jossey-Bass, was released in July, 2005. Mr. Levine is past president of the Project Management Institute, a recipient of PMI's 1989 Distinguished Contribution to Project Management award, and has been elected a Fellow of PMI.

Mr. Levine has offices in Saratoga Springs, NY and San Diego, CA. His e-mail address is: