Project management is a big topic, (there are 13,000 books on project management alone on Amazon). With so many books, it’s difficult to decide what to read. We made a list of 12 most relevant project management books every project manager needs to read.
To be a good project manager, you need more than the technical know-how (eg. know what’s Theory of Constraints, WBS, or user acceptance criteria). Project management is also about deciding what to work on, finding the best ways to organize work, and managing people and clients.
So we selected 4 books for each field project manager has to master: software development, people management, and classic management theory.
Books on managing software development projects
Introduction to Agile Methods by Kristin Runyan & Sondra Ashmore
The book covers the most important agile methodologies in project management. If you're new to agile, it's a good introduction. But even if you're an experienced project manager, the book is still worth reading because it will give you a broader, systematic overview of everything agile-related.
The book compares agile to waterfall, breaks down various agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, XP, FDD, Lean, Crystal, etc.), shows how different roles should collaborate and explains how to set up processes.
Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business by David J. Anderson
Once you're familiar with agile methodologies, you should learn more about Kanban. Kanban can be used on every project, is simple to implement, and is very effective. Kanban is a tool that can help you visualize work and control bottlenecks. You've probably seen a board where you move cards from To-Do to In-Progress - that's Kanban in a nutshell.
The book covers both the basics (what is Kanban, when to use it, and how to implement it) as well as advanced topics (WiP limiting, continuous improvement, swimlanes, etc). The author was the first person that implemented Kanban in software development, so the book is full of real-world examples and best practices.
User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton
The book will help you deliver a better product. Most software development projects are organized around bite-sized user stories, which sit in project management software's backlog. Because each story is just a small fragment, the teams lose the sight of the big picture. One-feature-at-a-time mentality yields a Frankenstein monster and the product ends up barely usable.
"No amount of elegant programming or technology will solve a problem if it is improperly specified or understood to begin with." - Milt Bryce
It's a project manager's responsibility to build a shared understanding between clients and developers. Story mapping is a technique that lets you and your team understand the big picture and see how each story fits in so you can deliver better products.
This is a DevOps book written as a novel. It's about an IT project that's massively over budget and behind deadline. The CEO gives the main hero 90 days to fix the situation or the entire department will be outsourced. The hero has to organize workflow, streamline communication between different teams, and deliver a project on time.
The novel describes the problems every IT organization faces and shows how to solve problems, while at the same time improving the life quality of the people involved in a project.
Books on people management
Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister
If you read only one book from here, make it this one. It's both fun and profound. The whole idea behind the book is that major problems are not so much technological in nature but sociological. The book takes a no-nonsense approach and backs up every claim with research, statistical evidence, and humorous anecdotes.
The book examines the social side of software development. It covers group chemistry, work environment, corporate entropy, workspace theory, and more. The book also introduces concepts such as "brain time vs. body time" and "bring back the door". In the book, you'll learn: how cubicles, dress code and hiring policies impact productivity; dangers of constant overtime; the stupidity of motivational posters; the side effects of process improvement programs; the real costs of turnover...
Design Is a Job by Mike Monteiro
This book is perfect for creative agencies and freelancers who deal with clients on a daily basis. Mike has been working in the creative field since 1995, so he's the guy to listen to when it comes to client management. He shares great advice that can even be applied to everyday life.
He teaches you everything, from how to create contracts to selling design. The book is brief but useful. It will make you appreciate the work you do so you never underprice yourself. There are four chapters: getting clients, choosing the right clients, charging for your work, and working with contracts.
Creativity Inc by Amy Wallace & Edwin Catmull
The book is written by Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar. When it comes to running creative teams, this is the person you should take notes from. It's a biography that also works great as a management book because there are so many real-world examples on how to successfully run creative teams and deliver projects.
Ed takes the reader through his career and shares what he learned while working with people like George Lucas and Steve Jobs, what it was like to make Toy Story, and shares his insight on management and how to nurture innovative culture.
StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath
Although sold as a book, this is more of a tool that'll help you learn more about your team. The book is a personality test designed to discover your true strengths. The real beauty of this book reveals itself after each member on your team answers the 177 question assessment, finds their top 5 strengths, and shares them with the team. Once you know this, you can better plan and utilize each team member.
Note: one book gives you access to one assessment, so if you have 5 members, you need 5 books. If you don't want to spend that kind of money, you can also use Belbin's team role test.
Books on the classic management theory
The Essential Drucker by Peter F. Drucker
Peter Drucker is the father of management and the most quoted business consultant of the past three generations. He is famous for his heads-down, no-nonsense approach to management and he wrote extensively on the topic. This book is a compilation of his most important writings.
This is not a faddish book like "The One Minute Manager". Instead, it's a classic that will be relevant and read even 50 years from now. After reading this book, you'll be able to hold your own when talking to any MBA graduate.
There's more to classic management than Drucker. To complete your management education, Harvard Business Review's box set is the best choice. You'll get most important ideas on management in one place in the shortest time frame possible.
The box set covers 6 topics: management essentials, leadership, strategy, managing people, and managing yourself. Each topic covers the most critical topics from the world's top management experts, like Porter's five competitive forces, blue ocean strategy, the balanced scorecard, and more.
The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World's Greatest Manufacturer by Jeffrey K. Liker
Take any course in management, and you'll hear about Toyota and how they revolutionized the manufacturing industry. They are famous for introducing Kanban, continuous improvement, lean, visual control, pull system, quality management, JIT, 4P, 5S, etc. This book gives you the full story on when and why these concepts came into being.
Even if you don't work in production, you need to read this book because of its historical significance - a lot of the concepts used in project management were either inherited or inspired by the Toyota Way.
Critical Chain by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
This book is written as a business novel. The author applies the Theory of Constraints to project management and illustrates the Critical Chain method for managing projects through a story.
If you're tired on how-to guides and non-fiction writing, this should be a fun read. After you've finished it, you might want to read The Goal, another business classic by the same author.
PMBOK Guide is a very dry read, but it is the most recognized book for project managers. How recognized? Let's just say that ISO adapted its project management standards from this book.
The book covers everything related to general project management (which means it doesn't cover the latest trends or Agile methodologies as they are related only to IT). The book is issued by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and serves as the study book for the PMP and CAPM project management certification.
The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks
This is a classic every software project manager needs to read due to its historical significance. At the time of the publication, this collection of essays on software engineering was revolutionary, especially the "No Silver Bullet" concept, and "The mythical man-month" (which explained why adding more people to a late software project makes it even later).
In addition to project management, the essays also cover software architecture and early technologies, but you can always skim them if you don't find them relevant.
Extra: all-in-one project management guides (for those short on time)
Don't have the time to read everything but need a TL;DR?
We distilled everything you need to know about project management and put it in several ebooks, depending on what you're looking for.
The book introduces Kanban and key principles of agile project management. The book is very short and is geared towards complete beginners. It will help you learn how to organize projects using a simple yet efficient process.
This book dives deep into project management and covers everything from client collaboration and project management to invoicing and time tracking. You'll learn everything you need to know to successfully manage digital projects, get paid, and make clients happy.
The book is for entrepreneurs who want to grow their business. It lists all the common mistakes business owners make when scaling business and hiring employees. You will learn about: Founder's Trap, Leadership Pipeline, Greiner's Growth Curve, systematic employee onboarding, talent management, client profitability, and more.
This book lists every tool we use to collaborate, manage projects, support customers, do marketing, and be productive. We share behind-the-scenes insight, how we use every app, and how each app can help you to become more efficient.