Published here October 2010.

Introduction | Book Structure 
What We Liked | Downside | Summary


Having reviewed the 2008 book Project Decisions: The Art and Science last month, we were hopeful that this 2009 book, described as a "Guide to Making Successful Decisions", would shed even more light on the subject of decision-making. Unfortunately, aside from the parts noted in our previous section, we were disappointed in the content. Rather than a "Guide", the book is made up largely of what other researchers have observed about decision-making. In other words, the book is mostly descriptive (i.e. "What is") with extensive quotations, rather than prescriptive (i.e. "How to") which we feel is the essence of a useful "Guide".

In between, we were inclined to feel that the text was unnecessarily padded with verbose, shallow, or sweeping and repetitive statements. For example, in the previous section we quoted the text: "A decision frame defines the context for the decision and the elements (alternatives, objectives, uncertainties) that are part of the decision situation". This sentence is preceded by Chapter 6's opening statement: "A decision frame is an aid that can be used while making a decision to capture important information, and it presents a snapshot view of critical elements the project manager should consider in making a decision."[9] Are these two consecutive statements really necessary?

Another example: "That natural tendency is for project managers to place strict emphasis on the management of a project instead of focusing on the type, nature, and impact of the decisions made in the project management process." Isn't the "management of a project" and "the project management process" the same thing?

Or this example: "Project managers must keep decision quality high while locating limited project resources and performing other highly visible tasks." Such as? And what is a high quality decision anyway? Unfortunately, the book does not include a Glossary of terms to provide clarity.

Another unfortunate shortcoming is that the authors do not differentiate between decisions associated with management of the project (i.e. the project management processes referred to above) and those associated with the management of the technology involved. However, failure to differentiate between project management and the management of the principal technology encompassed by the project is quite common among many authors – including those authors quoted extensively in this book.

In the Preface we learned that "Chapter 5 is the heart of the book: It identifies those decisions required for successful project management."[10] However, when we turned to Chapter 5, titled "Project Management Decisions", we were disconcerted by the opening statement that:

"We have already established the fact that success is the primary objective in project management and decisions are the 'yellow brick road' that leads to success."[11]

Really? We suppose that there must be some projects whose primary objective is failure rather than success, but in any case, what constitutes "success"? As for the "yellow brick road", the authors do not explain the meaning of this particular term and we had to look it up on Google. For those like us who are not familiar with this phrase, evidently a road of yellow brick is an element in the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, with additional such roads appearing in The Marvelous Land of Oz and The Patchwork Girl of Oz.[12] Apparently, it implies that it is "A proverbial path to a Promised Land of one's hopes and dreams."[13] It seems to us that this is a somewhat euphoric view of decision-making in project management.

Unfortunately, the authors do not make it clear what part or type of project management is the target of the decisions being described in the chapter. From our reading, it appears that most of the decision topics and subtopics relate to systems engineering in particular and to the management of the technology rather than to management of the project.[14] If true, this is hardly surprising since both authors have systems engineering backgrounds.

What We Liked  What We Liked

9. Ibid.
10. Ibid, p xvi
11. Ibid, p113
12. Source: accessed 8/5/10
13. Ibid.
14. See The Project Manager's Guide, Chapter 5, in particular: Table 5-1, Decision Topics and Subtopics, p118.
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