project management books

A Summer Reading List for Project Managers

Asking for a worldwide network of experts to recommend a good project management book, I received a lot of suggestions. Some of the books mentioned turned out to be more well-liked than the others, mentioned two, three, and even five times in a row. This way I collected twelve books to inspire you during your summer vacation and guide you in opaque situations. No heavy artillery, I promise! Only light, but illuminating editions. Jump to the section you love the most.

Best Project Management Books on Psychology

Surfing on Quora recently, I saw a question about the best project management books on psychology. So read on how to change a habit, think clearly, choose perfect timing, increase productivity, and more in this list.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a book in frequent rotation in project management circles. In short, it reveals how to create a habit and get rid of one. Using research and numerous examples from people’s lives, the author shows a paradigm of actions that might help practically anyone break even the most difficult habits and develop healthier ones.

The most valuable lesson that the book gives is the understanding that even habits of a lifetime can be changed. By analyzing your routine through the glass of Duhigg’s approach, you will start to realize what drives your habits and find a way to kick them.

No wonder that this book has been mentioned by project managers as a recent favorite. It may become a helping hand in team management that points you what directions to take when you want your team members to acquire new habits.

The Power of Habit - top books for project managers

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Factfulness by Hans Rosling is another must-read in the list of top project management books. In fact, it remains #1 bestseller in Psychology Statistics on Amazon.

Even Bill Gates admitted that it was one of the most important books he’s ever read in his life. So why is there so much buzz around Factfulness?

A collective work of the Rosling’s family that has around 18 years of experience behind their backs, Factfulness opens our eyes to phenomenal things that we as human beings usually misinterpret, worse than a chimpanzee could if given a chance.

The main intention of this book is to show people how to think clearly and “fight devastating ignorance,” admits Mr. Rosling, Professor of International Health and global TED speaker.

Factfulness exposes the ten instincts that distort human perspective. For example, we have “a tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them)” and our way to consume information from media is driven by fear. We usually perceive progress wrong, believing that most things are getting worse.

What Rosling is trying to say in his book is that our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases. This is definitely a book project managers should read to learn to embrace the worldview based on facts, because otherwise, “we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.”

Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Photo credit: Bill Gates

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink reveals hidden patterns of the day to improve the performance of anyone, including project management leaders. Anyway, time is what we want most, but what we use worst, agree?

Researching energy levels during different times of the day across many cultures, Pink has formed an understanding when people usually experience peak and diminished performance.

The results of his research can help anyone improve productivity and even fight the dreaded post-lunch slump!

It is one of my top books for project managers, because we, together with our teams, just have to master the science of timing for our own good.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink
Photo credit: The ANNEX Collaborative Studio

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a time-tested classic among books every project manager should read at least once.

I particularly like Carnegie more for how he writes – his prose is so light and revealing that you immediately want to read all of his books. It is perfect for summer vacation and anything but boring.

Carnegie’s book, without any doubt, has left an imprint in project management as well. It can teach management experts of all kind to take any situation and make it work for them. With little tricks and human psychology in its foundation, the book answers the next questions:

  • How to make people like you
  • How to win people to your way of thinking
  • How to change people without arousing resentment

Eventually, it’s all about people and how to interact with each other.

top books for project managers
Photo credit: Whitney Degrenia

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman was a successful attempt to prove why high IQ is no guarantee of success. Combining his experience from psychology and neuroscience, the author managed to explain the difference between our “two minds” manifested in the rational and the emotional.

It pops up from Goleman’s research that there are five crucial skills of emotional intelligence cultivating which you can succeed at work, achieve mutual understanding in the relationships, and improve physical well-being.

The conclusion of this book is that being smart doesn’t necessarily boil down to a high IQ. Developing emotional literacy can improve your performance in life.

Emotional Intelligence is one of the best books for project managers as it can help cultivate your soft skills.

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Photo credit: Vibresuaessencia

Good Leadership Books for Project Managers

The authors of the following project management books have brilliant answers to the question that has been on everyone’s mind. What makes a good leader? What distinguishes high performers from people who lag behind?

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell presents in-depth insights into qualities that distinguish high-achievers and leaders. The main intention of the author is to not only emphasize the brightest virtues but to reveal where successful people come from and explore the connection between their past and their future.

Outliers is one of the best books for project managers to read because it reveals many secrets of high-achievers – from software billionaires to soccer players. The book answers the question of why Asians are good at math and reveals the secret of Beatles success.

A perfect entertaining must-read for a summer vacation, don’t you think so?

Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
Photo credit: Reviews and Other Stuff

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant presents a new take on the world of championing ideas and confronting group thinking.

According to Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, “It will not only change the way you see the world; it might just change the way you live your life. And it could very well inspire you to change your world.”

In short, the book shows leaders how to produce original ideas in light of examples from business, politics, sports, and entertainment. The author, a world-known expert and thought leader in psychology, reveals tips on how to challenge conventional thinking.

Don’t miss the #1 New York Times bestseller!

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant - top books for project managers
Photo credit: Xenium HR

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim is an entertaining story about Bill, one IT project manager. No wonder, he is tasked with business vital Phoenix Project, already massively over budget and behind schedule. Threatening to outsource Bill’s entire department, the CEO orders Bill to finish the project in ninety days.

With the growing complexity of IT, every project manager should read this story of failures and successes. Tim O’Reilly, Founder & CEO at O’Reilly Media, believes it’s “a great way to get non-technical managers to understand what developers do.”

Other reviewers are of the same opinion. The Phoenix Project is regarded as a must-read for anyone with a mission to transform their IT to make business win.

The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim
Photo credit: ngpenghon

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande is a good project management book despite being written by a surgeon.

The author intends to show the power of checklists and how effective they can be in solving catastrophic situations. Learning from many failures in the aviation, finance and medical industry, Gawande delivers a case for compiling short checklists to improve the processes in teamwork.

From this project management book, as expected, you’ll learn the types of checklists and how to make one. It will be especially handy for project management practitioners to create order out of chaos in work environments.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande - top books for project managers
Photo credit: beGuru

People Management Books

People are our main leverage for achieving success. Where would we be without their support? Let’s learn how to be a better version of a people manager with these books.

Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister is a project management book written at the end of the 20th century in the form of essays, considered a classic in the software engineering domain.

The reviewers admit that the book is a must-read for software developers, project managers, directors, creative people, and knowledge workers.

Putting relevant consulting experience to words, the authors share the idea that most of the bottlenecks emerging in software projects are by no means related to technology – they are the exact results of relations between people.

Despite being written in the last century, the book will never lose its relevance as it focuses on people and implies that managers are the ones to remove obstacles and roadblocks.

Reading Peopleware, you’ll arm yourself with tactics and learn how to prevent your developers from unnecessary distractions to increase their productivity.

Peopleware
Photo credit: Tivaji

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is another leadership fable in his collection the author is so famous for. But this time, Lencioni immerses into the complex world of teams.

The book brings to light the five dysfunctions which explain to the very core why even the best teams may clash. It also provides an ingenious model together with actionable steps to follow if there’s a need to overcome common problems appearing inside a team.

The book is a must-read for project managers and leaders as it explains group behavior and reveals why some teams fail as a unit.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni - best books for project managers
Photo credit: Blue Mobis Marketing

Team of Teams by Chris Fussell et al.

Team of Teams by Chris Fussell et al. tells a story of General Stanley McChrystal who was in charge of the Joint Special Operations Task Force fighting against Al Qaeda.

This real-life example puts on the map the question every project manager is puzzled with today: How can I scale agile methodology to thousands of people and not fail?

Fussel’s book intends to answer this question by presenting the challenges McChrystal faced in Iraq and translating them into ones relevant to organizations today.

It’s one of the top books for project managers to read, sharing an eye-opening story and lessons on how agile can be scaled and growth maintained.

Teams of Teams by Chris Fussel


Enough for one summer, yeap? These project management books will help you improve both as individuals and as professionals. Let me know which one from the list you liked best and don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter. Also, check our roundup of top books on giving feedback. A reader lives a thousand lives!

1 Comment

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Bert Heymansreply
June 25, 2019 at 10:31 AM

I really enjoyed The Phoenix Project! Heartily recommended.

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