Author: Yogi Schulz

A novel about project management? Can a novel succeed with what many see as a dry subject, right up there with arcane topics like the chemistry of pavement? The answer is a resounding Yes.

Caution: Laughs ahead! Making It Happen portrays project management as an entertaining story. The story unfolds through the determined but slightly shaded eyes of the main character, Will Campbell, the project manager. Daily, he wrestles with various weighty and mundane issues as he leads the project team to the goal. Discussion of the usual fuzzy scope, unrealistic expectations and swirling political intrigue keep the story lively.

This book is full of vignettes that contain subtle irony, not-so-subtle sarcasm and outright skepticism. Experienced project managers will find themselves laughing at the crazy dynamics of situations they’ve encountered themselves. For example, I enjoyed reading the heated interactions with the ambitious Vice President and project sponsor, Ralph Borsellino, who likes to spout trendy management aphorisms about the power of self-managed teams. [Ralph adds risk to the project by waffling, interfering and issuing contradictory directions when the going gets tough.]

Managers new to project management will appreciate Mackenzie Kyle’s accessible style. For example, inexperienced project managers may not appreciate the difficulties of defining what design is, estimating how long it takes and knowing when it is done. The book rightly devotes two of twenty-four chapters to the topic of design.

The book uses the project of building a new product, the WindSailor, to teach valuable lessons for the casual, innocent, important and outrageous events that project managers will experience in real life. [The WindSailor is a cross between a wind surfer and a small sailboat.] [Since I personally fought unsuccessfully with a wind surfer one day in Austria, I was able to immediately identify with the target market for the product.]

The author includes many puzzling asides throughout the book. There are references to sailing jargon, interminable house renovation, the smell of pipe tobacco, John Belushi and the neighbor’s low quality hair cut among others. It’s mildly entertaining but overall it’s distracting from the book’s objective. By contrast, the ongoing wrestle with the project management software is both entertaining and relevant.

The book describes many pragmatic solutions to the challenges of successful project completion. [For example, the discussion of identifying and managing to the critical path is insightful while leaving out all the complicated and useless math that underlies the calculation of the critical path.] These solutions are useful reminders for experienced practitioners and life-savers to neophytes.

I liked the book. The book is the antithesis of the dry and academically pretentious tomes about project management that I know we’ve all encountered.

Book Information:

Title: Making It Happen
Sub-title: A Non-Technical Guide to Project Management
Author: Mackenzie Kyle
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.
Price: $24.95 paperback
Pages: 246