It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      October 2009 Full Moon Edition      

Book Review - Managing, by Henry Mintzberg

Mintzberg presents the most comprehensive and descriptive model of management functions I have seen. His model describes three planes that represent where managing takes place. The planes are the information plane, the people plane and the action plane.

I will not describe his model in detail here. However, it is important to note the model is not simple. It has been my personal experience that people and organizations crave simplifying assumptions to the point they embrace them as the only truths that are needed. So, if you are looking for the "three steps to..." or the "five essential factors..." or the "eight ways to" this book is not for you.

The real world is complex

There is nothing inherently wrong with simplifying assumptions as long as we remember circumstances and context are always more complicated than that. Mintzberg correctly points out how a lot of management or leadership books focus on one competency or aspect and what is needed is a balance/blending of many aspects. Specifically he states " is time to recognize that managing is neither science nor a profession; it is a practice, learned primarily through experience, and rooted in context."

Therefore, if you are a manager and believe you can always get better at it, this is a book you should read. It provides a context for management. It does not tell you what to do in specific situations. I personally believe that greatness (at anything) is the summation of knowledge of a lot of little things. Everyone can get the basics right, but it is the subtleties that result from knowledge and real life experience that create exceptional levels of performance.

With regard to the book itself the book has key points in bold text and this makes it easy for time constrained readers to quickly scan to items of importance and and then dive in where there is an interest.

Here are ten interesting and/or valuable points I found in the book. There are many more but I will just list these from my perspective:

I. Much of an informed manager's information is not even verbal so much as visceral...seen and felt more than heard.

II. In the leading role managers help to bring out the energy that naturally exists in people.

III. Managers are gatekeepers and buffers in the flow of influence. (Mintzberg's description of 5 ways managers can get this wrong is priceless)

IV. The pressures of managing are not temporary but perpetual.

V. Managing is no job to approach with hesitation: it simply requires too much of the total person.

VI. Successful managers are flawed, we are all flawed, but there particular flaws are not fatal, at least under the circumstances.

VII. Managing contains many inescapable conundrums. (Chapter 5 documents these and is worth the price of the book by itself)

VIII. The self study questions for managers in Chapter 6 is a powerful tool to improve your performance as a manager.

IX. A remarkable number of effective managers are reflective: they know how to learn from their own experience; they explore numerous options; and they back off when one doesn't work to try another.

X. Measure what you can, but then be sure to judge the rest: don't be mesmerized by measurement.

If you are a high level leader this is a book that is worthy of giving to your managers and then scheduling a monthly meeting where a single chapter is reviewed and the important points and take-aways are discussed.

Dr. James T. Brown PMP, PE, CSP
Author, The Handbook of Program Management

See my article "Pave the Way for Innovation" published in Friday October 9's PMI Community Post here

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