6 Books to Make You a Better Project Manager

As 2010 draws to an end, there is a need for predictions about 2011. Here, here, and there are my predictions and plans.
However, I offer some tools for skepticism in this year’s end post. We are all terrible at predicting the future. Worse, confidence in our forecasts and accuracy of those predictions are inversely related. The more confident we become, the more we fall short.
“I don’t pretend to be able to answer all your questions. I don’t believe you can start with anything exact. As you work, you must be as precise as possible.
Bertrand Russell
Many of the books I read in 2010 focused on expert opinion, estimation, decision making, and decision making. These are some books that I have found that have changed my thinking about expert opinion, the inability to predict future events, and the pitfalls we all fall for in our decision-making process. I won’t go into detail, but I encourage you to read the summaries as well as customer reviews.
Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan
I like Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He is direct and to the point, backs up his claims and has a rebellious side that I enjoy and identify with. I believe that if everyone is doing it, it’s probably wrong. If you don’t know how to handle Taleb’s tone, you might find it a bit too arrogant. But if you like brutal honesty, you will love his work.
Taleb discusses the misunderstood nature of probability in Fooled by Randomness. He illustrates his points through thought experiments and short stories. Although some of his views about randomness are a little too extreme for my liking, they are very insightful nonetheless. This book shows that we are very skilled at misunderstanding statistics.
The Black Swan is about predicting the future and how bad we are at it. The large-scale, outlier events that we cannot predict and often forget to include in forecasts are the main focus. I learned a lot from the book, including the lesson to be humble about my ability predict the future.
How we decide
Jonah Lehrer, in How We Decide, cited many psychological and neuroscience studies that show that our decisions are not always as we think they are. As a result, I wrote a bit on anchoring in project estimation. He also showed that intuition is more suited for certain types of decisions and situations than it is for others. Although I have to admit that I was more interested the cited studies and the follow-up research I did based upon this book than the actual book, it was still a pleasant book.
Sleights of Mind
Sleights of Mind was a book I bought primarily because of my fascination about human psychology and the ways we can be fooled. This book is for those who enjoy magic and science. This book gave me additional insight into managing projects and how people can be fooled. While the book’s main focus is on sensory aspects, the concepts of self-delusion (and justification) are very relevant when looking at how decisions are made in real life. It shows that we can recall X happening even if Y actually occurred, which is a useful insight when planning projects based on past experience.
Future Babble and Expert Political Judgment
These I haven’t yet read, but I plan to in 2011. However, I did some independent research into Tetlock’s research on ‘expert opinions’ and it is truly amazing. The bottom line is that experts and humans are terrible at predicting the future. Gardner draws on Tetlock’s research. I think I will probably go for Future Babble as a summary question and put off ge