Aimed at business owners and managers, and helpful to project practitioners, these books will prove useful in the analysis of common business scenarios and can help increase your stakeholder's confidence in your management abilities.
Great answers to tough questions at work
Author: Michael Dodd
This book provides a golden formula to enable the reader to prepare for and deliver great answers to tough questions in a wide range of business and personal scenarios. Michael Dodd has successfully drawn upon his vast experience and created simple-to-follow formulae that can be replicated across a wide range of situations. These are backed up with relevant examples and stories that help bring the book to life.
Throughout Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work, Dodd goes on to examine and explain the pitfalls of ill-thought-out answers or avoided questions. He explores how, with careful planning, preparation and the use of formulae, answers can be insightful, inspiring and add value to the recipient. With careful structuring, answers become richer in content and shape the message that you want to convey. This can give flexibility depending on the audience and the specific or generic response that is most appropriate.
Project managers have a wide range of stakeholders – often with complex or conflicting demands and agendas. Being able to deliver great answers to tough questions will increase your stakeholders’ confidence in you or your project, influence their behaviours and create desired impacts.
While the book is a great page turner, it is also referenced well so that the reader is able to dip in and out to focus on certain scenarios.
Reviewed by Phil Wood
Strategic requirements analysis
Author: Karl A Cox
For anyone who needs to model business or technical requirements, this book advises a structured approach that concentrates on interview planning, management and analysis. It differs from the plethora of business analysis texts in describing how you can effectively elicit and gather requirements from your client.
After opening with an introduction explaining why interviews are one of the most useful tools, author Karl Cox devotes more than half of the book to passing on his useful insights on how to prepare for and conduct these interviews, what questions to ask and what to say. He then illustrates how to analyse the interview findings to quickly identify recurring goals, strategies and tactics, and then leads you through a step-by-step guide to creating a graphical strategic model.
The book closes with a couple of pages of concluding remarks, which summarise the 19 ‘rungs of opportunity’ – these are the useful learning points to take away from the book.
Aimed at business analysts, IT consultants and contractors, and supported by case studies, Cox succeeds in delivering a practical illustration of requirements capture, analysis and results presentation. While the book admits it is not a comprehensive study for business analysts, it can help you sharpen your techniques. It has a clear and easy-to-understand writing style, with each of the chapters well supported by case studies.
Reviewed by Mike Rowley
The 99 essential business questions
Authors: David Shannon et al
Publisher: Filament Publishing
Unusually for a management strategy book, the authors of this book offer no answers, but instead strive to present a clear digest and analysis of systematic alternative questioning to support the scrutiny of common business situations.
Written as a workbook and journal rather than as a textbook, it has a well organised, easily navigable structure, with plenty of space left for notes.
Starting with the questions that should be asked in any business situation, the book goes on to summarise the remaining questions into four business scenario groups: external; internal; team related; and personal.
The book then illustrates 47 business situations, and, with each of them, proposes specific questions to explore these challenges. The remainder of the book assesses the 99 questions, so you will understand why you should ask them and what insights you might expect to gain.
This book succeeds in its intent to equip the reader with a set of searching questions to stimulate and assist in discussions, as well as to advance thought processes to get to the crux of business problems. You may look in the book for a situation similar to the one you face, but you will later realise that the book’s questions often reveal further questions.
Although aimed at business leaders and managers, it could be helpful to project practitioners, as it covers a number of scenarios that arise during typical project life cycles and within project teams.
Reviewed by Mike Rowley
The 80/20 principle: The secret of achieving more with less
Author: Richard Koch
This is a 20th-anniversary, updated edition of the business classic with some new chapters. Richard Koch describes how the 80/20 principle (or Pareto’s principle) can help organisations become more effective and profitable, and individuals happier and more successful.
The book is very good at illustrating the power of applying improved focus in our business and personal lives to get ‘more for less’. Koch is a successful businessman, and I found his best insights came when he was applying the 80/20 principle to the world of business and careers. In particular, I liked the discussion of modern ‘network’-based businesses (chapters 17 and 18) and how these are acting to further concentrate power and success.
At nearly 400 pages, this expanded edition is overly long – somewhat ironic for a book extolling the virtues of achieving more with less. The author himself writes that “80 per cent of the value of a book can be found on 20 per cent or fewer of its pages” (chapter two, page 31), so perhaps the book could have been 80 pages long. However, it is relatively easy to cherry pick chapters that may appeal to you.
We can apply the 80/20 principle to many aspects of project management: risks, benefits, stakeholders, requirements, etc. This is in line with agile principles. In chapter seven, project management makes the list of the top 10 business applications for the 80/20 principle. Controversially, the author recommends imposing an impossible timescale to ensure a project team only does high-value tasks – I take this as the agile method of timeboxing a delivery ‘sprint’ against a prioritised list of user requirements or stories.
There are many analogies with systems thinking and systems approaches. Koch talks a lot about ‘80/20 thinking’, complexity and non-liner relationships between system inputs and outputs. The complexity of business and personal ‘systems’ means that a normally distributed set of inputs will not result in a normally distributed set of outputs; features such as feedback loops and human behaviour tend to accentuate the influence of a small subset of the inputs.
Reviewed by David Liversidge