I am currently reading Scott Berkun’s excellent book on project management, Making Things Happen and am enjoying it for it’s directness. It goes straight to the essence of being an effective project manager and leaves specific methodologies to other books.

His How to figure out what to do chapter is a good refresher, stating that the best project managers are multidisciplinary and able to synthesize business, customer, and technology viewpoints:

To me, this Venn diagram is the measuring stick for project-oriented settings, even when you are not the project manager:

Project management

  • When you’re looking for a job: Is the organization setup for success, with strong representation in all three areas?
  • When you’re writing a business plan: Does the plan adequately cover all three areas? Or more specifically, does it answer the questions that should be asked of each of the three areas?
  • When you’re building a project team: Have you allocated sufficient headcount in each of the three areas?
  • When you’re a programmer at Microsoft: Are you making engineering decisions with the key business drivers and customer needs & pain points in mind?

Later on in the chapter, he dives into the customer research component, describing how it is often incomplete or outright invalid — with folks ascribing too much importance to a single research method. Customer research experts make use of multiple methods, including focus groups, surveys, site visits, usability studies, and market research to make up for the limitiations in each individual method.

The entire chapter, containing an analysis of each research method, is available online for free [pdf].