Beyond the Bestsellers: Critical Review Initiative in AIPMO’s Library

As project portfolio management (PPM) and project management office (PMO) management have evolved, the availability of books on these topics has also increased. With over three decades of combined experience in the field, the authors, Henny Portman and Robert Joslin, have navigated through this vast amount of information, contributing their insights through reading, writing, and critically evaluating a plethora of books. This journey has been marked by both enlightenment from invaluable resources and the challenge of sifting through less impactful works.

Henny’s years of book reviews, since 2009, have built a library admired even by smaller institutions. This demonstrates the high regard publishers hold for his critiques. Meanwhile, Robert’s academic journey has seen him delve into research papers, shaping thought processes with a critical eye since 2016 for leading project management journals. Their expertise allows them to distinguish between valuable and less valuable materials. Drawing from their extensive analysis, it was notable that about 70% of reviewed materials fell into the latter category. An endeavor in 2017 involved Robert’s analysis of 305 PMO-titled books on Amazon, revealing a mere two unique titles, highlighting a landscape saturated with derivative works offering limited new insights.

Key Learnings from the Amazon Analysis (February 2017)

  • Out of 305 PMO books, only 92 merited closer examination, with seven classified as good quality, and upon further review, only two were found to be unique.
  • Books linked to certifications emerged as bestsellers.
  • Success was largely associated with authors from the USA or UK, with multiple publications through Tier 1 or 2 publishers.
  • Non-English or local native language books were mostly sold by local (online) bookstores.
  • A rare academic book provided useful insights but proved inaccessible to practitioners.

Fast forward to February 2024, and a repeat analysis now covering 879 PMO-titled books showed little evolution in content quality. In fact, the surge in self-published titles, many seemingly generated by ChatGPT since March 2023, has resulted in proliferation of books on the topic, many of which carry no independent value judgement.  The landscape reveals a dominance of personal experience-based works lacking in originality, frameworks, and structured methodologies.

The Motivation Behind Writing Books

The drive to author books can be split between personal benefits—such as establishing credibility, financial gain, and personal fulfillment—and community benefits, including educating others, standardizing practices, and fostering collaboration. However, the current trend seems to lean more toward personal gain, with the effort to create unique content overshadowed by the appeal of repurposing existing materials.

Competencies Required for Writing Technical Books

Crafting a high-quality technical or PPM/PMO book demands a mix of subject matter expertise, research prowess, access to various organizations to gather practical case studies, analytical ability, and clear communication and writing skills, among others. These competencies ensure the creation of content that is not only accurate and up-to-date but also engaging and accessible to the intended audience.

AIPMO’s Library and Critical Review Initiative

In response to the challenge of identifying valuable books in the fields of PPM and PMO management, we have formed a specialized review team comprising experienced authors, reviewers, and subject matter experts to independently assess books and assist professionals in discerning the most impactful sources of knowledge, examining the philosophical and methodological coherence of the works we review. To achieve this, we have crafted a unique review process that employs a detailed 10-point scale system, underpinned by strict governance protocols including quality assurance. This process is designed to direct readers toward the highest-quality books, ensuring their investment in professional books is both time-efficient and cost-effective.

During our team discussion, a member of the book review team questioned the relevance of reviewing outdated books that no longer hold value. However, this aspect forms an integral part of our reviews: guiding readers toward books that remain pertinent and valuable in today’s context. And this is one of our primary aims with the book review.

Details on how our review process operates will be shared in an upcoming blog post, where we will highlight our commitment to transparency and the rigorous standards we uphold to enhance the quality of books within the PPM and PMO communities. Through this initiative, we’re committed to preserving valuable knowledge and promoting a culture of excellence and innovation.

Stay tuned for updates regarding the launch date, upcoming reviews, and additional insights.

In the meantime, back to the reviews…