Exploring AIPMO’s Book Review Project Through the Reviewer’s Eyes

There are rare times when the threads of life neatly come together, and I’m happy to say that the beginning of 2024, for me so far, has been one of those times. I’ve recently been given the honor of helping to lead an exciting new niche professional development initiative the AIPMO book review project.  A lifelong lover of books and learning, this has been the perfect opportunity to combine my bibliophile tendencies with a passion for effective project portfolio management (PPM) practice developing my own professional knowledge and making a contribution to the wider project management community in the process.

AIPMO Book Review – What is it?

In response to the vision of AIPMO’s founder Dr. Robert Joslin, the AIPMO book review project consists of a team of international experts in project and portfolio management practice with experience across multiple industries.  We have committed to conduct an independent and unbiased evaluation of as much of the available published PMO and PPM books in the English language as we possibly can over the coming months and years.

What does this mean in practice? And, you may well ask, why on earth would a group of already busy professional people endeavor to undertake such a task?

Let me try to answer first, the “what?” and then the “why”…

Between us – a mixed group of 12 professionals from academia, consulting, and project delivery practice across various industries and different geographical and cultural domains – we will be assessing each PMO/PPM book against a standardized set of criteria so that a bank of categorized, unbiased, independent evaluations can be created.  This databank – which will be openly published on the freely available section of the AIPMO website, and in the near future on a PMO community website – has the potential to become the primary go-to resource for time-stretched business professionals, PMO practitioners, and students as it develops, enabling them to quickly identify the most useful literature from among an ever-expanding “canon.”

As expert book reviewer and team member Henny Portman pointed out in our recent launch webinar, this will become an ever more useful resource to separate the rarer, high value publications from the sea of content, at a key inflection point in the AI revolution. With the help of AI technology, anyone who is so inclined, without knowledge or expertise, can quickly and easily produce and self-publish a low-quality output which simply regurgitates and reinforces existing thinking.

 

Democratization of the publishing process is in my view generally a good thing, but a proliferation of available texts does make finding and choosing a genuinely useful book ever more challenging! Another challenge is that publications which are the most insightful and useful are not necessarily those which are most widely publicized – especially when distribution and marketing is often controlled by groups with vested commercial interests.

No educated person can be ignorant of the long history of conflict between book-publishing and freedom of thought, due to political or social challenges around fair access to resources.  By making this initiative a voluntary exercise and creating a review library which is available to all without subscription, we aim to provide a transparent and open resource that will enable good works to rise and be recognized for their merit.  This will empower anyone who is genuinely keen to learn about PMOs and portfolio management to benefit from the effort, and should benefit the truly capable authors too, regardless of commercial influence.

In doing so, we have also begun to set a standard for what “valuable content is and how it is delivered” in our specific (admittedly niche!) area of interest.

Already, only a few weeks in, as the first cohort to participate, our team is quickly finding that it is no small feat to produce a book which meets a high mark on every front!

In our recent discussions to refine the standard, we decided that the ideal publication will be both insightful – bringing new thinking to the table – and also based on evidence and rigorous in its approach.  A top-rating book will be technically published to a high-quality standard and easy to read with good visual appeal, clear diagrams, and a logical flow.  While it should be based on sound thinking and theory that stands up to scrutiny, it also needs to have instructive elements and genuine applicability to the real-life organizational environments in which PMOs operate.  Treading this line between theory and practice is a tricky balancing act to strike!

Another challenge we quickly encountered was the fact that, in our rapidly changing world, the value and applicability of content can vary significantly over time.  This means that even volumes which may at one time have been dominant resources for our industry can now be seen to be waning in significance vs more current works.

In the age of the social network, we also wanted to give credence to the author’s standing and visibility in the field and not ignore the concept of authority and influence.

We do realize, therefore, that a perfect score on all these fronts will prove challenging for any author to achieve.   However, having a framework that is independent and unbiased evaluation creates a standard to which serious professionals can aspire. We hope and expect that, as well as identifying the best of the PMO books available on the market now, new works will emerge which demonstrably meet several of the identified key criteria.

We intend to rotate the review team membership over time, creating opportunities for participants to deepen and develop their own professional knowledge and leadership capability in the field.

My poetic sensibilities convince me that the real beauty and power of the written word lies in its ability to introduce and explore new ideas, and to bring to us new ways of seeing.  Innately constrained by our own limited individual experiences, books provide us with windows to other worlds, and expanded awareness.

Having the discipline to take a more reflective and critically evaluative approach to each book we read (rather than allowing those business books we own to gather dust on the shelf after a quick skim read!) allows us to truly consider such questions as:

“What am I actually learning that I did not know before?”

“Can I trust the stated information?”

“Is this new or original thinking?”

“Does this concord with my own experience and understanding to date?”

and “Do I concur with these conclusions? If so, why? Or why not?”

As an exercise in critical thinking, this brings significant value to the individual reviewer.  Even from my first few book reviews and detailed QA of other team members reviews for the project (all published reviews will have at least two layers of quality checking), I am already coming across several genuinely useful texts which have either expanded my pre-existing paradigms or cleverly articulated and given structure to some of my own emergent thinking. Having the opportunity to discuss and debate these points with fellow professionals is another valued experience that I personally am gaining from this initiative.

Fellow team lead Geoffrey Dawson and I will keep you updated on our learning journey. We plan to regularly provide more information about the books we review and share insights from other team members on the book review panel.

Meantime, you can check out our initial review page to see the model in use for yourself.  If you would like to express an interest to get involved in future reviews then please complete this form to let us know.

Author

  • Maggie McGeary

    Maggie is an IMPO-E qualified PMO/PPM Consultant and Executive Coach/Mentor with 22 years of experience setting up and running PMOs across multiple industries. An experienced coach and mentor, Maggie has spoken at PMO Conference, been invited as a panel member in various professional development discussion groups and continues to actively facilitate and encourage development of project management practice in her day-to-day role. Alongside project management, Maggie always had a keen interest in books and writing, having originally studied English Language and Literature including creative writing at the University of St Andrews. She has written poetry and short stories and edited several small-scale creative publications before adding her practitioner perspective in peer review of AIPMO publications in 2023 and joining the AIPMO reviewer team in 2024.