Businesses are increasingly organizing day-to-day work around projects, which means the skills and methodologies of project management are more broadly relevant than ever.
While real-world experience will always be the most effective self-development technique, you can still learn a lot from project management books, especially at the early stages of a project management career. Your only challenges are to identify the most helpful titles and find time to read them.
For this article, we’ve gathered eight of the best project management books to read in 2023. Every professional has their own skill gaps and preferred learning style, so rather than list the entries in a particular order, we’ve chosen a selection to cover a range of needs.
Get to the end for tips on how to become a more efficient reader and absorb more expert project management knowledge.
1. For referencing and certification: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)
Originally published 1996 (7th edition published 2021)
About the author: A collective rather than one expert, Project Management Institute (PMI) is a US-based non-profit that develops standards, conducts research and offers certifications for the project management industry. It serves almost 700,000 members globally and many consider its PMBOK Guide (Project Management Body of Knowledge guide) to be the profession’s most definitive resource.
Read this book if: You’re working toward PMI’s globally recognized PMP Certification.
Anyone who’s worked through it will tell you the PMBOK Guide isn’t a gripping cover-to-cover read but that doesn’t detract from its importance.
The book is designed to be a hub of industry best practices and is a must-read for anyone looking to pass PMI’s 180-question certification exam. Much more than a glorified cheat sheet, it’s useful for tapping into decades of tried, tested and refined project management knowledge.
There are five process groups involved in project management: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing.
Many of project management’s key themes overlap with general business and team leadership. These include budgeting, financial forecasting, staffing, organizational behavior and management science.
A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a deliverable-oriented breakdown of a project into smaller parts. It can help you clearly define your project scope to keep the team focused on the most important tasks.
Buy the book here: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)
3. For a solid introduction to project management: Project Management Absolute Beginner’s Guide
Originally published 2005 (5th edition published 2022)
About the author: Gregory M. Horine is an experienced IT project management professional who’s spent more than 30 years honing and applying his skills in various industries. As of 2022, he’s written five books on project management.
Read this book if: You’ve never led a project before and want to learn the principles of project management.
As the title implies, Greg Horine has written Project Management Absolute Beginner’s Guide for people who are new to the field. It explains all the foundational aspects of project management, from budgeting and task scheduling to managing stakeholder expectations and learning from experience. The book’s accessibility makes it particularly useful for managers who dabble in project work but don’t need full certification.
Clearly defining your project’s scope is the first major step toward its success.
Alongside an understanding of project management fundamentals (all of which are covered in this book), successful team leaders typically have strong communication, business management and leadership skills.
Project managers must get agreement and buy-in on project goals and success criteria from key stakeholders. Not doing so is a common and costly mistake.
Buy the book here: Project Management Absolute Beginner’s Guide
4. For field-tested philosophies and strategies: Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management
Originally published 2005 (Revised edition published 2008)
About the author: With a background in software development, design and creative thinking, Scott Berkun provides a unique perspective on project management’s key concepts. His knowledge is well-tested with years of experience at large companies; he held a number of roles at Microsoft, including lead program manager and design and UX training manager.
Read this book if: You want to learn how one of the world’s biggest companies manages projects.
Making Things Happen is a step up from the field’s introductory guides. Although it does explain some of the fundamentals in an easy-to-grasp way, the book’s main appeal lies in its witty and insightful advice.
It’s a practical guide providing tips on managing teams to make sure work gets done and overcoming classic project challenges, all inspired by Berkun’s time working on Windows and MSN at Microsoft.
Project planning at any level can be broken down into two questions: “what do we need to do?” (requirements gathering) and “how will we do it?” (designing or specifying).
While effective project management is largely about structure and workflows, project managers still need to think creatively to generate valuable ideas and solve problems.
Scheduling in project management serves three purposes: to make commitments to deliver, encourage individual team members to see their efforts as part of a whole and break work into manageable chunks.
Buy the book here: Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management
5. For mastering the scrum framework: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
Originally published 2014
About the author: Jeff Sutherland is one of the co-creators of the scrum project management framework, along with Ken Schwaber. He co-authored the Scrum Guide and is the CEO of Scrum Inc.
Read this book if: You want to learn first-hand from one of project management’s bonafide innovators.
There are few more influential figures in project management than Jeff Sutherland. While his and Schwaber’s Scrum Guide is the go-to reference guide for scrum advocates, Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time takes a more insightful, story-based approach to explaining scrum’s key concepts. Expect plenty of real-world use cases and practical advice, explained in a friendly, accessible tone.
The author believes that scrum can “revolutionize how business works in virtually every industry” and that working in sprints helps to increase momentum and keep everyone involved accountable.
Autonomy is a common characteristic of successful project teams. The most effective groups are self-organizing and self-managing and have the power to make their own decisions about how they do their jobs.
There’s often a disparity between how people say or think they work and how they actually work. Scrum is built on looking at the actual characteristics of project teams at some of the most successful companies around the world.
Buy the book here: Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
6. For understanding agile: Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos
Originally published 2020
About the authors: Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk and Steve Berez are partners at the global management consulting firm Bain & Company, which advises public, private and non-profit organizations.
Read this book if: You want the truth about agile project management, including its many benefits and a few shortcomings.
Agile has the power to transform your work, but only if it’s implemented in the right way. With Doing Agile Right, Rigby, Elk and Berez aim to build up your agile knowledge so you can run many kinds of projects more efficiently. They’re also honest about the framework’s limitations and how, when it’s applied badly, it can be counterproductive (there’s a particularly insightful chapter titled “Doing Agile Wrong”).
By instilling good habits and advising how, when and when not to apply agile, this book can help you become a more versatile and confident project manager in any industry.
Agile is not a quick fix, especially for larger businesses. A rapid shift toward it can be disastrous for big organizations with deeply established processes.
The authors write: “When used properly, in appropriate situations, [agile methods] trade potentially disastrous problems for small preferable problems.”
Agile is about overcoming the bureaucracy that hinders more rigid project management strategies, and freeing talented people to enjoy (and excel at) their work.
Buy the book here: Doing Agile Right: Transformation Without Chaos
7. For a different approach to learning: Deadline: A Novel About Project Management
Originally published 1997
About the author: Software engineer Tom DeMarco has been running and working on projects for science and technology firms since the 1960s and won the prestigious Stevens Award in 1999.
Read this book if: You enjoy fiction more than non-fiction books but still want to learn the basics of project management.
Using a novel style with character-written journal entries, DeMarco explores issues that’ll be familiar to leaders in all fields, including team member motivation and productivity.
While some of its concepts have grown a little outdated (it focuses on the waterfall methodology), the book’s unique approach to explaining project management basics makes it a more relatable and easier cover-to-cover read than many others on the topic.
No project management framework is flawless. If you use one incorrectly, you risk causing more harm than good.
It can be helpful to treat a focused, motivated team as one of your first project deliverables.
Overworking staff is counterproductive. No matter how serious the threat is, a team member can’t complete their work to the appropriate standard if the time you allocate them isn’t sufficient.
Buy the book here: Deadline: A Novel About Project Management
8. For a team leader’s perspective: Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager
Originally published 2015
About the authors: Kory Kogon, Suzette Blakemore and James Wood are leadership experts at the US-based professional coaching firm FranklinCovey.
Read this book if: Your work is becoming increasingly project-driven but you don’t have any formal project management training or experience.
According to a recent Wellingtone survey, more than half of all professional projects are run by people without formal project training or experience. This book aims to introduce the audience of non-project managers to the five main stages of the project management process: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closing.
There are seven chapters covering topics such as the transition toward project-based work, defining project milestones and tracking progress. In them, you’ll find relatable real-world examples along with some actionable takeaways to help you apply your new knowledge to real-world situations.
On risk management, the authors write: “Communication is 90% of a project’s success. By documenting the top risks and the plan to offset them, everyone on your team can row in the same direction.”
Your project schedule tells you if you’re on track or not, so it should be visible, constantly updated and open to every team member.
A project management consultant can inject valuable experience and insight into your project planning process. If you run projects regularly, it could be worth your investment.
Buy the book here: Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager
How to read more project management books in 2023: 5 quick tips
Combine all the books in our list and you’ll have almost 3,000 pages to get through. That’s a lot to fit around other commitments and self-development work.
For those who aren’t particularly confident or enthusiastic readers but are still keen to get better at managing projects, here are five simple tips to help you read more this year.
Always have a book nearby. Not every reading session has to be hours long. By keeping books around your desk, in your bag and on your nightstand, you’ll be able to capitalize on any unexpected opportunities to read, however short they are.
Use a format that works for you. Audiobooks and ebooks (e.g. Amazon’s Audible and Kindle platforms) have added new dimensions to reading. With an e-reader, tablet or smartphone app you can carry digital versions of all the best books wherever you go. Meanwhile, audiobooks allow you to learn about project management while walking, running or even driving.
Swap less important activities for reading. Of all your usual activities, consider which contribute the least value to your life and use that time for self-development reading instead. That’s not to say everyone should stop watching television, but with the average American consuming close to five hours of TV per day, many will find there’s room to cut down.
Make reading a social activity. There are likely others in your organization who are keen to gain new skills. Encourage them to join you in reading some project management books so you can compare notes at regular sessions. Group reading gives you an incentive to keep progressing, too, as you’ll all need to be at the same stage for every discussion.
Read in sprints. Finally, in the spirit of agile project management, try reading in 20- or 30-minute sprints, even if you have more time available. Time-blocking your reading like this can help you forget potential distractions and focus on really digesting the text in front of you. At the end of every sprint, take a few minutes to reflect on what you’ve just learned and note down the key points.
Reading is a flexible, inexpensive and convenient way to hone the technical and soft skills required to be a successful project manager.
All of the titles above have impressive credentials and plenty of positive feedback. The personal value of each comes down to where you are in your project management journey and what you want to achieve.
Use our list, find online reviews and read samples on platforms like Google Books to start compiling your perfect reading list for the year ahead.