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Bare Knuckled Project Management

I recently had the opportunity to reread one of my all-time favorite books on Project Management, “Bare Knuckled Project Management, How to Succeed at Every Project” by Tony Gruebl and Jeff Welch. The book, written by two industry leaders in Project Management, focuses on projects in trouble and how to recover.

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From the beginning, they throw away the rulebook. It starts with a conversation about a project going (gone) wrong. The Project Manager (PM) had personal issues, and the project is going off the rails. The story is told from the point of view of one of the authors, Tony. From there he jumps in, staffing changes, realigning the project, discussions with the client, etc.

For me, it shows that sometimes you have to abandon the “certified” approach and look at the project from an organic one. The authors never ignore the fundamentals of project management, i.e. team building, earned value, etc., but they also recognize that most projects fail, something like 70% according to their research. They use real world stories to back up the experience they bring to turning around projects. It’s one of the reasons the book rings true to me.

Another key factor to the book is that along with the real world stories; the authors bring a strong sense of reality to the job. They have a “been there done that” sensibility, and it comes through in their direct, no-nonsense, often profane (yes there is a little bit of NSFW language, but we are all adults here) stories.

The fact that they also refer to other well-known studies and thought leaders from across a wide variety of industries tells me that they rely on what has been tried and succeeded. They reference The Standish Group, General Patton, and yes, Bruce Lee (a modern day Confucius). Even a tidbit about Ginger Rodgers.

One of the things that sold the book to me is the reference to “The Wolf” in Quentin Tarantino’s Movie Pulp Fiction. Harvey Keitel’s character “never raises his voice, loses his temper, or acts with anything other than extreme politeness, he instantly takes command of the situation.” It is an excellent reference for how the idea came to be, and how a project manager needs to act.

A big change in perspective for me came when I went through what is referred to as “The Three Sided Table” (see figure below). This is an approach where the project manager, customer, and team, all sit at arm’s length to each other. The customer owns the outcome, the project manager owns the process, and the team delivers the outcome via the process defined by the project manager. I am paraphrasing this quite a bit, but this section alone makes a big change in perception on how projects can be run successfully.

Bare-Knuckle Project Manager

Figure 1: Three-sided table, full credit to the authors.

The book covers many other aspects of project management; managing risk and change are other big topics. For these, the authors cover some enlightening areas to think about. Project failure is covered in depth. The logic here is that the many examples given as failures have success stories behind them, not just anecdotally. For instance, by all accounts, Apollo 13 was a critical mission failure on many fronts. The fact that the astronaut team returned safely to earth turned it into a success, even creating some renewed interest in the agency.

The book is available on Amazon and through other avenues, often even distributed free, (demonstrating the author’s strong passion for knowledge and thought leadership). I suggest you buy or download today. I am curious to hear your thoughts as well. Send them on over to

JEFF L. CHAMBERLAIN, PMP | Project Manager

Jeff comes to KTL Solutions with an extensive background in healthcare IT, technical consulting, and telecommunications. He has been a project manager for almost 20 years, holding certifications from the Project Management Institute as a Project Management Professional, from the Management and Strategy Institute as a Six Sigma Lean Professional, and he holds a Scrum Master Certification from the Scrum Alliance. He has managed both hardware and software implementations for both the government and private sectors, in industries such as healthcare, insurance, telecommunications, staff augmentation, supply chain and shipping.

Jeff has provided training for clients globally, working in Europe, Russia, North and South America on various topics from system optimization to wireless theory and design. He possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in Technical Writing from the University of Baltimore.

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