How Big Things Get Done By Bent Flyvbjerg And Dan Gardner Review


Reviewed by Rebecca Wong

I received this book to read and have to say that I was just a little bit excited.  As someone who has an interest in project management and who helps people to manage projects well within my job, I thought I could be a really useful resource.  As I worked my way through the book, I found from the first chapter gems of information about how to run a project well and also not so well.  The author Bent Flyvberg is someone who has run incredibly successful projects himself and has been named one of the world experts in mega projects.  The book is based on years of research and data which has been used to produce a database of more than 16,000 projects that have been rated in terms of their success – the only one of its kind.  That kind of knowledge cannot be disputed.  The beauty of it is that the learnings from such a database are completely transferable to even the smallest of projects both within and outside of work such as home DIY, which is skilfully illustrated to us throughout the book.

The book explored projects from all angles including cost, time, aesthetics, skill, vision and even ego.  It uses examples from the real world and from across the globe to illustrate how neglecting small details within a project plan can result in less than perfect results; sometimes complete disasters and other times incomplete projects.  We are talked through some magnificent examples and extremes of meticulous and obsessive planning that end in success stories, even though, these are far less common.  If you want to know exactly why a project more often than not fails, this book leaves you in no doubt.  It’s an excellent analysis of how to defy the odds and be success in a project by giving every detail the attention it needs.  Starting with the question – why?

I love how in many instances it is so simple to remind yourself of the why but the complexity of human nature and our own psychology often works against us.  The book seeks to explain this and therefore give the reader the awareness of those pitfalls that can indeed compromise a project.  ‘Think slow act fast’ is how the authors remind us about how important meticulous planning is to any project and that the opposite ‘Think fast act slow’ has been the downfall of many a project – a simple but effective reminder!

This book isn’t just for those project managers of the World; it’s a fascinating insight for anyone.  With lots of examples, including high profile as well as lesser-known projects.  I found myself googling examples to be able to visualise them and found that I learned so much.  I sometimes found myself gasping out loud at some of the decisions that were made and marvelling at the skills it takes to make things happen, sometimes against incredible odds.

The book itself is a really nice hardback and includes an extensive appendix at the back with references and further reading for those who want to understand more.  There is also an index which means that the book can be used as a reference, although I do recommend reading the book through to get the full impact.  The book can be purchased from Amazon here and is currently retailing at £15.28.  How Big Things Get Done is an inspiring read that would make a great gift for those who are involved in projects or who are curious about how things get done.  I highly recommend it as an enjoyable read that kept me interested throughout, I’m already recommending it to friends and I give it a 5/5.

Rating: 5/5


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