PMI Portland Chapter

book review (Project Management Denial & Death)

Book Review

Project Management, Denial, and the Death Zone

Reviewed by Peter Fowler, LTC (ret), PMP, CSPO

PM Dealth Denial    Authors Grant Avery, MBA, PMP
J.Ross Publishing, Hard Cover, 264 pages; ISBN-13: 978-1-60427-119-5; October 2015, $44.95
Purpose Examines why projects fail using a comparative case study approach with high risk mountaineering and expeditions in extreme environments and proposes solutions.
Audience This book is for senior executives, directors of program management offices, program and project managers.


When I was looking for an interesting project management book, Project Management, Denial, and the Death Zone caught my eye. Just from the dire title and the cover, I knew that this book would be useful and the anecdotes of project management in extreme environments would be interesting. Being a former Special Forces Officer, I have a background in high risk military operations – planning and conducting them – I understand the necessity of good management techniques when people’s lives are at stake.

Grant Avery begins his book by examining why so many projects fail, detailing the current project environment and charting trends within the profession. He quickly moves to his main point, namely, discussing facets of risk – individual and organizational propensities for accepting risk. Grant provides analysis tools, tips and tools for his readers, and a blending of entertaining historical facts with academic bodies of knowledge and instructional guides.  Grant concludes by discussing leadership roles and impacts on projects. I would have liked to see this section more prominently featured in the book since it is so important to the success of any effort – be it an expedition or an IT project.

Grant Avery is an accomplished Program Manager having managed over 100 Informational, Communications and Technology (ICT) projects.  He has a unique perspective on risk management having been a manager of New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica and a team leader for the joint (USA-NZ) search and rescue team. Currently, he is president of a specialized consultancy in high risk projects.

Avery adeptly discusses the current state of project management comparing it with historical developments of expeditionary explorations in extreme environments. He provides useful references throughout the book to keep the interest of the reader, checklists for the practitioner, and excellent historical references for the adventurer.  The book is well organized and doesn’t over explain or simplify recommendations on how to improve your or your organization’s project management.

I would have liked to see more advice in building teams to work better together and share risks. There is a distinction between a high risk IT project and one when your life and your team member’s lives are on the line.  The trick is to build that intensity and level of commitment among your team. One paragraph doesn’t address the topic sufficiently.  Maybe, that is for another book.

Grant Avery’s Project Management, Denial, and The Death Zone is an interesting, informative, and practical book that not only entertains, but educates the reader.  I do believe this read is well worth your time and you can implement some useful techniques immediately in your management and organization.

 About the Author

Fowler PetePete Fowler is a former Special Forces Army Officer with over 19 years of project management experience. He has initiated, planned, executed, managed and closed a wider variety of projects and programs for the United States Government and Commercial activities. Pete works for SureID, Inc. and holds active PMP and CSPO certifications.