What sets good planning apart from the rest is something completely different. It is captured by a Latin verb, experiri. Experiri means “to try”, “to test”, or “to prove”. It is the origin of two wonderful words in English: experiment and experience. Think of how people typically learn: We tinker. We try this. We try that. We see what works and what doesn’t. we iterate. We learn. This is experimentation creating experience. Or, to use the phrase of theorists, it is “experiential learning”. We’re good at learning by tinkering – which is fortunate, because we’re terrible at getting things right the first time.

Chapter 4, Page 62

In a nutshell


How do big visions turn into reality? Why do some big projects succeed and others spectacularly flop? In How Big Things Get Done, University of Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg, identifies the errors in judgement and decision-making that lead projects to fail. Not only that, he provides research-based principles that will help you succeed with your projects be it a home renovation or mega business venture.

Book Club Notes


Throughout the book he provides real-life examples ranging from the building of the Sydney Opera House, the teamwork behind Pixar blockbusters and even a kitchen renovation. All of these make this book relatable, interesting and one to remember.

At the end of the book, he provides 11 heuristics for better project leadership. A heuristic he explains is a fast and frugal rule of thumb used to simplify complex decisions. They’re mental shortcuts used to reduce complexity, making decisions manageable. Below I’m sharing my favorite 5, for the rest you’ll have to pick up a copy of How Big Things Get Done.

5 heuristics for better project leadership


Get Your Team Right

Give a good idea to a mediocre team and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. Your team will make or break the project, choose wisely.


Ask “Why?”

Asking why you are doing your project helps focus you on what matters. As the project progresses you need to constantly check that every action is contributing to the desired result – the reason why.


Think Slow, Act Fast

The worst that can happen during the planning stage is far better than the worst that can happen during the delivery. To limit the worst happening during delivery you need to take ample time to create a detailed and tested plan. Planning is relatively safe and cheap, delivering is expensive and dangerous. Good planning mitigates the risks that may happen during the delivery process.


Say No and Walk Away

Staying focused is essential for getting projects done. Saying no is essential for staying focused. Unless an action contributes to achieving the goal, say no.


Know That the Biggest Risk is You

It’s tempting thinking that projects fail because the world throws surprises at us, but in truth the reason why most projects fail isn’t because of unexpected surprises. It’s because of our own behavioral biases.

Read If


You are a project manager or want to know how to execute plans successfully (be they small, big, personal or business.



Readability – 8/10
Writing – 8/10
Applicability – 7/10
Timelessness – 9/10
Shareability – 7/10
7.0Overall Score
A note on our book ratings

Readability: How easy is it to read and understand what the author is saying? Do you need a dictionary or PhD to understand it?

Writing: How well written is the book? Do you find yourself wowed by the writing or unimpressed?

Applicability: How applicable is this book to daily life? Is there enough advice and actions that are easy to start applying?

Timelessness: Is the content of the book timeless or is it something that in a few years won’t have relevance?

Shareability: How likely are you to share the book?

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