The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky • project management • team management

Book cover of The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky - project management

The Messy Middle is about project management – specifically, the mysterious and volatile middle that nobody talks about. Scott Belsky, Chief Product Officer at Adobe, a product advisor and also an entrepreneur describes this part of the whole process as something extraordinarily bumpy that gets very little coverage on the news. No one really talks much about it, because it’s just a series of positive and negative bumps. On the other hand, everyone loves talking about the moment of conception, and everyone loves talking about what happens at the end. What can be so easily summed is celebrated.

Anyway, in order to gather first-hand data on the middle part of the project management he met with as many entrepreneurs, artists, writers, and others that have endured a very messy middle. Instead of stating about the classic questions, where did their idea come from? How did you get started? And so on… He tried to really delve deeply into the stuff that they probably choose to forget that happened in the middle.

It was interesting because it was his own sixth year of his own journey building Behance company (an online platform to showcase & discover creative work later acquired by Adobe). In order to retrospect his messy middle, he looked at his mobile phone and searched for messages he has shared with his teams. The first thing that immediately struck him were screenshots of bugs and things that didn’t look exactly right. The second thing he has found were screenshots of what customers were saying. Some of these messages weren’t in line with what he was feeling, nevertheless, the feedback he received was used as some kind of credibility of his judgement

There was also another reason for these screenshots in . He was trying to capture a form of reward when there was none. He was trying to also capture some of the things people said they were excited about, and he used this as a form of nonfinancial reward for himself and for the team. It was also a great proof that they were making progress. He also saw tons of pictures of his teams, meetings, hard times and fun times. This was another thing – when there was no product to be excited about, they were excited just to be with each other.

Finally, he got to the point where he could summarise the middle journey of project management by two words and this led him to the book which is broken down into two sections of insights reflected in the picture below.

The messy middle graph - project management

1.    Endurance (the lower part) which means enduring the lows. Learning from them and making every low a little less low. It “is about developing a source of renewable energy and tolerance that is not innate.” This section talks a lot about processing uncertainty described as a burden of any endeavour.

2.    Optimisation (the upper part) which is about optimising everything that works, asking why it actually works, evaluating it, and finally, doing more of it. This section is more about improving things rather than fixing problems. It also talks about experimenting and dealing with the creative part of the project. On the other hand, this part describes how to stay focused on what is crucial, what is our goal, and finally what is the circle of concern and influence. In other words, what you can control and what are the things that you cannot. This rule resonates with me, however, it is in opposition to The 10x rule book written by Grant Cardone reviewed a month ago. 

There is also a section about the final mile which is about how we should finish a project, or actually, how we shouldn’t. It tells that we should feel accomplished and fulfilled. On the contrary, we should stay hungry and ready to change a new status quo. Personally, I found this part of the book less appealing.

In conclusion, the book provides a really good set of first-hand experiences in different projects led by various companies. If you are a bit sceptical about picking up another book about project management, I would really recommend you to take a look at this one. Many concepts and views are fresh, well described and do not just repurpose the same ideas.  The book is not a textbook about PMI, PMP or PRINCE2 approaches, but it’s rather a set of personal experiences embellished by many emotional remarks.

The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture
by Scott Belsky

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

In the article I made use of a few authors’ interviews.

Book details:

Size: 418 pages
Published: 2018


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
Belsky’s website:
Scott Belsky on Wikipedia:
Belsky’s blog:
Behance website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *