The eXtreme Project Management™ Series: No. 2
Based on the forthcoming book:

The End of Project Management as We Know It:
A Guide to eXtreme Project Management™

by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group

eXtreme Project Management™: The Essential Elements

eXtreme project management is not your father's project management. It's a radical shift in thinking about projects and how to succeed. eXtreme project management is change tolerant and customer focused. It's reality-based and people centric. It involves planning, deplaning and replanning. It involves getting a grip on yourself as well as your project.

In last month's article, which kicked off this series, I addressed these questions:
  • Why do we need eXtreme project management?
  • What is the Quantum Mindset?
  • What is eXtreme project management?
  • How is success measured on an extreme project?
  • What does it take to succeed?
So that we have a common reference point, I'll repeat the definition of an extreme project:

An extreme project is a complex, high speed, self-correcting venture in search of a desirable result under conditions of high uncertainty, high change and high stress.

(For most of us, this is not the definition of "fun.")

In this article, I'll summarize each of the essential elements that make up the extreme project management model. Subsequent articles will drill down into each of the elements that you need to succeed.

The elements provide the foundation for success. And this begs the question, "What does it take to succeed on an extreme project?" To succeed on extreme projects means to put the Quantum Mindset (a change-tolerant worldview) to work through the vehicle of extreme project management.

To succeed on an extreme project boils down to gaining and sustaining commitment throughout the project life cycle, and this in turn means:
  • Unleashing motivation and innovation
  • Establishing stakeholder trust and confidence in the ability to succeed
  • Ensuring the customer receives value each step of the way
  • Maintaining control in the face of volatility
  • Taking appropriate action
The above is accomplished by applying the essential elements that comprise the extreme project management model. These elements are:
  • The 4 Accelerators or principles for unleashing motivation and innovation
  • The 10 Shared Values for building trust and confidence
  • The 4 Business Questions for ensuring customers receive value early and often
  • The 5 Critical Success Factors which cover the practices, tools and infrastructure
    • CSF 1: Self-Mastery
    • CSF 2: Leadership by Commitment
    • CSF 3: Flexible Project Model
    • CSF 4: Real-Time Communication
    • CSF 5: Agile Organization
By the way, if you want to do a quick health check on your extreme project, use these elements as a diagnostic tool. Ask yourself, "How are we doing against each element?"

-- Unleashing motivation and innovation

The 4 Accelerators speed up the flow of positive energy throughout the project's energy field. They enable the stakeholders and the team in particular to be adaptive. Keeping these guiding principles in mind will go a long way in keeping your project moving and your team committed and creative. By committed, I mean a sense of ownership and skin in the game. Importantly, these accelerators also form the fertile soil that gives birth to innovative products and solutions. And they go a long way to establish the desire to succeed.

1. Change is your friend
When I say, "Change is your friend," I mean not only responding to change, but also proactively creating change, even driving the competition nuts by changing the rules of the game.

Change usually carries a negative connotation on projects. It disrupts things. It's not something that is typically welcomed and that's why traditional project management makes a big deal out of "change control."

Extreme project management requires a different attitude about change. One that says change represents opportunity, and by welcoming change you improve the chances of delivering the desired result (which is likely to be vastly different from the originally planned result).

In practice, "Change is your friend" means a willingness to start over at any time and junk the plan and even the project.

2. People want to make a difference
I don't think many people get up in the morning, excited about getting back to their projects. The word "project" has a downer kind of energy associated with it. However, people are more likely to rise and shine if the know they are on a mission; that is, if they see their project not so much as a project but as a cause.

When put into practice, the 2nd Project Accelerator means showing people how their job contributes to a the bigger picture by providing a sense of meaning and purpose.

3. People support what they create
I may feel good about being part of an important project, but if it is a risky venture (as are all extreme projects), I will want to have a voice in shaping the project.

In practice, the principle of "People support what they create" means to give people the freedom to determine how to do their job as well as the opportunity to influence how to succeed on the overall project including how performance will be measured.

4. Simplicity Wins The old KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid - is much more than lip service on an extreme project. It's taken seriously.

In practice, it means less is more. Less process, less project management overhead, fewer policies and standard operating procedures, etc.

-- Establishing the trust and confidence needed to succeed

This is the value system that fosters a strongly held belief among project stakeholders that by working together they can succeed, even in the face of volatility and adversity. It comes down to what Henry Ford said, "If you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you can't. In either case you are right."

1. Client Collaboration
In practice, Client Collaboration means on going interaction and feedback with the customer throughout the venture as opposed to handoff the requirements and disengage.

2. People First
In practice, People First means eliminating barriers so that people can do quality work.

3. Clarity of Purpose
In practice, Clarity of Purpose means understanding not only the goals of the project, but the bigger picture: why it's being undertaken in the first place.

4. Honest Communication
In practice, Honest Communication means acting with integrity and speaking the truth about the good, the bad and the ugly without fear of reprisal.

5. Results Orientation
In practice, Results Orientation means focusing on the completion of deliverables rather than on tracking tasks.

6. Fast Failures
In practice, Fast Failures means finding the quickest path to failure by tackling the most difficult, risky or important work very early on.

7. Early Value
In practice, Early Value means giving customers something they can put to use as soon as possible.

8. Visibility
In practice, Visibility means keeping everything out in the open for all to see: plans, progress, work products, issues, who's accountable for what.

9. Quality of Life
In practice, Quality of Life means ensuring that the project strikes a satisfying balance of work life and personal life.

10. Courage
In practice, Courage means having the fear and doing it anyway; doing it scared because it's the right thing to do.

-- Ensuring the customer receives value each step of the way

The 4 Business Questions serve as a constant reminder to all stakeholders that the project is first and foremost a business venture, that the goal is to deliver value each step of the way, as well as during the benefits realization stage which begins after the final project output has been produced.
  1. Who needs what and why?
  2. What will it take to do it?
  3. Can we get what it takes?
  4. Is it worth it?
In practice, applying the 4 Business Questions means continually updating the business case to reflect the latest expectations and projections.

-- Taking Action: Putting in place the skills, tools and environment to succeed

The 5 Critical Success Factors (CSFs) are where the rubber meets the road. They employ the 4 Accelerators, the 10 Shared Values and the 4 Business Questions by building them into the life of the project. They also speak to the skills, methods and practices that are essential to lead, plan, manage and track the project from start to finish and to assimilate change along the way. CSF 1 (Self Mastery) recognizes that you cannot separate your project from yourself any more than you can separate the wet from the water. To stay sane over time will mean being able to keep a grip on yourself as well as on your project.

CSF 1: Self-Mastery
Extreme projects are stressful under any circumstances. They can follow you home at night and live rent-free in your head, depriving you of a personal and family life. Self-Mastery means the on-going practice of leading oneself. In absence of even a modicum of self-mastery, the extreme project manager will soon realize that he is out of control -- he no longer has a project, the project has him. Unless you choose Self-Mastery, you are by default choosing Self-Misery.

CSF 2: Leadership by Commitment
This means to put the Quantum Mindset to work. The job of the extreme project manager is to gain and sustain the commitment of others. The successful project manager is able to unleash motivation and innovation, establish the trust and confidence to succeed, ensure the customer receives value each step of the way and maintain control in the face of volatility. To do this requires that the project manager become the steward of the project's energy field: managing and facilitating the flow of emotions, thoughts and interactions in a way that produces valued outcomes. By effectively (or ineffectively) managing the project's energy field, the extreme project manager creates the circumstances for success (or failure).

CSF 3: Flexible Project Model
The Flexible Project Model is iterative and consists of 5 cycles that span project startup to project finish. Its purpose is to provide just enough discipline to allow people the freedom to innovate and to get work done. Similar to the structure of a jazz composition, the Flexible Project Model provides the framework for people to improvise when needed, but without losing control of the project. The 5 cycles are: Initiate, Speculate, Innovate, Re-evaluate and Celebrate.

    CSF 3.1: Initiate
    A business problem or opportunity has been presented. Face-to-face sessions between the client and the producer are held in which both parties come to a shared vision and clear understanding of what is going to be done. This is documented and agreed to by both parties. The caveat is that this is an initial definition and is expected to change as project work commences.

    CSF 3.2: Speculate
    A brief project description, called a Project Skinny, has been written and is presented along with a prioritized list of requirements that the client and the producer believe are needed in order to take advantage of the business opportunity or solve the business problem. Some high-level planning is done very quickly to sequence the functionality into a number of development cycles. This is documented and agreed to by both parties - along with the expectation that it will change as project work commences.

    CSF 3.3: Innovate
    Detailed planning for producing the functionality assigned to this cycle is prepared. The cycle work begins, is monitored throughout the cycle and adjustments made as necessary. The cycle ends when its timebox has expired.

    CSF 3.4: Re-evaluate
    The client and project team perform a quality review of the functionality produced in the just competed cycle. It is compared against the overall goal of maximum business value and adjustments made to the high-level plan and next cycle work as appropriate.

    The sequence Speculate-Innovate-Re-evaluate is repeated until the time and budget have been expended or the desired result has been achieved.

    CSF 3.5: Celebrate
    When all the dust settles, extreme projects are about accomplishing something useful, and doing so early and often. Recognizing and rewarding success throughout the project keeps the energy positive and helps keep the project in a good mood.

CSF 4: Real-Time Communication
Things happen fast on extreme projects. People need information about the good and bad so that them can self-organize into groups to make decisions. They need a forum for discussion and debate so that the best options are surfaced addressed. They need to share documents and have ready access to project management tools. Stakeholders need to be kept up to date. Real-Time Communications means to put in place the project management infrastructure to ensure that information is available anytime to anyone who needs it, to speed the flow of thoughts and ultimately decisions.

CSF 5: Agile Organization
Projects are like flowers. If the soil is toxic, one or two flowers may make it, but sooner or later the crop will die. Agile Organization means putting in place a change tolerant, project-friendly culture, one that recognizes and supports the special needs of different projects from traditional to extreme. The goal of a change tolerant organization is not to ensure projects are delivered on time, on scope or on budget, but rather to ensure that the project delivers the intended business outcome.

Taken together, these 4 Accelerators, 10 Shared Values, 4 Business Questions and 5 Critical Success Factors form a unique, holistic framework that begins with self-mastery and extends to organizational effectiveness. eXtreme project management is in your-face-project management. It puts the emphasis on managing the mood of the project, on managing the project's energy level and not on producing project documentation and other artifacts. This means that if you are looking for a new set of fill-in-the blank templates or another canned, panacea project management methodology, you may as well stop reading the rest of this series.

In the next article, I'll cover the essence of CSF 1: Self-Mastery.

In the meantime, keep the beat.

eXtremely yours,


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