Overview of Extreme Project Management

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By its very nature, xPM is unstructured. xPM (see Figure 19.1) and APF are both variations of the same theme. The theme is that learning and discovery moves the project forward. The idea is an adaptation of the Flexible Project Model introduced in 2000 by Doug DeCarlo in his eXtreme Project Management Workshop. Recall that the difference between xPM and APF is that APF requires a clearly defined goal, whereas xPM does not. As Figure 19.1 illustrates, xPM consists of four phases that we are calling INitiate, SPeculate, Incubate, and REview (INSPIRE).

xPM is an iterative approach just as APF is an iterative approach. xPM iterates in an unspecified number of short cycles (1- to 4-week cycle lengths are typical) in search of the solution (in other words, the goal). It may find an acceptable solution, or it may be cancelled before any solution is reached. It is distinguished from APF in that the goal is unknown, or at most, someone has a vague, but unspecified, notion of what the goal consists. Such a client might say: "I'll know it when I see it." That isn't a new revelation to the experienced project manager; they have heard that many times before. Nevertheless, it is their job to find the solution (with the client's help, of course).

INitiate

INitiate

REview

Figure 19.1 Extreme project management.

REview

Figure 19.1 Extreme project management.

APF is further distinguished from xPM in that xPM requires the client to be more involved within and between cycles, whereas APF requires client involvement between cycles. Drug research provides a good example of the extreme project. Suppose, for example, that the goal is to find a natural food additive that will eliminate the common cold. This is a wide-open project. Constraining the project to a fixed budget or fixed time line makes no sense whatsoever. More than likely the project team will begin by choosing some investigative direction or directions and hope that intermediate findings and results will do two things:

■■ That the just finished cycle will point to a more informed and productive direction for the next and future cycles. In other words, xPM includes learning and discovery experiences just as APF does.

■■ Most important of all, that the funding agent will see this learning and discovery as potentially rewarding and will decide to continue the funding support.

There is no constrained scope triangle in xPM as there is in TPM and APF projects. Recall that those TPM and APF projects have time and funding constraints that were meaningful. "Put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade" is pretty specific. It has a built-in stopping rule. When the money or the time runs out, the project is over. xPM does have stopping rules, but they are very different. There are two stopping rules in xPM:

■■ The first one says that the project is over when the solution is found. Success!

■■ The second one says the project is over when the sponsor is not willing to continue the funding. The sponsor might withdraw the funding because the project is not making any meaningful progress. It is not converging on an acceptable solution. In other words, the project is killed. Failure!

The next sections take a high-level look at the four phases of xPM.

INitiate

The INitiate phase is a mixture of selling the idea, establishing the business value of the project, brainstorming possible approaches, forming the team, and getting everyone on board and excited about what they are about to undertake. It is definitely a time for team building and creating a strong working relationship with the client.

Someone has an idea for a product or service and is proposing that a project be commissioned to investigate and produce it. Before any project will be launched, management must be convinced that it is an idea worth pursuing. The burden of proof is on the requestor. He or she must document and demonstrate that there is business value in the undertaking. The Project Overview Statement (POS), which we used in both TPM and APF, is the documentation we are recommending to sell the idea. There are some differences in the xPM version of the POS.

Defining the Project Goal

Unlike the goal of an APF project, the goal of an extreme project is not much more than a vision of some future state. "I'll know it when I see it" is about the only statement of the project goal that could be made, given the vague nature of the project goal as envisioned at this point in time. It has all the characteristics of an adventure where the destination is only vaguely defined. You have to understand that the goal of an extreme project unfolds along the journey. It is not something that you can plan to achieve; it is only something that you and the client discover along the way. That process of discovery is exciting. It will call upon all of the creative juices that the team and the client can muster. Contrast this to the project goal in an APF project. In APF, the goal is known; it's the solution that evolves as the project unfolds. In general, the client is the more directive in xPM, while the team is more directive in APF.

At this early stage, any definition of the project goal should be that vision of the future. It would be good at this point to discuss how the user or customer of the deliverables will use the product or service. Don't be too restrictive, either. Keep your options open—or keep your powder dry, as one of my colleagues would say. Forming a vision of the end state is as much a brain-storming exercise as it is anything else. Don't close out any ideas that may prove useful later on.

xPM Project Overview Statement

An example will help ground some of these new ideas. Suppose the project is to find a cure for the common cold.

As discussed in earlier chapters of this book, the Project Overview Statement is a critical document in both the TPM and APF approaches, and so it is again in xPM projects. However, because the goal was known in both TPM and APF projects but is not known in xPM projects, there will be some differences in the POS. These differences are best illustrated by way of example. Figure 19.2 is the POS for the project to find a cure for the common cold.

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