"Extreme project management is the art and science of facilitating and managing the flow of thoughts, emotions, and interactions in a way that produces valued outcomes under turbulent and complex conditions: those that feature high speed, high change, high uncertainty, and high stress." - Doug DeCarlo, author of eXtreme Project Management
From the development of new technologies and shift in customer needs to economic conditions or some new groundbreaking ideas, several project requirements can change every day due to various circumstances. This is where extreme project management enters the game.
Extreme projects are carried out in turbulent environments where it’s difficult to estimate the speed of the project and the obstacles you will encounter. On extreme projects, things are unpredictable, planning is chaotic and just in time, and the entire project development is messy.
Despite their extreme nature, extreme projects can still contribute to success, and extreme project management allows you to manage the unknown and unpredictable by self-correcting along the way.
Project Management Methodologies and Frameworks
Extreme project management characteristics
DeCarlo compares extreme project management to jazz music. Although jazz may sound random and chaotic, it has its own framework, allowing jazz musicians to improvise and make outstanding musical pieces.
- There is a rough idea about the goal but little idea about how to achieve that goal.
- All the standard tools, templates, and processes engineers used to apply in the past don’t make much contribution to extreme project management.
- Instead of following the safe path, in extreme management, project managers discuss the best alternative with the client, carry out the experiment, learn from what happens, and use their knowledge for the next project cycle.
The mindset as an important factor
It’s obvious that the steps you need to take in the extreme approach differ significantly from the steps in the traditional approach. The extreme approach requires a particular mindset: a set of beliefs and assumptions about how things function. With this in mind, changing the mindset of your project team and adapting it to the extreme circumstances they have to work in is imperative.
There are a few ground rules and expectations your project team has to adopt to implement an extreme approach successfully:
- Requirements and project activities are chaotic and unpredictable
- The team should rely on uncertainty
- It’s virtually impossible to control this kind of projects fully
- Change is inevitable
- Flexibility and openness bring the feeling of security
Advantages of extreme project management
Unlike other methodologies that rely on software tools and templates, the extreme approach is much more people-centric:
- It’s holistic - although it includes methods, tools, and templates, they only make sense if they refer to the project as a whole. In other words, it allows you to view the project as a single system without analyzing its parts
- It’s people-centric - it puts emphasis on project dynamics, meaning it allows stakeholders to communicate and interact. This helps you reach meaningful solutions and meet your client's needs.
- It’s humanistic - one of the principles of this approach is to take into account the quality of life of the stakeholder as they are baked into the project. Because people are an integral part of the project, their job satisfaction and the team culture they develop can have a profound effect on the business
- It’s business focused - once you have reached the project’s outcome, you can have a clear insight into how the project can benefit your client. The team is constantly focused on delivering value early and often.
- It’s reality-based - it allows you to work in a highly unpredictable environment that is prone to change and helps you recognize that you cannot change reality to adapt to your project
Five steps of Extreme Project Management Life Cycle model
Brian Vernham, the author of Agile Project Management for Government, suggests that there are five steps every extreme project management team needs to follow to carry out the project successfully:
- Envision - define your vision clearly before embarking on extreme project management.
- Speculate - have your team participate in the creative thinking process and brainstorm ideas that will achieve your vision.
- Innovate - make your team test their speculations by coming up with innovative solutions.
- Re-evaluate - as the cycle approaches its end, your team must re-evaluate their work.
- Disseminate - after going through a learning process, it’s essential to spread the knowledge and apply it to future stages of the project as well as future projects in general.
When to use extreme project management
Whether your team will employ a straightforward and well-structured traditional project management or the radical extreme project management approach depends on the project they are involved in. You should use extreme project management when your projects require:
- Fast-paced work
- Frequent changes as the project progresses due to the dynamic environment
- A trial-and-error approach to see what works
- Self-correcting processes when things go wrong
- People-driven processes instead of process-driven (when people are in control of processes rather than the other way around)
Traditional vs. Extreme project management
Traditional project management is a perfect solution for managing engineering and construction projects because they have a specific goal and a well-defined path on how to get there. But today, many projects don’t have a proven path and a predictable life cycle, and requirements are constantly changing.
Unlike traditional management, where circumstances are highly predictable, extreme project management thrives in a chaotic environment where the level of certainty is very low. Also, the traditional approach is more streamlined, while the extreme one is more flexible.
Doug DeCarlo, the author of Extreme Project Management, points out the basic differences between the two approaches:
- Traditional project management is past-oriented. Extreme project management is future-oriented.
- Traditional project management makes people the servants of the process. Extreme project management makes the process the servant of people.
- Traditional project management is about centralizing control of people, processes, and tools. Extreme project management is about distributing control.
- Traditional project management tries to take charge of the world (things, people, schedule). Extreme project management is about taking charge of yourself, your attitudes, and your approach to the world.
- Traditional project management is about managing. Extreme project management is about leading.