A DIFFERENT DRUMMER
by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group
Author of eXtreme Project Management:
Using Leadership, Principles and Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Volatility



How Do You Migrate to eXtreme Project Management?

This question is coming up more and more. Here's the soundbite answer: "One project at a time."

I'll explain. But first, let me back up before going forward. eXtreme Project Management is meant for projects that have a high uncertainty factor; that is, they feature high speed, high change, high complexity and also high stress. The whole purpose of eXtreme Project Management is to keep your project in control and deliver value early and often. And the trick is to do this in the face of volatility. This is where Traditional Project Management crumbles and eXtreme Project Management excels.

Presumably, your current project management approach is not working. So, step one is to have a valid motive for wanting to migrate to eXtreme Project Management.

What Doesn't Work?
The typical, knee jerk approach to introducing new project management processes (eXtreme or traditional) is usually to send everyone off to classroom training and/or attempt to sell management on the idea that they should support project management and roll it out across the department, business unit or entire organization.

In my experience, both approaches have a dismal success rate. They are akin to relieving yourself in your wet suit: You get a warm feeling and nobody notices.

To succeed in project management requires a change in behavior. It's na�ve at best to think that knowledge in project management leads to behavior change. Observe that project managers—even professionally certified project managers—apply only a small fraction of what they know. To know does not equal to do. We all know how to lose weight: Eat less and exercise more. But how many of us actually do what we know? You don't learn how to ride a bike by reading a book. And you don't learn project management sitting in a classroom, soaking up knowledge and accumulating PDUs (Professional Development Units) no matter how good the training.

So I ask, do you want to increase knowledge or increase results?

As for massive organizational change initiatives to introduce project management, these boil-the-ocean programs usually drown under their own weight.

The Key to Success
People change behavior when they experience better results. So the idea is to get people who are in pain to have successful experiences. When this happens, the likelihood of changing behavior increases dramatically. And behavior change leads to new knowledge. Notice: Knowledge is an output, not so much an input. And behavior change is an input and not so much an output. (Corporate America still has it backwards.)

A Lame Excuse
It's very common to hear people say that they would like to try new project management practices, but "we already have a mandated process. Management (and/or the PMO) insists we stick with it. So, we can't change." I ask, "Do you mean can't change or won't change?" For instance, what if the senior management were to tell you, "OK, no problem. You want to introduce a new kind of project management? Just tell me what you need and you've got it." I once posed this situation to one of my workshop participants who complained about not being able to introduce new practices. I asked, "How do you feel now that you got everything that you asked for?" Edward was quick to say, "Scared." "Why?" I asked. "I'd be exposed," said Edward. No excuses to hide behind. End of story.

Here's What Works
Management and customers can't argue with results. So the idea is to create successes. Management's job or that of the customer is to determine what is wanted. As project manager, you are expected to be the expert in project process. Your job is to insist on using a process that works; i.e. to figure out the how. You must gain control over the process you use. If you relinquish control over the process, you have in effect relinquished your job to those who know less than you.

When the powers insist on using a traditional project management approach on a high-volatility project and you want to use an agile approach, you need to shift the conversation from a process discussion to a discussion about keeping the project in control and delivering value. Because that's what management wants, a feeling of CONTROL over things. And once you yourself understand how eXtreme Project Management works, you'll realize that it is all about keeping things in control and delivering business value. And this is just what management is after in the first place. But, don't expect them to believe you. Tell them that they will experience results and greater control once you get started ... that they can see for themselves based on real data.

Migrating to the eXtreme
Here's my 8-step process:

  1. Pick a project. Naturally, pick one that has the hallmarks of an eXtreme project.

  2. Sell yourself. Be convinced, if not evangelical, that you have seen the light and really believe that the current project management approach will put you and this particular project at greater risk. And that applying the practices of eXtreme Project Management will be a better fit.

  3. Engage a bonafide Sponsor. This would be manager with a vested interest in the project's success who has both financial and political clout. Tell the Sponsor that you will be using a project management approach that will provide her with frequent control and decision points.

  4. Look at current practice. Does your organization have an in-place methodology that you are mandated to use? If so, the idea is not to condemn the entrenched project management methodology. It may be very well suited for low change, low volatility projects.

    If no methodology now exists, this will make it easier to proceed.

    If you do have an entrenched methodology, you have three options:

    1. Ask your Sponsor for dispensation. Base your argument the need for greater control and delivering early value.

    2. Bypass the system: Muster up the courage and just ignore the existing methodology. This is called guts power.

    3. Concoct a blend: Use only the bare essentials of the mandated methodology and apply selected practices, principles and tools of eXtreme Project Management.


  5. Apply just-in-time eXtreme Project Management. Assemble the project team and apply eXtreme Project Management real time, on the spot. My book gives you a step-by-step process for applying eXtreme Project Management, including all the tools and templates.

  6. Demonstrate early results. Here the eXtreme Project Management practice of timeboxing and applying metrics based on the 7 Win Conditions will be your ally.

  7. Capture lessons learned. Do this on an on-going basis. Don't wait til the end and attempt to do project autopsy now that the patient has died.

  8. Continue the grass roots effort on other projects. Be prepared: Once you've had a success, others will likely experience eXtreme Project Management envy. Your job: Mentor them. As they succeed, they in turn will mentor others.

What It Really Takes
To do what I recommend doesn't take a degree in nuclear science. It takes courage. Of course, if you decide to stick with the entrenched traditional approach knowing that it puts you and the project at greater risk, that too takes courage. You can't get away from courage. The question becomes, for what will you use your courage?

eXtremely yours,

Doug DeCarlo

P.S.: For the full story on eXtreme Project Management, see Doug's book on Amazon.com.




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