The eXtreme Project Management™ Series: No. 12
Based on the forthcoming book:

eXtreme Project Management:
Using Leadership, Principles & Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Volatility

by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group

The Flexible Project Model:
The Visionate Cycle

(This article has been adapted from the forthcoming book, eXtreme Project Management: Using Leadership, Principles & Tools to Deliver Value in the Face Of Volatility, to be published by Jossey-Bass, October 2004)

People often have the mistaken notion that the difference between traditional and eXtreme project management is an argument about planning versus not planning. That's far from the truth. Both involve planning. And in both arenas, the goal is to keep the project under control. The discussion really needs to center around which approach will afford you the most control given the nature of the project. The Flexible Project Model is designed to enable you and your stakeholders to keep your project under control and deliver business value in the face of volatility. In volatile conditions, flexibility--not rigidity--is called for.

Another fundamental distinction between the traditional and eXtreme project management view of the world is that traditional project management looks narrowly at a project from design to delivery. In contrast, eXtreme project management and the Flexible Project Model look at a project more broadly: from concept to payoff.

The Flexible Project Model that I work with is iterative and consists of five components: 4 cycles plus one element called Disseminate. This model is Critical Success Factor 3 of the overall eXtreme Project Management Model. In this article and the remaining four I will highlight each of the five components.

The Flexible Model has one fundamental purpose: 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 Model provides the framework for people to improvise when needed, but without losing control of the project. The components are: Visionate (The What), Speculate (The How), Innovate (The Doing), Re-evaluate (The Reviewing), and Disseminate (The Harvesting).

The Flexible Project Model
The Flexible Project Model

Since eXtreme Project Management is relentlessly business focused, each of the model's components puts the emphasis on one of eXtreme Project Management's 4 Business Questions although the other three are always addressed within each component. The 4 Business Questions (BQs) were listed in Part 2 of this series and are repeated here for reference:
  • BQ 1: Who needs what and why?
  • BQ 2: What will it take to get it?
  • BQ 3: Can we get what it takes?
  • BQ 4: Is it worth it?
The Visionate cycle puts the spotlight on Business Question 1, "Who needs what and why?" The answer will in turn drive the answers to the other three Business Questions.

Two interacting elements comprise the Visionate Cycle; namely, the sponsor's vision and the collective vision.

Throughout the life span of The Flexible Project Model, the project manager's role is that of facilitator of the project's energy field, a concept that was introduced early in this series. In her capacity as manger of the project's energy field and the project's overall mood, it is her role is to manage the flow of thoughts, emotions and interactions in a way that produces the desired business outcome. The short hand version is to say she is the process leader, one who brings coherence and sanity to the project by helping others connect the dots.

The Sponsor's Vision
The project begins with a first-hand understanding of what the sponsor is looking for, not just in terms of the expected deliverable, but more importantly, the business outcome that the deliverable is intended to produce.

Since there is no place for an absentee sponsor on an extreme project, the successful extreme project manager has the savvy and the courage not to proceed until she has an audience with the sponsor and gets answers to fundamental questions. For starters, these answers revolve around understanding the underlying business drivers, the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be seized, as well as the project's financial justification, win conditions, perceived content of the final deliverable, and expected business benefits.

The Collective Vision
Even the most senior and powerful sponsor will be stymied if there is insufficient buy-in to the project's vision among crucial stakeholders. This doesn't mean that everyone has to love the project. But it does mean that there has to be a critical mass of stakeholders that are willing to see the project alive rather than dead. Without buy-in, the sponsor's vision borders on hallucination.

The collective vision is established at the scoping meeting, a landmark event that harnesses the collective intelligence of crucial and other key stakeholders and in the process extends buy-in to the project vision from the sponsor to those whose support will be vital for the project's success. Orchestrated by the project manager, the scoping meeting is a major step in gaining and sustaining commitment to the project vision.
Examples of tangible work products from the scoping meeting include:
  • The 3-sentence project skinny: a succinct and focused way of addressing who needs, what and why
  • Project imperatives: requirements that must be met otherwise the project will fail
  • Project boundaries: an agreement on in scope and out of scope work
  • Product vision: a description of the intended final deliverable which will likely change dramatically throughout the life of the project
  • Win Conditions: an agreement on the project's seven key measurements of success
  • Project Uncertainty Profile: a concise way of calibrating the extent of unknowns surrounding the project
  • Probable future scenarios: contingencies for adjusting to possible external events that could impact the project positively or negatively, including government regulations, competition, technology, economic forces, outside suppliers, etc.
After the scoping meeting, the project manger is in a position to update the stakeholder database, pick the preliminary core project team and draft the project prospectus -- a concise document that summarizes the project work products that I enumerated above.

The 7 Win Conditions
One of the most important outcomes of the Visionate Cycle is a prioritization of the project's Win Conditions. eXtreme project management identifies 7 Win Conditions.

Win Conditions are a set of variables that define how success will be measured. They answer the question, "On what basis will we declare victory?" Following are the Win Conditions that apply to any project. Each specific project will differ as to how each condition is defined and how important the sponsor and crucial stakeholders consider each one to be for success.
  • Stakeholder satisfaction (for example the project's customer set)
  • Schedule (being on time)
  • Budget (people, capital, other resources)
  • Scope (the range of features or functions to be included in the project deliverable)
  • Quality (how good the deliverable has to perform)
  • Return on investment (the importance of meeting the targeted economic return)
  • Team satisfaction (importance of team members having a fulfilling experience)
It's up to the sponsor and crucial stakeholders, not the project manager, to prioritize the 7 Win Conditions. The rule is that you can have only one must-meet and one optimize Win Condition at any one time. The other five are accomplished within acceptable parameters, the metrics for which are defined by the sponsor and crucial stakeholders. In a similar approach, Cutter senior consultant Rob Thomsett, in his book Radical Project Management, uses a device called "sliders" to calibrate success. Each success slider can be set to on or off, or graduated somewhere in between by stakeholders and the sponsor.

In practice, the Win Conditions also serve as a set of trade-offs. If the schedule is shortened, then more resources (budget) will likely need to be added. If the budget is cut, certain features or the level of quality will have to be cut to compensate. If more features are added or the level of quality required is increased, this will bear on customer and team satisfaction. Customers may be happier, but the team may not be if they are expected to work overtime to get it done, unless the schedule is increased or more resources are added. And if more resources are added, this may affect the project's return on investment. The extreme project manager surfaces these tradeoffs, but the trade off decision belongs squarely in the sponsor's court.

eXtreme project management looks at all seven Win Conditions, where traditional project management emphasizes the iron triangle ("bring it in on time, on scope, and on budget"). In eXtreme project management, we recognize the shortsightedness of this thinking. Even if you succeed in meeting the iron triangle criteria, if you fail to meet ROI expectations the project has little redeeming value. This is equivalent to the operation being a success, but the patient dies. That's why eXtreme project management extends from initial concept through the realization of business benefits. eXtreme project management, with its Shared Value of people first, also explicitly builds team satisfaction in as a measure of success.

As process leader, manager, and facilitator of the project's flow of emotions, thoughts, and interactions, you're off the hook here: you don't own the results of the Win Conditions discussion. Your stakeholders do. And when they can't come to agreement, your sponsor makes the call. Identifying Win Conditions is among your most important project management tools, and the process you lead for prioritizing the project's success factors one of your greatest services to the project.

In my next article I will cover the Speculate cycle of the Flexible Project Model. In the meantime, keep the beat.

eXtremely yours,


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