Eating the Elephant One (Dynamic) Bite at a Time

By Doug DeCarlo

Would you rather manage an extreme project at the level of 43 deliverables? Or, would you be more comfortable managing the same project at the task level consisting of 1833 activities? If you answered 1833 activities, congratulations. You just discovered you are in the wrong job. Recommendation: seek new employment where your temperament and penchant for detail can be put to better use; e.g., managing the regulated shutdown process for a nuclear power plant. Or as the head of Quality Assurance for a parachute manufacturer.

By the way, it took me a total of 22 years (versus one paragraph like the above) to figure out I was the wrong job. This was when I worked in the publishing business where I made a living inventing and marketing magazines and newspapers about information systems. I did well, got promoted and hated it. I always thought there was something wrong with me, until I learned that individuals have temperaments and talents for different things. I made a lot of sacrifices and burned tremendous energy to get better at something I don't like.

Back to the subject at hand: eating elephants and managing extreme projects. Here's a bite of wisdom from Rich Unis, founder of Rich Unis and Company.

"When confronted with an extreme project, transform it into a dynamically extreme number of small conventional ones."

One of the 10 Shared Values of eXtreme Project Management is "Results Orientation" (vs. activity orientation). Tasks are fiction. Deliverables are more stable. The task list may be useful in order to guestimate the resource requirements, effort and duration that go into producing a particular deliverable, but that same list is a useless artifact for tracking purposes. Things change so quickly that the task list is outmoded as soon as it's printed. Why would anyone want to track a project against fiction?

Deliverable: a completed work product (the result of many tasks, planned and unplanned). Deliverables are expressed in the past tense (e.g., "Product Vision defined" or "System testing completed").

7 Keys to success when managing by deliverables:
  1. The project team breaks the project down into a network of deliverables. Use large post-it notes.

  2. Each deliverable is assigned both a producer and a customer. The customer is the person internal or external to the project team who must be satisfied with the deliverable.

  3. The producer and customer negotiate the conditions of satisfaction: Timing, deliverable content (scope), cost, quality.

  4. Both parties share a common understanding of the potential risks to meeting the conditions of satisfaction.

  5. The producer maintains his own task list outside of the master project plan. This cuts down enormously on otherwise useless administrative overhead.

  6. Producer and consumer agree on checkpoints, and an early warning system if a commitment can't be met.

  7. There is no penalty for not meeting the original agreement. However, it is unacceptable to not give an early warning of an expected slippage or problem.
eXtremely yours,


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