The eXtreme Project Management™ Series: No. 13
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 Speculate 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)

This is the final article in the 13-part series.

How do you keep your project in control and provide value in the face of volatility? The Flexible Project Model and the other components of eXtreme project management covered in previous articles provide the tools.

As a reminder before I delve into the Speculate cycle, The Flexible Project Model that I work with (pictured in Exhibit 1) is iterative and consists of five components: 4 cycles plus one element called Disseminate. The Model has one critical purpose: to provide just enough discipline to allow people the freedom to innovate and to get work done.

Exhibit 1: The Flexible Project Model

One more reminder ... 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), you might recall are:
  • BQ 1: Who needs what and why?
  • BQ 2: What will it take to do it?
  • BQ 3: Can we get what it takes?
  • BQ 4: Is it worth it?
In this final article in the series, I'll summarize the elements that comprise the Speculate cycle and then highlight the essence of the remaining components: Innovate, Re-evaluate and Disseminate.

While the Visionate cycle (described in my previous article) puts the spotlight on BQ 1, the Speculate cycle addresses BQ 2 head on: What will it take to do it? The Speculate cycle takes the work products from Visionate and turns them into a plan of action. That is, in Visionate we determined the "What" of the project, in Speculate we focus on the "How."

Failure to plan and schedule the eXtreme project before rushing ahead and just doing it will quickly send the venture into chaos. But overplanning the project will not only waste valuable time; the resultant detailed plan will be a group exercise in fiction writing. Overplanning also has the effect of making everyone a prisoner to the plan. It puts the project in a straitjacket, disabling it from effectively responding to or creating change. On an eXtreme project, we favor generating tangible results over generating Newtonian-like plans.

Moreover, because the sponsor and other senior management have a legitimate need for predictability, they will likely pressure the team for tight estimates of schedule, costs, and milestone dates. Although the team members understand this need of the sponsor, they will be reluctant to provide such predictability because of all the unknowns they anticipate and fear.

The role of the eXtreme project manager is to embrace this inevitable, necessary, and even beneficial conflict and do so by managing and facilitating the emotions and the thinking that needs to take place among three competing energy fields-the Newtonians, the quantonians, and reality-each of which has its opinions of how long it should take, how much it should cost, and how to go about it.

In addition to producing tangible planning work products, a critical psycho-emotional goal of the Speculate cycle is to engender the trust and confidence among crucial stakeholders that they can succeed. Achieving the goal of trust and confidence is facilitated when the eXtreme project manager acts as a role model by living the 10 Shared Values and the 4 Project Accelerators of eXtreme project management.

The Planning Meeting is the cornerstone event of the Speculate Cycle. Lead by the eXtreme project manager, the purpose of the meeting is to determine what it will take to bring the Collective Vision (established during the Visionate cycle) into reality: time, people, technology, methods, tools and financial requirements. The Planning Meeting is attended by the Core Team (those who will be doing the work and overseeing the subteams doing the work) as well as other stakeholders who might have information essential to the planning cycle.

The following twelve-step process outlines what happens during the Planning Meeting and serves as the basis for the meeting agenda.
  1. Review and update the collective vision. The collective vision that was developed in the Visionate cycle serves as the foundation for planning.

  2. Review the Project Uncertainty Profile (PUP) created during Visionate. The level of uncertainty facing the project is a big driver for estimating the schedule. It also serves as an important input for completing the Risk Action Plan, step 12.

  3. Deconstruct the project into a set of deliverables. Every eXtreme project requires multiple streams of intermediate deliverables to come together in the right way at the right time to produce the ultimate project deliverable. Deliverables are actual achievements and should be expressed in the past tense, such as, "Wiring blueprint completed."

  4. Estimate the size of each deliverable. Depending on the type of project, size will be measured in different ways. Lines of code or "function points" are useful measures in software projects; miles of highway and number of patients interviewed could be appropriate measures on other kinds of projects.

  5. Estimate the effort to produce each deliverable in person-days. This requires technical experts in each area to make judgments based on their experience, as well as taking into consideration the level of quality required (based on the project's Win Conditions) and the amount of uncertainty (based on the PUP).

  6. Select a development life cycle. The development life cycle refers to the approach, that is, the method that will be used to build the final deliverable. Will we build it sequentially? Concurrently, doing different parts in parallel? Iteratively?

  7. Schedule the deliverables. Scheduling the deliverables is a group exercise.

  8. Agree on timeboxes. The purpose of a time box is to force frequent decisions on the future course of the project and avoid endless experimentation. It answers the question, "How doable is this?"

  9. Assess technical and support requirements. Beyond the deliverable itself, what infrastructure and follow-up support will be required to make it viable?

  10. Assess team requirements. Knowing what you know now about the project and what it will take, this is the point to decide if the current team has all the requisite skills and time available to get the job done.

  11. Identify development tools. Do you have access to the tools you will need?

  12. Produce a Risk Management Grid. Risk management is the process of identifying, prioritizing, and actively managing the events that are likely to have a negative impact on the project.
Post-Planning Meeting Activities
The planning meeting will have produced most of the answers to Business Question 2: What will it take to do it? The next step is to segue into the Innovate cycle, assuming the sponsor gives the go-ahead.

That's where the post-planning activities come into play. They bridge the gap between the Planning Meeting and the Innovate cycle. Effectively, the post-planning work wraps up the Speculate Cycle, Critical Success Factor 3, of The Flexible Project Model.

Business Questions 3 and 4 now come to the forefront: Can we get what it takes? Is it worth it? Here, the work of the eXtreme project manager is to prepare information that the sponsor and other crucial stakeholders will need in order to make an informed decision about the future course of the project. A big trap in project management is to rush into doing the work before ensuring that the project is viable. Even if it is clear that the project can move ahead, the sponsor still needs to agree with the estimates for schedule and financial requirements.

Post-planning includes the following activities:
  • Assessing the project management infrastructure (requisite tools and communication system)
  • Estimating financial requirements (budget and timing of funds)
  • Updating the Project Prospectus (a summary of the fundamentals of the project)
  • Meeting with the sponsor to secure a go/no go decision
  • Establishing partnering agreements (commitments for needed people along with backups)
  • Personal reflection (deciding if it is worth it to you to continue on the project given all of the above information. That is, do you have a chance to succeed or is this a death march?)
Innovate: The Doing
Once given the go-ahead, the project moves into the Innovate Cycle.

Innovate takes place within predefined time frames. The emphasis is on experimenting and rapid development, generating real-time feedback from the customer. Innovate involves learning by doing rather than by planning.

Just because you got the go-ahead from the sponsor doesn't necessarily mean you have what you will need to succeed. I estimate that close to 75 percent of the projects I run into that have been given a green light do not have the requisite resources in place. Like a train without tracks, they are derailed before getting out of the station.

Here's the test to see if you are ready. Either on your own or in your negotiation with the sponsor at the end of the Speculate cycle, were you able to:
  • Ensure that funds were allocated for the project?
  • Secure the needed team members?
  • Put in place the project management infrastructure (tools, templates, communications system)?
  • Get access to the technology and systems that the team will need?
  • Secure a conducive working environment?
  • Get relief from policies that could slow you down?
As for the information you need to move ahead with clarity and speed, you should now be in excellent shape for meeting these prerequisites:
  • Know your customer or intended audience
  • Know the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be pursued
  • Know what you are building or developing
  • Know how success will be measured
At the end of the Innovate cycle, the results are prepared for review, which takes place during the Reevaluate cycle.

Reevaluate: The Reviewing
The customer and team review the results. Were the requirements met? Have they changed? The results are reviewed against the 4 Business Questions. And the project is looked at within the context of the current project portfolio. If the sponsor agrees that there is still value in moving forward, the team cycles back to Speculate, to make the next time-framed plan in order to start the next round of innovating. The Speculate-Innovate-Reevaluate sequence is repeated until the time and cost budgets have been expended or the desired result has been achieved.

Disseminate: The Harvesting
When all the dust settles, eXtreme projects are about accomplishing something useful and turning that over to the project customer and beginning the benefits realization plan.
An eXtreme project may cycle through the Visionate, Speculate, Innovate, and Reevaluate cycles numerous times with the objective of getting it right the last time. Each round through the process should bring you closer and closer to getting it right, and when that happy day finally comes, you will be tempted to declare victory and go home.

But it is premature to declare victory until you have released the project deliverable to the customer and kicked off the benefits realization process. This is the focus of Disseminate. The benefits of conducting this component are to bring the project to closure, ensuring the organization is prepared to reap the payoff and capture lessons learned.

The deliverable can be a new process, a new consumer product, a new information systems application, a component or subsystem that will be incorporated into another system, or it can be a feasibility study or a training program. It is whatever your project was about. The customer can be the final customer (end user) or an interim customer such as marketing, manufacturing, or distribution.

The transition process can take an hour to days, to weeks or even months depending on the project. At the very least, the customer will want to know that everything agreed on has been included in the deliverable. There are two major components of the transition process, or post-implementation, phase:
  1. Ensuring that the project deliverable does what it is supposed to and the sponsoring organization is satisfied

  2. Ensuring that the sponsoring organization is ready and able to reap the outcome: the business benefits to be derived from the deliverable
Traditional project management calls it a day when the first component is completed. eXtreme project management keeps the lights on until both components 1 and 2 are completed. That's because eXtreme project management sees the project as first and foremost a business venture, relentlessly focused on delivering business value in the face volatility.

This marks the end of our series on eXtreme project management. Those of you who want more in-depth information, tools and techniques than could possibly be presented in this series are welcome to avail yourself of my forthcoming book, eXtreme Project Management: Using Leadership, Principles and Tools for Delivering Value in the Face of Volatility. It's due out this October, or you can order it from Amazon now.

eXtreme PM represents a new opportunity for project managers. It makes it possible for you to succeed on projects that feature high speed, high change, high uncertainty and high stress. The Newtonian mindset of traditional project management bogs down for in this new breed of projects.

eXtreme project management dramatically increases your marketability. Whereas traditional project management extends from product specification to product delivery, extreme project management widens the project manager's job scope from concept to cash register. Because eXtreme project management is built around delivering measurable, bottom line business benefits and not merely around project administration your value to the organization is substantially increased.

eXtreme project management is not the wave of the future. It's the wave of the present. Ride it. You'll make a difference for yourself, your family and your organization.

eXtremely yours,


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