eXtreme Project Management™
Getting It Right the Last Time

A Flexible Project Model - Part II

By Doug DeCarlo

Missed Part I of this mini-series? You can find here.

In part one of this article, I highlighted the first 2 elements of the five-part Flexible Model. These were Initiate and Speculate. Now for the next three elements.

"We never have time to do it right, but we always have time to do it over."
Source unknown

I overheard Omer Bakkalbasi, Director of Advanced Solutions for i2 Technologies, talking with one of his project team leaders about to embark on a supply chain management project for a new client. Omer said, "Take your laptop and go sit with the client for a week. Find out what they want. Do a simulation. Get daily feedback. Make your modifications the same day. Get more feedback the next day. Eliminate the guesswork."

The extreme project is a venture. In extreme project management, getting it right the first time is not the goal. The notion of "fast failures" as Tom Peters refers to it, is the essence of the Innovation stage. During Innovation, we're out to discover through trial and error what works and doesn't work. Another way of putting it, is to find the quickest path to failure. But also to keep our eyes open for good surprises. The occasional Ah Ha! It's the adult version of show and tell, over and over again.

In his insightful and paradigm busting book, Serious Play, Michael Schrage points out, "How innovators play with their models and simulations invariably matters far more than what they actually plan." He's telling us that results drive planning.

This is in sharp contrast to the deterministic CPM model where planning drives results and where the intention is to avoid surprises by regulating the processes that are used during execution.

James Highsmith sums it up by saying that the first major strategy for managing high change "is to apply increasing rigor to the workstate [the product] rather than to the workflow."

The Role of the team leader during Innovation is:
  • Encourage fast failures: Adopt the motto that to fail is to succeed
  • Contain (vs. restrict) experimentation
  • Ensure stakeholder participation early and often
"We run like hell and then we change direction."
Bert Roberts, Chairman, MCI

Prototyping and simulation can't go on forever. Revaluation is a pause point. Where do we go from here? In short, "Now what?"

In the CPM model, we would be primarily concerned with how close we are to the initial project baseline. Although we do not want to ignore our earlier guestimates regarding schedule and resources that were made during Speculation, the real question is: are we wed to the project baseline, or to the project horizon as we now see it based on what we have learned during Innovation. Are we holding to what's past or adjusting to what's possible?

Timeboxing can help
An important and often misunderstood and misapplied concept is that of timeboxing. The purpose of timeboxing is to force hard business decisions. It requires that guestimated dates be set for project deliverables as well as for the entire project. When the date arrives for deliverable "X", stakeholders evaluate the state of that deliverable vs. what the target was. Tradeoff decisions are then made to accept the deliverable as "good enough", or to extend work and/or resources in light of what has been produced and learned. A misuse of timeboxing is to employ it as a club to force team members into heroic efforts, or to squeeze them into cutting quality (under the table) to meet the date.

Benefits of timeboxing are:
  • Keeps team members focused
  • Avoids open-ended experimentation which forces learning to take place
  • Ensures decisions are made explicitly on how to proceed
  • Helps to manage expectations
It's good to remember that Reevaluation is also a time to make decisions about not only product scope, but project scope as well. It's one thing to say we are adding a tennis court to the lower deck of the ark, vs. saying we are now assuming responsibility for creating the flood. Another item to review is to assess how the project process itself is working or not working.

The Role of the team leader during Re-evaluation is:
  • Ensure customer and sponsor participation in tradeoff decisions
  • Manage expectations
  • Reforecast the project in light of latest information
I believe in celebrating early and often on projects. When I was involved in creating and launching NetworkWorld, a newsweekly for managers of computer networks, we celebrated at the drop of a modem. Milestones, yes. But we also recognized - on the spot -- people who went beyond the call. This took the form of impromptu lunches, do-it-yourself plaques and fake champagne toasts.

So, bottoms up. In the meantime, hold on to your seats.

eXtremely yours,

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