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

Are You Myth Informed?

For nearly 30 years I was under the spell of three popular project management myths. You might say I was myth-guided. I eventually came to my senses, but not until my head had been flattened by trying to buck up against reality. Here are the myths I'm referring to and what you can do about them.

Myth 1: "My project is supposed to look like a waterfall."

The waterfall model has been embedded in our minds since the construction days in project management. Does it still apply? Decide for yourself. Which mental model best resembles what your projects typically look like ... the squiggly line below or the waterfall above?

The orderly, step-by-step waterfall model works well with projects that have a low-speed and low-uncertainty factor. However, more and more projects these days fall into the squiggly line category of high-speed, high-uncertainty.

Failing to recognize that a particular project is really a squiggly line typically leads to project abuse: the attempt to bludgeon a squiggly line project into behaving like a waterfall, or worse yet, a flat line. This is accomplished by the application of rigorous and detailed planning, coupled with severe control measures throughout the duration of the project. Many monumental methodologies have been created in order to turn a squiggly line project into something else.

Trying to force fit a squiggly line project into a waterfall model requires going up against reality. Any time we try to change reality to fit our mental model, we lose ... but only 100% of the time.

So don't waste time and energy fighting reality. Instead, change your mind about what a project is supposed to look like, and then change your project management approach to one that's compatible with reality. That's the purpose of eXtreme project management. It's based on reality, not fiction.

Myth 2: "Customers should not change their requirements throughout the project."

Now that's a good one. This is a myth that I've run into since I first worked in the computer industry, nearly 35 years ago. This ubiquitous belief is still hardwired in the minds of most project managers today, in every industry. Until six years ago, I fell for this mythconception big time.

The truth is that 99% of the time customers change their requirements throughout the project. And even though you freeze the requirements, you can't freeze their desire to make changes.

Clinging to this myth is one of the most dysfunctional beliefs you can have. It turns the customers and the project team into adversaries, which in turn casts a negative spell over the project, putting the endeavor in a bad mood.

First and foremost, adopt a reality-based mindset, one that says change is a constant. Then adopt a change-embracing approach to project management, one that enables you to stay in control in the face of volatility. Apply the principles and tools of eXtreme project management or one of the other agile project management models that have proliferated.

Myth 3: "Bring it in on time, on budget, on scope"

I was brought up on this erroneous thinking. This triple constraint edict of traditional project management is also known as "the iron triangle."

The truth is that you can bring in a project on time, on scope, on budget and even on quality and still deliver something worthless. The true measure of project success is: Does the project deliver a satisfactory economic return? Is it worth it? Does the benefit to the enterprise out weigh the cost?

Traditional project management turns the lights off when the customer accepts the deliverable. eXtreme project management keeps the spotlight focused on delivering business value. We recognize that the value proposition will change dynamically throughout the project as new information is learned (e.g. technical feasibility, competitive moves, changes in corporate strategy, unexpected opportunities, etc.). And this can mean changing scope, budget, schedule, and quality parameters frequently throughout the life of the project.

Adopt a mental model that says there is no such thing as an IT project, drug development project, new product development project, etc. There are only business projects. Be sure your project incorporates a benefits realization plan right from the outset. Look at all changes in terms of their impact on the expected business return. Then, keep the business owner in the driver's seat by insisting that s/he make trade off decisions to schedule, budget, scope, and quality. Finally, scope your project to be over at the point after the project deliverable has been accepted by the customer and the business realization plan is updated and ready to be launched, and customer accountabilities have been assigned.

Help stamp out a project management mythconception near you. Step 1: Recognize that reality rules. Step 2: Change your mind about project management. Do that, and the rest will start to fall into place.

eXtremely yours,


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