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? Part II

To be perfectly honest with you, I had not planned to write a sequel to last month's article, "Are You Myth Informed?" That is, not until I realized that I myself for a long time had been dozing under the spell of at least three more project management myths.

By the way, if you missed Part I, the three mythconceptions I discussed are the following beliefs. These are typically prevalent in traditional project management circles:

  1. My project is supposed to look like a waterfall.
  2. Customers should not change their requirements throughout the project
  3. Bring it in on time, on budget, on scope.

What may be true for traditional project management is not always true for eXtreme project management. eXtreme project management sees the world differently. Here's what I mean ....

Myth 4. The project is over when the customer signs off on the deliverable.
eXtreme project management holds that the purpose of a project is to deliver a profit. That is, the value delivered to the customer must be greater than the cost. Value or business benefits can be in terms of increased revenues, reduced costs or improved service that can be tied to the bottom line.

Traditional project management turns the lights out when the customer signs off on the project deliverable: the point at which the product, system or service performs as intended and any problems have been corrected.

eXtreme project management keeps the lights on until the customer has the infrastructure in place to harvest the project's intended business benefit. Another way of saying this is that the project is over when the benefits realization process has been put in place.

Noted consultant, author and workshop leader Gary Heerkens puts it this way, "The project manager is considered to be the business conscience of the project." In eXtreme project management, the business realization process is baked into the project early on, during the initial planning cycle, which we call the Speculate Cycle.

The benefits realization process includes the method, system and checkpoints that will be used to track the project's payback over time. Importantly, it also identifies the individual in the customer organization who will be held accountable for ensuring the project pays off.

Myth 5: The goal is to get it right the first time.
To "get it right the first time" refers to the old notion that we can actually learn enough in advance through research to nail down the project's requirements. This is a holdover from traditional project management and can work well for projects that feature low speed and low uncertainty. (Have you seen any of these lately?) The tacit assumption of traditional project management is that the plan is correct.

In contrast, on eXtreme projects (high speed, high change, high volatility) we recognize that we cannot know enough to get it right the first time. And that any plan we generate is inherently incorrect. But that does not worry us. We learn as we go along by generating results and not by generating elaborate plans. This is accomplished through iterative development, timeboxing, prototyping, simulations, etc. In this regard, the latest results drive the planning, where planning is an output and not an input as is the case in traditional project management.

In eXtreme project management, since we learn as we go along, the goal is to get it right the last time. Because that's when it really counts.

Myth 6: The project can succeed without a bona fide sponsor.
Organizations these days are on project overload. There are many more projects in play than can be supported by the people and resources available at any one time. Unless a project has strong sponsorship, it may appear to be moving along because work is being done, but for all practical purposes it is among the living dead. It's a zombie.

Yet, when I talk to project managers and ask them who is the appointed sponsor for their project, more often than not, they point to a department. "Sales is sponsoring this." But who there is charged with the responsibility for reaping the intended business benefits? "Mary, the VP of Sales." I ask, "Has Mary personally commissioned this project and does she understand her role as sponsor?" "I'm not sure," is often the answer. "Have you met with her and clarified your role and hers?"

In other cases, the project manager may point to several individuals as sponsors; e.g., the head of sales and the head of marketing. This is the case of the dreaded, two-headed sponsor that often leaves the project manager and the project itself in the lurch throughout the life cycle when neither can agree on important issues.

A bona fide sponsor is a single point of contact. S/he is an individual who can command the resources and has the political and decision-making clout to make things happen. Colleague Rob Thomsett has a potent definition of the true sponsor. "The sponsor is the one with a baseball bat and bag of money."

Without quick access to resources, someone to run political interference and make time-critical business decisions, the project exists in name only. And without sufficient clout behind him or her, the project manager is leading a death march.

The great thing about myths is that we ourselves can get rid of them. All we have to do is to change our mind and then replace the myth with a dose of reality.

eXtremely yours,


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