What is Extreme Project Management and is it Right for Your Team?

Today's projects are different from the projects of 10 or 20 years ago. Mostly thanks to the introduction of the internet and subsequent cloud-based software, the way we work — and thus, our projects — has undergone a revolution.

The way projects stand now: project requirements can change daily, and responsible teams are expected to handle those situations fluidly. Stakeholders want more involvement with projects while they're still in process, which means that they can change their mind (and create extra work for teams) at any time. News about political, economical, or environmental concerns breaks 24/7, and  teams have to shift gears to respond accordingly.

Traditional project management (TPM) is typically not equipped to handle this new era of projects. The step-by-step workflow (e.g. the Waterfall model), rigid timelines, and strict requirements have a hard time adapting to the need for change partway through a project. Updates to the plan require team members to jump through hoops and consult several managers before getting final approval. These constraints bottleneck progress and end up pushing TPM projects over budget and past deadlines.

Today's projects are often better suited for extreme project management.

What is Extreme Project Management?

Extreme project management (XPM) is short and flexible where traditional project management is not. Traditional project management means creating a plan and sticking to it, usually for long-term projects. XPM allows you to alter your project plan, your budget, and your final outcome to fit changing needs, no matter what stage the project is in, and usually involves projects that last only a few weeks or even just days. 

XPM is meant to help you manage the unknown — those variables that change and pop up as a project progresses. At the end of your project, it's about delivering the desired result, not simply the originally planned result. Those people who realize halfway through a project that the original product isn't ideal have the leeway to modify the plan. Teams using XPM must be willing to make several attempts to get it right, instead of simply focusing on completing everything after the first attempt.

Is extreme project management right for you?

How do you know if your project requires extreme project management? Here are some common characteristics of extreme projects:

  • Fast-paced work
  • Highly complex project needs and outcomes
  • Frequent changes to the project requirements as the project progresses
  • Trial-and-error approach to see what works
  • Self-correcting process when things go awry to get back on track
  • A move away from hierarchy in decision making
  • People-driven projects, instead of process-driven (people don't adapt their projects to fit the model, they adapt models to fit the project)

If this sounds like your work, consider XPM and how you can adopt this approach.

How to Execute Extreme Project Management

Extreme project management is meant to be fast and nimble. Start by gathering a team of people around you who are willing and ready to embrace this method. If your team members prefer slow-paced work and getting every decision approved by upper management, it won't work.

After assembling your star team, follow these steps:

  1. Create a project plan with extreme project management in mind. That means expecting change, acknowledging that timelines may change, and leaving room for error.
  2. To ensure success, make sure your plan answers all of these questions (from the book eXtreme Project Management by Doug DeCarlo): —Who needs what, and why? —What will it take to do it? —Can we get what it takes to finish? —Is it worth it?
  3. Schedule work in short cycles — a few weeks at max.
  4. Have a project kick-off meeting to give everyone the full rundown of the work involved, and get people excited to get to work on a great, new project. Answer every question, and communicate expectations clearly. Make project visibility a priority starting from day 1.
  5. Communicate with your client frequently, listen closely to their wants and needs, and relay their feedback to your team immediately.
  6. Follow up work cycles with check-ins, review sessions, and re-alignment meetings if the project seems to be getting off-track.
  7. When projects or cycles finish, celebrate every win. Make teams feel appreciated to keep them excited about the demanding work. Consider starting every meeting with listing team accomplishments since the last meeting, or going around to have everyone list one accomplishment they're proud of.

Do not set up more processes than you need to in order to complete the project. Extreme project management advises to KISS your projects — keep it simple, stupid. Each project will probably require different steps and different templates, so customize each project to suit your needs. If your team insists that you're making processes too complicated, cut out extra steps.

Extreme Project Management for Changing Projects

If you identified with the troubles of traditional project management or the characteristics of extreme projects, consider reading more about XPM for your team. I suggest the book mentioned above, eXtreme Project Management by Doug DeCarlo. It goes into great detail about everything you should know to get started with XPM, including tips for suggested meetings, dealing with stakeholders, and resolving project roadblocks. 

Made the switch from TPM to XPM successfully — or even unsuccessfully? Tell us about your experience and what made you take the leap in the comments below. We'd love to learn from your first-hand account.

Related Reads: How to Combat the 4 Main Sources of Scope Creep 10 Phrases That Can Ruin Your Project Kickoff Meeting 4 Tips to Improve Your Next Meeting

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