|Book Review: eXtreme Project Management|
eXtreme Project Management: Using Leadership, Principles, and Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Reality
Written by: Doug DeCarlo. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004. 515+xxxiii pages.
If nothing else, this book will provoke your thinking. The author states that only eXtreme project management techniques will work for today's complex development projects. He claims that eXtreme project management is a new way to manage a new breed of projects in today's reality of chaos and uncertainty. The book quickly distances itself from what he calls the deterministic and deconstructionist approach of traditional project management that only works for repetitive, well-defined projects. He describes his discovery of eXtreme project management as building on the writings of a number of authors, plus a revelation from working on many projects using traditional project management methods that do not account for reality. He offers instead, he says, a proven approach to overcome this problem. His premise is that:
Written in four parts using a popular-press rather than academic style, the book focuses much of its content on the importance of the human element in the product development process, including leadership, emotion, and interpersonal relations. In part 1 of the book the author notes that traditional linear project management defies reality with its presumed known objectives and clearly defined paths to achieve them. The reality is that change is the norm, uncertainty is certain, and stability is an aberration. The management of eXtreme project assumes that the objective at the beginning is probably not going to be what it is at the end point. There are several definitions of eXtreme project management offered in the book, including the following:
“eXtreme project management is the art and science of facilitating and managing the flow of thoughts, emotions and interactions in a way that produces valued outcomes under turbulent and complex conditions” (p. 32, italics in original).
Doug DeCarlo uses the difference between Newtonian and quantum physics as a metaphor for the difference between, respectively, traditional and eXtreme project management. He describes eXtreme project management as a new paradigm that will “either create huge excitement in the world of project management, or it will be branded as heretical” (p. xvi). The world of today is so dynamic that there is no time for the traditional ready–aim–fire to plan, implement, and control projects. For eXtreme projects, it is ready, fire, and then attempt to control the project's trajectory toward the objective, which DeCarlo says is certain to change along the way.
eXtreme projects have at least two of the following characteristics:
The author's framework for addressing these characteristics includes a set of factors discussed throughout the book.
While reading, I found it difficult to remember the relationships of all 23 of the factors to each other and often had to refer back to their descriptions, which was very distracting. References to the eXtreme tools and techniques at the back of the book also resulted in flipping back and forth to follow the flow of the discussion. It would be helpful to see the factors in action in vignettes or in more real-world situations and examples of eXtreme project management that DeCarlo says exist but does not provide.
DeCarlo makes a strong point that eXtreme project management is difficult and that it takes a new kind of project manager to manage it as described in part 2 of the book. eXtreme project management is intended for those responsible for projects in fast-moving industries, especially information technology (IT), and not in traditional areas where project management began, such as construction and aerospace engineering. It requires a person who can thrive in an unpredictable environment and take a holistic approach that is people centered, humanistic, business focused, and reality based: “The primary role of the eXtreme project manager is to gain and sustain commitment to the project mission” (p. 47). The author then offers a toolkit to help an eXtreme project manager achieve self-mastery.
The self-mastery discussion walks the reader through what the author says is most important and tells why it is important. In his opinion, it is not what you do; it is who you are that leads to project success. Self-mastery includes building the necessary internal attributes of the project manager and good interpersonal skills. His assertion is that if you cannot master yourself, you cannot master eXtreme projects—thus, you are going to fail. DeCarlo gives nine reasons why project managers fail, 13 kinds of project manager power, and a formula for self-mastery to help the reader understand the pitfalls and how to avoid them.
The focus of the book does not really become clear until the third part, which provides a description of the “Flexible Project Model” and how it works. A story inspired by the Bible illustrates how the Flexible Project Model applies to a project that is being defined and scoped. It takes the reader through a series of planning meetings with a project sponsor and stakeholders to define the project, to refine a prospectus of the project, and to review the project scope before beginning work. A bit corny but useful, the example draws on a similar theme used in the Critical Chain (Goldratt, 1997). This may leave the reader with the question: With all the planning emphasized in the book, is eXtreme project management all that different from what the author calls Newtonian thinking project management?
As mentioned earlier, the premise of this book is that extreme projects require extreme measures. That these projects are, or should be, so prevalent is defended as the way today's world is. The term eXtreme project management is used liberally throughout the book but could easily be replaced by eXtreme product development without detracting from the author's message. Many readers will relate to having participated in—or at least to knowing about—an eXtreme development project from their own experience. Although extreme project is a fairly new term, an Internet search resulted in 7,231,910 hits. Similar to agile, radical, and lean, eXtreme project management is an attention-getter for those searching for new and better ways to manage complex projects. It is interesting that a book of the same title (except for the clever capital X in eXtreme) was published recently and appears to address the same subject (Ajani, 2002).
There is little doubt about the author's passion for eXtreme project management and for his drive to share information about it with the reader. Sometimes, however, his emphasis interferes with getting the information to the reader smoothly and succinctly. He frequently uses declarative statements with little support—especially early in the book—that force the reader to ask, How can this be? As the book progresses, some of the edge comes off the initial provocative rhetoric with the use of terms like linear lunacy and Newtonian neurosis to attract the reader's attention to the book's concepts. DeCarlo even admits that both traditional and eXtreme project management have a role to play in the project world, just as Newtonian and quantum mechanics both have a role in physics.
The author finally gives away his true purpose for writing the book in the final paragraph: “This book is not really about project management. It is about making a difference in an extreme world. Project management was merely the excuse for writing this book. This has really been about changing the world around you … disguised as a book on eXtreme project management” (p. 459). It could have been done better: including the reader in the subterfuge would have made the book more meaningful and fun. Whether you accept the author's approach or not, those interested in product development and project management can gain from reading this book, even if it is simply to challenge the author's premise.