Manage Extreme Projects with Rapid Methodology
Developed by Sergi Gibaja Musachs
Extreme Project Management is a modern approach to Project Management that differs from other traditional methods for its ability to have new or changing requirements throughout the project. This has become especially interesting in today’s projects, where, they tend to require changes very frequently, due to a number of reasons such as stakeholders changing their mind often, news about economical/environmental concerns, unexpected successes in the construction site and so on.
Those arisen problems during the execution of the project are one of the main challenges of traditional project management methods. In the extreme approach, a project has no fixed project phases nor set of guidelines on how the activities should be executed but it adapts to the current situation and performs the best way possible. In contrast with the step-by-step workflow that characterizes the traditional model and its strict requirements the extreme method is more suitable to face the common unexpected changes that come up during today’s projects.
While the traditional approaches are characterized for a sequential design process known as the Waterfall Model, where the process takes the form of a linear-sequential model so each phase must be fully completed before the next one can start, the Extreme Project Management uses the concept of Rapid Methods based on Rapid Application Development (RAD) which focuses more on development rather than planning.
In the present article the Extreme Project Management will be described and its main differences with the traditional approach highlighted. It will follow how to deal with XPM by means of Rapid Methodology.
Traditional approach overview
The way that project managers deal with projects nowadays has not only changed totally during the last decades but also irreversibly 
The traditional approach was characterized for being rather rigid and structured under the assumption that the future was predictable . By studying the project, with deep analysis of risks and scheduling a proper forecast with a good degree of confidence was reachable. This approach was highly focused on efficiency, e.g. minimizing cost and time was vital. Another aspect of interest was finding a good balance among cost, schedule and quality. Most of the times it was considered it to be a zero-sum game where from achieving one of them project managers often had to sacrifice one, or two, of the rest.
The traditional project management life cycle is defined by five phases: Definition, Detailed Plan, Launch plan, Monitoring Progress and Closing out..So the project manager is given a clear statement from the customer of what is wanted and when as well as how much is the customer willing to pay for it. So there is no much room for changes. It is also expected that the customer will not change his mind throughout the process and that no external factors will have a big impact on it.
Extreme Project Management
In the Traditional approach there was generally rejection of a change throughout the project. This was viewed as an anomaly, so even though it was not acceptable had to be managed somehow and here is where the problems rose. The inflexibility surrounding this approach often led to create an uncomfortable atmosphere on the team where the main attention was put on meeting deadlines regardless the consequences. . Generally speaking, the basis of the traditional approach is managing the known.
The opposite definition applies for Extreme Project Management, where “Extreme Project Managers are required to manage the unknown”  , characterizing this sort of projects for being besides unpredictable also messy and chaotic where innovation is crucial due to the constantly changing environment. Those changes are not only a result of the uncertainty surrounding the project itself but also due to external factors such as new technology, changes in regulations, requirements, moves of the competitors, unexpected results during testing, political decisions that might affect, economic crisis, change in the customer needs and so on and so forth.
Professor Robert K. Wysocki refers to this change of attitude from the traditional approach giving the following suggestion that reflects the above explained:  “Forget about a formal change-management process in which the change request is documented, reviewed by the portfolio committee (…) Extreme projects can’t wait that long. Another approach is needed “
Extreme projects are demanding
They require a high degree of speed and innovation due to the constantly changing requirements. The former is important due to the fact that if one spends too much time studying the project and considering what next step to take by the time the plan is ready it might be irrelevant and not useful any more. While the latter, innovation, is probably what extreme management is all about. It is what makes the difference and what makes a project manager to be effective and productive. One cannot shorten the project time line in half by working twice as hard but working efficiently innovating for each of the single and unique projects. Extreme projects require discovering what is truly necessary for the plan to proceed and succeed by a sort of trial-error process, day by day. Like Doug DeCarlo defines extreme project; “An extreme project is complex, self-correcting venture in search of a desirable result”.
Dealing with high levels of uncertainty
The fact that these projects imply a lot of trial-error, the project changes direction several times or it can even end up being cancelled but several new projects based on the learnings from it might start cause a lot of fears on the project managers.  For all this reasons is important for the managers to keep motivation and ambition. They should be aware before starting that extreme projects are extremely challenging and that the idea that one has in mind before starting the project might be completely different from the final result.
It is therefore required that the extreme project managers are adaptive, agile, sustain commitment and willing to carry with the everyday tasks that extreme project concerns, as Doug DeCarlo says: “To succeed means to plan, deplan and replan weekly, even daily.” so they need to be ready for that. 
In Extreme Projects plan-changing successes occur while plans are being made without anything one can do but responding to it as good as possible. For this reason an Extreme Project does not follow the Traditional Project Model which is based on the Waterfall Model. This model is characterized for being a sequential process in which progress is shown as a flowing steadily downwards through different phases that lead to a well-defined goal with a proven path to get to the objective. Instead, XPM even though that has a clear goal it has a more undefined path which is said not to be straight but redirected every time that something new comes up, which is frequent. An example used in a number of management books is that extreme managing is shooting a gun towards a goal and throughout the process the “bullet” is redirected several times.
Managing extreme projects with rapid methodology
Rapid planning is a project managing method used for developing project plans which is based on the Rapid Application Development (RAD) model, widely used as a software development methodology that uses minimal planning in order to obtain rapid working model to start with. The fact that there is no detailed preplanning makes it easier to include the changes discussed above that come up during the project. It focuses on gathering all the requirements for the project itself at the very beginning. The project manager must identify the stakeholders and along with the team members undertake the planning process in an open and collaborative manner.  . This process implies that the stakeholders that might be in disagreement are together and open for discussion. It is a key point getting the stakeholders on agreement on the scope, goals and procedure which might be challenging task sometimes.
Use of Rapid Methodology to manage Extreme Projects
The method is based on meeting the requirements of the desired result involving the stakeholders from the start and focusing all the way on their need managing risks in order to avoid setbacks. The approach focuses on adjusting requirements as the user earns knowledge as the project progresses which makes this method especially interesting for extreme projects. It is also a very flexible method so it is adapted to the changes easily, which is not the case for traditional approaches where the requirements are rigorously defined from the start. In order to fully benefit from this methods it is vital to get a deep understanding of the client’s needs and all the implied parties to avoid misunderstanding that can lead to setbacks and disputes. Frequent checking and updated feedback of the process to let the client know the current situation and redirect as soon as possible if the process is getting out of the scope.
The four main factors, their problems and how to overcome them
There are a number of factors associated to Rapid methods that will lead to the success or failure of the project. Those factors were summarized to four by the Rapid Development and Project Management expert Steve McConell:  People, Process, Product and Technology. The mistakes associated to those factors will be the trigger for slow development and likely failure, as it will be discussed after defining the four factors.
|Overview||Common issues||How to avoid them|
|PEOPLE||Clearly, employees taking part in the project play an important role in the success of the project, basically they are thee one in charge of transforming the knowledge into products or whatever is the desired result. Therefore companies have to find ways to increase the skills, knowledge and level of proficiency of their employees in order to be competitive and also try to maintain them happy so they continue growing the company’s potential||It has been proven  that issues concerning people have the highest impact on both productivity and quality. Some common scenarios are project managers with highly technical backgrounds with poor people management knowledge leading to a high employee turnover. This turnover along with contracting new people once the project is started pretending to meet an unlikely deadline cause a decrease in productivity as well as frustration on all people involved||Provide guidance to working with teams and enhancing group dynamics to all the employees as well as train project managers to effectively manage their team members.|
|PROCESS|| All parties implied in the process should be required to fully get an understanding of not only customer’s requirements but also the needs as well as keeping the customer involved throughout the process.
Improving the process the amount of rework will be reduced which leads to increased control of costs as well as the ability to make risk management decisions based on real data.
|Poorly defined procedures, guidelines and plans are usually the cause of slow development causing a waste of time of the employees. Also, over optimistic schedules increasing the risk of failure as well as poorly defined or changing standards of quality.|| It is critical to identify, address and eliminate the sources of risk before they threat the project so a proper risk management analysis must be done. 
In order to fulfil the aimed standards of quality, Quality Assurance fundamentals with quality plans must be considered to ensure that the project is developed according to the defined processes and it also provides feedback about how effective the processes which can be a very useful information for the project managers.
|PRODUCT||A clear idea of product’s size and characteristics is a must for schedule shortening. Considering alternatives to production like product development in stages can reduce considerably the schedule for instance.||As it has been said, product/project size is one of the largest contributors to the schedule, so all the managing aspects concerning the size of the project are critical||Once again, working close and frequent feedback with the customers is vital and all the parties need to be aware that when requirements are modified this effects somehow the schedule and so it increases the risk of missing the deadline. . Another relevant matter is the need of specify an acceptance criteria with the customer so if meeting the requirements agreed with the client it is ensured that the quality is important.|
|TECHNOLOGY||Definitively the effectiveness of the tools is crucial here. Choosing the appropriate tools and efficient implementation strategy is the key. It is also a constantly changing factor therefore one needs to be prepared for implementing new tools and make them to be beneficial for the project.||Technology may cause problems for either overestimating the potential or for too high expectations. Both of them may be due to a lack of understanding of the productivity of a new tool implemented on the project. Also, introducing or switching tools in the middle of a project may be counter-productive and increase the schedule delay due to the fact that users need to invest some time with the new technology before being completely proficient with it.||Software tools and other technology are constantly changing so it might be difficult to totally avoid the problems related to technology, especially in long projects where the implementation of a new tool in the medium of the project could be very beneficial at long term. It is therefore advisable to incorporate additional time for training the employees in the new technology|
Discussion of successful implementation and limitations
The success of combining Extreme Project Management and Rapid Methods depends on a number of factors, but if most of the following characteristics apply to the project it will surely have been a good decision.
- It is likely that the requirements will change during the project or that unexpected events occur that make the manager have to reschedule. In the kind of projects where the desired result is very clear but how to reach it is unclear as well as in projects where innovation is an everyday task and new methods and tools that can help the project are being developed as the project goes.
- Meetings among stakeholders and managers can be carried out regularly during all the stages of the project. In the early state it is critical to fully agree and discuss all the details and requirements of the project to start in the best direction possible while later at the project if some unexpected event comes up, disagreement could happen and it becomes very important that the implied parties can be gathered together quickly and are willing to discuss in a collaborative manner.
- Appropriate managers for this uncertain atmosphere available. Due to the high trial-error it is important that the managers in charge of this sort of project are able to keep the employees motivated and ready for facing some sort of disappointments throughout the project. These managers must also possess innovation and quick reaction skills which make them effective and productive managers.
- Companies help growing the knowledge of the employees and keep them updated with the new tools. The selection of these tools will be an important factor in terms of efficiency of the project and the employees will be given training on them.
In terms of limitations, most of the previous characteristics can be recalled here if they are not fulfilled during a project. For instance, it has been mentioned that a key point is carrying out regular meetings with stakeholders, the lack of willingness or availability to do so becomes a limitation of the method. Other facts worth mentioning of implementing Rapid Methods on Extreme Projects follow.
The fact that it depends to a large extend on the individual performances, skills and abilities to overcome uncertainty might be a disadvantage of this method. Highly qualified and experienced team is needed to identify requirements and redirect the project when changes occur. Moreover, this method will not be a success if the team is not motivated enough nor willing to collaborate together as part of a team.
Previously it has been mentioned that high qualified and skilled team members are needed, but not only the technical/managing knowledge is important here. Personal behaviour and attitude are key elements when all implied parties are sat together to discuss a change/success. That is something that one might not be able to find in the candidates CV but that will be an important asset for successfully manage a project with a good, and crucial, working atmosphere.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 DeCarlo, D. (2004). eXtreme Project Management. San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 "Kliem, R. (1997). Project Management Methodology: a practical guide for the next millennium. New York ,NY, US: Marcel Dekker."
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 "Wysocki, R. K. (2010). Adaptive Project Framework. Managing complexity in the face of uncertainty. Pearson Education, Inc."
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "McConell, S. (1996). Rapid development: Taming wild software schedules. Redmond, Washington: Microsoft Press."
- ↑ "Jakobsen, C. M. (2001). XPM from idea to realization. Synopsis"
- ↑ " DeMarco, T. a. (1999). Peopleware: Productive projects and teams. New York, US: Dorset House Publishing."
DeCarlo, D. (2004). eXtreme Project Management. San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass. A Wiley Imprint.
While searching for Extreme Project Managements, Doug DeCarlo is always showing up either as an active writer of the article/book or repeatedly mentioned as a source and important person in the area. This book in particular was very useful while writing this article due to the large amount of information written in a very understandable manner so even without being an expert at this one can easily follow the explanations. In the present article, this book has been an inspiration for the overview and description of Extreme Projects as well as the comparison with traditional methods.
DeMarco, T. a. (1999). Peopleware: Productive projects and teams. New York, US: Dorset House Publishing.
Another book of the same author has been used as a source. DeCarlo has also carried a number of researches concerning the managing of teams. In the present article one of his founding has been references for the analysis of the different factors concerning rapid methods. Some research done by the DeCarlo proved that people has the largest impact on both the productivity and quality of a project.
Jakobsen, C. M. (2001). XPM from idea to realization. Synopsis.
This source has been used to understand and achieve knowledge in order to be able to write about the XPM techniques and to identify the differences between managing a project with XPM and the Waterfall Model. It has been also been useful for getting a deeper understanding of the limitations of the waterfall model.
Kliem, R. (1997). Project Management Methodology: a practical quide for the next millenium. New York ,NY, US: Marcel Dekker.
This book is focused on the differences between Traditional Project Management Methodologies and Practical Project Management Methodology. Even though the second is not the alternative of the traditional method studied here it has been a good source to understand the limitation that the traditional approaches have.
McConell, S. (1996). Rapid development: Taming wild software schedules. Redmond, Washington: Microsoft Press.
Steve McConell is an expert in Rapid Development Techniques and his book has been the main source of the knowledge acquired in Rapid Development and source of inspiration for the 4 factors chart created in the present article. The author provides a list of classic mistakes to avoid that have been useful for providing the recommendations on how to overcome unexpected issues.
Wysocki, R. K. (2010). Adaptative Project Framework. Managing complexity in the face of uncertainty. Pearson Eduation, Inc.
This book, also from Wysocki has been read in order to understand that the attitude of the people working on a Extreme Project needs to change in order not to become frustrated and stressed, and how the manager can help them to change the mindset of them in order not to suffer during the project but enjoy throughout the project.