The Extreme Project Management approach

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Developed by Esther Álvarez Pardo

Nowadays, many methodologies and tools [1] are available when it comes to project management, such as Traditional Project Management, Agile Project Management, Critical Path method and Event Chain Methodology. Some of them have been applied throughout the years but since society develops extremely fast, new approaches need to be taken to successfully handle contemporary projects.

As a consequence of these modern requirements, a refreshing method that allows dealing with constant change and turbulent working environments was introduced. Being named Extreme Project Management due to its nature, it became the main recent approach utilized in project management; especially in the big software industry, where the fact that it could reply to business needs and rapid variation in technology helped keeping projects on track.



In order to better understand what Extreme Project Management (hereafter XPM) consists of, the question ‘What is Project Management?’ [2] should be answered first.

Project management is the process of planning and organizing tasks to accomplish a successful project. Projects are one-time temporary efforts designed to produce a specific result. They differ from ongoing operations in having an end date regardless if it’s weeks or years.

Project management starts when the manager develops a project charter to announce a new scope-defined project, both fundamental aspects and risk evaluations must be carried out at this initiation stage.

Afterwards, the scope, schedule, deadlines, requirements and budget for the project will be defined in the kick-off report, followed by a project control.

The project control stage contains requirements, resource hours and a plan so as to help managing and checking project execution. Testing must be developed as well within regular status updates reported by the project team and managers. This stage includes the key deliverables, milestones and checklists among others.

Finally, a closing report is needed to summarize the entire process methodology, findings and constraints to learn and improve in future projects.

XPM [3] is, therefore, a new project management method which includes projects with high speed, elevated change and uncertainty in their characteristics.

Rather than using complex scheduling techniques and formalism; the main focus of XPM is on the human side of project management, such as managing project stakeholders. It uses the principles of human interaction management to deal with intricate human collaboration.


For an extreme project, where the change is constant, the Head of Quarters in a company determines what is more important in the project and therefore, what should be implemented first.

In XPM, [4] the project’s functionality is split into several tasks to save time and allow an overall improvement in the testing stage to be achieved, since more focus is put into each part of the project. Moreover, adjustments can be made on the fly without losing control of the overall process, schedule and positive outcome of the project.

- The concept of XPM

The project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) [5] is a collection of processes and knowledge areas accepted as best practice for the project management profession.

As an internationally recognized standard (ANSI/PMI 99-001-2008 and IEEE 1490-2011) it provides the basis for project management, no matter the type of project being constructed.

It supports XPM through the term ‘Progressive elaboration’, where progressive means ‘proceeding in steps, continuing steadily by increments’ and elaboration stands out for ‘worked out with care and detail, developed thoroughly’.

In order to implement XPM in a successful way, several criteria [6] have to be taken into account such as:

  • Project and iteration’s scopes.
  • Measures to ensure quality.
  • Business team members decide what to deliver and technical team members how to deliver so.
  • Corporate culture, [7] which is ‘the ways a company's owners and employees think, feel and act’ must support XPM approach.
  • Trust and communication established between all members of the project team are the key.

XPM methodology helps including all stakeholders involved in the process in an active way. It should only be applied during the project’s execution and change control processes instead of using it for vision, overall strategy or project prioritization, since XPM's major premise is delivering functionality in 2-4 week increments.

Nevertheless, XPM can be complemented when combined with: [8] [9]

  • The Process Modeling: used in various contexts to track what happens during a process. It explores and evaluates several possible courses of action based on rational arguments, which helps XPM finding alternatives when facing sudden changes in extreme projects.
  • Human Interaction Management: its set of principles provides XPM with process-based support for innovative, adaptive, collaborative human work.

- Description of XPM, tools and techniques

A set of rules is defined in order to describe the XPM approach. Also some tools and strategies [10] are given to help achieving them:

  1. To manage creative people and processes, innovative management processes are a must.
  2. Business aspects of a project and technical issues have to be differentiated during the process, therefore the project manager must focus just on understanding the project’s organizational context. His role should include ensuring that processes are in place to achieve deliverable’s technical quality instead of reviewing the quality directly.
  3. Tracking and reporting mechanisms after the project are more important than what happens during the project itself. This way, evidence of the value added after the implementation process can be noticed.
  4. Key stakeholders and related projects must be identified and the planning process has to be undertaken in an open and collaborative manner among the group members. This can be achieved via RAP (Rapid Planning), a session used by XPM following the concept of RAD (Rapid Application Development). It invites disagreeing stakeholders to gather and put conflicts on the table for discussion through a participative and intensive process. What’s more, it reduces the risk of failing the project because of the project manager taking all decisions on his/her own.
  5. XPM gives more importance to the context of the project, which is represented by the business case, than the content.
  6. Success sliders’ technique is used to fulfill stakeholders’ needs and expectations.
    The project value chain.
    It is applied to meet both budget and deadlines as well as achieve more value, quality and functional requirements.
  7. Project value chain is carried out to realize and model the benefits through the model, which is based on objectives, outputs and outcomes and deals with problems in contemporary projects.In this chain,shown in the figure 'The project value chain', there are two types of benefits; primary benefits that are achieved first since they are associated with the outputs and secondary benefits (after the primary ones).To accompany the model, objectives’ benefits must be listed as well following the IRACIS model. IRACIS states whether they Increase Revenue, Avoid Costs or Improve Service, enabling project sponsors to spot if the analyzed benefits are realistic or not.
  8. Quality agreements are made for planning what processes are to be present during the project’s development that enhance its quality without having a negative impact on other processes.
  9. Utilize project or partnership agreements where the project manager states service resources’ timing and costs to prepare a document that fulfills stakeholders and related project managers’ requisites.
  10. XPM uses event/scenario/real-time planning technique to identify greater events that can occur during the project, only the tasks involved in achieving specific events are detailed and programmed.
  11. The team members and the project manager have to discuss any possible changes regarding the quality, success and stakeholder’s expectations, benefits’ realization, scope/objectives, costs and risk to overcome future problems and come up with new processes within the project.

As a result of these rules and methods, extreme projects can be effectively managed since they demand refreshing and radical approaches to project management.


Visual definition of Traditional Project Management vs Extreme Project Management.

- Traditional vs. Extreme

One of the main distinctions between traditional project management and extreme project management [11] rests on the level of predictability regarding the undertaking (see figure).

Throughout XPM, requirements are constantly changing and the project lives in a turbulent environment where its factors involved are uncertain.

Traditional project management is based on a straightforward plan using the waterfall method. The waterfall method consists of organizing a set of project activities one after another in a direct line. For every change that occurs, the whole project resets from the previous point, starting all over again in a linear way.

In a fast paced context, this approach would make the project team fall behind schedule, whereas if the project doesn't suffer from loads of changes and most details are already defined, it becomes the right method to follow.

On the other side, the extreme approach allows the project manager to be ready for uncertainties and anticipate significant change, splitting tasks into small deliverables that can be achieved within small timelines like weeks or days.

XPM is constantly resetting and through regular cycles enables the team members to review, approve and continue the processes.

Thus, it becomes the optimal approach to handle what are called extreme projects, where workers involved are able to improvise inside of an agreed upon framework without the project being ad hoc.

- Discussion of the XPM methodology

According to CEO and Project Manager Paul Lysholdt Rasmussen (PLR) from Lysholdt Consulting A/S, project management is all about defining goals, meet the right group work members and demarcate project’s scope and frame.

From his point of view, XPM concentrates on fast and successful project execution, being especially useful in software engineering projects where detailed plans are not possible.

In order to prevent XPM seeming as though it is just a wrap of well-known techniques, the rules mentioned before [12] are discussed (see ‘Description of XPM, tools and techniques’):

  1. It’s essential that the project manager has enough inventiveness to handle a sketchy project and still be in control.
  2. So as to keep a clear focus to not forget any relevant decisions and problems in all areas, the project manager should stop being a specialist in technical knowledge to become a generic project supervisor.
  3. This rule is implemented to check whether the project meets its specific goals and objectives even though the project is finished.
  4. Thanks to the RAP sessions, a solid base for the extreme project can be based due to working with synergy among people who are responsible for the tasks and realistic measures applied.
  5. The project manager must be available and engaged with the key stakeholders to ensure a productive project development.
  6. The project parts that are given the most importance by the stakeholders and staff through surveys’ information must be given the highest priority. The issues that are chosen as primary are generally customer/stakeholder satisfaction and achieving quality goals.
  7. Rule 7 and 8 help companies to be profitable via the project costs and benefits’ analysis.
  8. Rule 9: Stakeholders, especially those who have high-power and high-interest in the project, must be up to date with the project’s development. This is vital to ensure a good relationship between all members involved in the process and enable more comprehension whenever the project is facing a cut down on certain areas.

The remained rules are not discussed since their bases have been mentioned and commented in the prior points.


Mindset consists of how people work and live according to their mental and emotional state, it conditions how surroundings are perceived.

In order to succeed on an extreme project, the appropriate method and mindset should be applied [13] by all workers involved in the process, in particular people who are in charge of it such as senior managers or project managers.

- Self diagnostic tool

Members that work on a project must assess themselves in order to find out which mindset is predominant in their way of acting. Two main mindsets are explained:

The Newtonian Mindset states that the world is predictable and linear, it can be controlled and changes should be reduced at their most. In this mindset stability is the norm and being strict during the projects is necessary to feel secure while developing it.

On the other hand, the Quantum Mindset establishes that uncertainty should take place, changes are welcomed and chaos is the norm. Security at working is provided when the project control is not rigor.

Furthermore, two ‘hats’ are defined besides these two mindsets:

A Newtonian Hat is considered to be worn when having a fixed plan in order to drive and deliver results, strong procedures and policies are defined and the corrections are made within a baseline. The aim is to get things done in the right way first time and therefore become a task master.

On the other hand, wearing a Quantum Hat involves looking forward to the results for driving a plan, changes are embraced and corrections made to their possible extent within a loose process. Guidelines are followed just up to a certain necessary level.

For the extreme project manager, it is key to act with a mindset aligned with the Quantum approach. It enables the project manager to express temperament and suitable manners for running an extreme project.


Extreme project management changes what had been strictly defined so far and turns it into a new way of working, [14] where meeting specific short deadlines and, obtaining results that will gradually define the final result are the rule.

Therefore, moving from traditional approach to extreme approach is not easy since XPM tasks can’t be defined with conventional definitions. The method had to be built from scratch with solely the guideline of project management’s fundamentals.

When assuming the great responsibility of managing a team through the extreme approach, it’s essential to take into account the importance of having both, XPM rules applied and the right mindset to overcome the challenge of dealing with a high-speed and elevated risk project.

- Should your project take the extreme approach?

When considering if XPM is the right approach, [15] some factors shall comply and be taken into account beforehand:

  • Fast timing.
  • Unknown exact project’s outcome and all answers to create a project plan.
  • Processes undergoing variation and uncertainties.
  • Unrealistic stakeholder’s expectations if traditional approach is taken.
  • Project not clearly defined.
  • Little direction provided by the leader.
  • Project expected to happen very quickly.

- Elaborating an extreme project

Once the extreme approach is chosen to be the right one for the project, the work members are gathered. The team should be formed by energetic people who welcome changes and can adapt quickly.

The project manager then, will request contribution from each group member when building the plan, which is established with the extreme method in mind. Communication between all key team members must be constant in order to overcome changes.

Discovery and research will be needed during the entire process and the project manager should be available to respond any question that arises. By scheduling several fast rounds of work, followed by group reviews and conclusions on how to move forward, a kick-off will be done.

- Final comments

When a project fits within the extreme method’s characteristics, the extreme approach should be taken.

Once the project manager feels comfortable about this methodology, its many advantages can be applied to numerous projects. The extreme project management’s flexibility will enable creating the best plan that meets the project goals and objectives, unlike the traditional approach which can often be restrictive.


  1. Link: Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  2. Book: Project Management: A Managerial Approach. Author: Jack R. Meredith, Samuel J. Mantel, Jr. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  3. Book: Effective Project Management: Traditional, Adaptive, Extreme. Author: Robert K. Wysocki, Rudd McGary. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  4. Book: Extreme Project Management. Author: Shaun Ajani. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
  5. Book: The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Author: Duncan Haughey. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  6. Link: Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  7. Link: Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  8. Link: Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  9. Link: Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  10. Book: Radical Project Management. Author: Rob Thomsett. Retrieved November 23, 2014.
  11. Book: Effective Project Management: Traditional, Adaptive, Extreme. Author: Robert K. Wysocki, Rudd McGary. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  12. Synopsis XPM – from idea to realization. Critical approach to the concept of XPM. Author: Catrine M.Jakobsen. Retrieved November 23, 2014. Link:
  13. Book: eXtreme Project Management, Using Leadership, Principles, and Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Volatility. Author: Doug DeCarlo. Foreword by James P. Lewis. Afterword by Robert K. Wysocki. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  14. Book: Effective Project Management: Traditional, Agile, Extreme. Author: Robert K. Wysocki. Retrieved November 24, 2014.
  15. Link: Retrieved November 25, 2014.
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