What Is Extreme Project Management (XPM) Methodology?

Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Michael Scheiner
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Time to get extreme! If you need some new ways of managing projects that eschew stuff like traditional mindsets, then this piece about extreme project management will be sure to get your creative managerial engines revving. 

We’ll run through definitions, steps, characteristics, examples, and finally, the pros and cons of extreme project management. Fire it up!

 

What is extreme project management (XPM)? Our definition

So, you ask, what is extreme project management? It is a PM methodology that allows teams to operate in complex environments without needing much guidance and structure. 

An extreme project management definition often includes creativity, trial and error, and high adaptability to change and uncertainty. One should be aware of the differences here compared to the definition of project management in other use cases.

 

How & when was the extreme project management approach developed?

Extreme project management has its roots in extreme programming. XP was created by a guy named Kent Black in the mid 90s when he was working on payroll software for Chrysler. 

Then, in 2004, Doug Decarlo, a project management professional who writes about agile case studies among other things, published a book called eXtreme Project Management: Using Leadership, Principles & Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Volatility in 2004, solidifying the extreme programming approach for all of project management.

As of today, the PMI, or Project Management Institute, has some articles about XPM. However, when it comes to their official guide, the PMBOK, XPM is still not explicitly mentioned, using terms like agile, adaptive and change-driven PM instead. 

Meanwhile, there are some 3rd party organizations that give certification for extreme project management professionals, but no official PMP certification as given out by the PMI. 

 

When should you use the extreme project management methodology?

XPM isn’t useful for all types of projects. Firstly, it’s great for software development, especially when there is a lot of experimentation involved and no clear backlog. 

XPM should be used by small teams with few hierarchical relationships, where everyone should contribute their ideas. Marketing, advertising, branding, design and other creative departments can use XPM.

Finally, XPM should be considered where traditional approaches like the waterfall method or critical chain project management are too structured to allow for the freedom, flexibility and creativity that XPM encourages. Because of this, it is not ideal for more organized portfolio management purposes.

 

The 7 steps in an extreme project management life cycle

As with traditional project management, extreme project management is best applied when the project team follows a series of steps to implement it. However, unlike TPM, XPM’s step-by step process lets project team members be more adaptive and less rigid. Here are the steps for the extreme approach:

  1. Planning

  2. XPM questions

  3. Scheduling

  4. Kickoff

  5. Constant communication

  6. Reviews

  7. Wrap up

Planning

All projects aim to produce deliverables for a stakeholder or client, and XPM is no different. You must figure out the required functionalities of the project scope, even if they are not 100% clear. There should be some sense of a project budget and project schedule as part of the project plan, though these should not be etched in obsidian.

XPM Questions

The XPM guru, Doug Decarlo, spells out a series of questions that every extreme project manager should ask their team before getting started. Roughly, they are:

  • Who needs this project done?

  • Why do they need this project?

  • Do we have what we need to do it?

  • Can we successfully do this?

  • Is doing this project worth our time and energy?

Scheduling

Similarly to agile project management methodologies like scrum, work should be scheduled to be done in relatively short bursts of time. These short cycles of work are like iterative scrum’s sprints but do not need to be as controlled. A few weeks at a time is a good cycle duration.

Kickoff

Every project should begin with a kickoff meeting which is part business and part party, because especially with extreme programming for software development projects, these kinds of employees need a mix of hard work with a bit of chaos. Also, here is where you make sure everyone is aware of the scope and their individual or team project activities.

Constant communication

Because of the slightly complex and chaotic nature of XPM, a project manager must be in constant communication with their team, both on the team level and in 1 on 1, face-to-face conversations. This is less about keeping your team on track and more about listening to their pain points and ideas to inform your future decision making.

Reviews

Because XPM is regularly used for more complex projects with occasional high stress levels among the team, you need to take pauses every now and then to review the process, to gauge how the project is progressing, follow up with past issues, and be ready to pivot activities and reassign tasks if needed.

Wrap up

Once project goals have been reached, have a wrap-up party, Like the kickoff party, this should include some elements of retrospectives regarding the process as well as a celebration of the project success. Make sure every team member feels that their contribution is integral to your team achievements.  

 

The characteristics of XPM project management

  • Fast paced

  • Adaptability

  • Uncertainty

  • Relaxed control

  • Trial and error

  • XPM environment

From more traditional approaches, like network diagram project management, to the extreme approach, each PM methodology comes with its own principles, characteristics, values and mindsets. Here are some key characteristics of XPM:

Fast paced

XPM is great for projects that require a bit of hurry and rush, where you may have complex goals and tight timelines. Here, creativity and high-speed labor go hand in hand for snappy decision making and finding solutions.

Adaptability

Extreme projects are perfect when the team can expect many changes to come about throughout the project lifecycle. These change requests can come from clients, company heads or other stakeholders, or may arise from the team while working on the project in the face of volatility. 

Uncertainty

Being ready to embrace the unknown is one of the most important aspects of XPM, as many projects do not have super clear products as their end results, and the kinds of obstacles or problems are hard to foresee at the outset.

Relaxed control

An extreme project needs its team to be able to operate without strict levels of control. This means tight hierarchical structures inhibit good extreme developers, as well as the fact that there should be fewer instructions at the outset. The idea is not to hamper the process with too much admin or managerial approval.

Trial and error

XPM is perfect for projects like research and development that require lots of experimentation. Trial and error, and the unknown discoveries these processes produce, are tasks that fit in perfectly with XPM.

XPM environment

Since XPM has an open and flexible work environment, it creates an atmosphere of creativity and bold experimentation among its workers. This is great for team morale and for encouraging people to go outside their comfort zones and think outside their tiny head-boxes.

 

Extreme project management examples

Let us look at an example of extreme project management (or two, actually).

XPM example 1: Software development

The project is to develop a new app, maybe a game. The idea is to make it fun and addictive. Otherwise no rules. From the brainstorming phase to trying out different game rules and objectives, XPM is a great method.

XPM example 2: Marketing campaign

The project is to come up with a campaign to reach as many new eyeballs as possible, and to get click-throughs to a website and users to fill out a webform. Again, the style, text, art and advertising techniques can be anything, and the team can use a lot of A/B testing and other systems for getting feedback and quickly adapting with XPM.

 

Advantages and disadvantages of extreme project management

Below we’ll run through the pros and cons of extreme project management.

But just a quick caveat here. You might consider doing a project management methodologies comparison as well. It’s a solid way of holding up pros and cons for various methods, so you can see what’s best for you. 

Benefits of extreme project management techniques

The first advantage of extreme project management is that it lets teams work on complex projects without stifling rules and hierarchies.

XPM is great for producing new and exciting results through trial and error and experimentation.

A benefit of XPM is that it can produce results quickly if needed.

Finally, XPM has the advantage of being incredibly agile and adaptive to changes and unforeseen problems.

Drawbacks of extreme project management practices

A top con of XPM is the lack of focus, clear deadlines, and known deliverables.

Employees working on extreme projects may sometimes falter for lack of direction.

XPM runs the risk of scope creep, as there are no obvious halts to new ideas being generated.

Clients and stakeholders sometimes feel out of the loop when their projects are being done with the extreme method.

 

Key takeaways on extreme project management methods

Perhaps extreme project management is one of the few types of PM methods that does not have many dedicated project management software just for this method alone. You can, however, still use many great PM tools and templates to run an extreme project, like any CRM with project management features. 

Otherwise, feel free to go extreme in your own way without a software safety net. Just remember, keep it extreme!

 
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