Beyond Traditional Project Management

j0402316.jpgIn his 2004 book, eXtreme Project Management, Doug DeCarlo declares that “the world of project management has changed radically, totally and irreversibly”. DeCarlo contends that traditional project management as outlined by the Project Management Institute’s Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge belongs to the past and is not effective or appropriate for most of today’s highly chaotic and high speed projects.

DeCarlo maintains that many of today’s projects feature highly changeable requirements, new technology, high speed and global competition. He defines these projects as “eXtreme projects” and they require viewing the world with a new reality he calls the quantum mindset. The quantum mindset is based on the view that change is unavoidable, necessary and unpredictable as opposed to the traditional mindset of viewing reality as stable, predictable and knowable. The allegation is that traditional project management is too slow, inflexible and cumbersome to deal with rapidly changing requirements and high speed innovative development cycles. Traditionalists fear and resist change according to DeCarlo.

My feeling is that the traditional processes are subject to how you choose or not choose to use them. I advise project management students to “never let the tail wag the dog”. That is, “you use the processes, don’t ever let the processes use you” The traditional project processes are based upon very powerful concepts and lessons learned by conducting thousands of project over many decades. Do they exactly conform to your current project needs?  Probably not. So we should adapt the project to fit the traditional PMBOK® processes. RIGHT?  WRONG!!

Let’s use our common sense here. Of course you should adapt the processes to your project not the other way around. What do you do if you have a high speed complex software development project where the requirements are in limbo and the customer doesn’t know what she wants but will know it when she sees it?  Do you put together a 6 level Work Breakdown Structure and detailed Gantt schedule which define all the deliverables and work packages for the entire project? If you answer yes to this question, you are what DeCarlo calls a Newtonian with a well defined and stable world view.

As a Newtonian you should be managing projects which have crystal clear requirements, well defined technology where the customer doesn’t want you to bother her until you are finished.  In reality, an extreme project may only require a 1-2 level WBS for phase one of a possible 4 or 5 phases or maybe you don’t use a WBS at all. My point is that project managers must know when and how to use the right processes and tools. Maybe you have to throw them all out and invent your own set of processes and tools. However, even DeCarlo doesn’t advocate starting from scratch.
How do you determine what processes and tools to use, modify or throw out of your extreme project or, any project, for that matter?
First point, you must have a working knowledge of the traditional processes and tools to make an intelligent decision. That means you would do well to be familiar with the Guide to the PMBOK or some other standard and maybe, heaven forbid, become a certified Project Management Professional or even earn a project management certificate. Why would you not try to benefit from the lessons learnt from the blood, sweat, tears and lives of those that have accomplished so much before us? Those ignorant of history are likely doomed to re-live it: Sir Winston Churchill.
Second point, if you really take a close look at the so called modern methods of running projects, you will find the traditional methods are at their core more often than not. All projects, traditional and extreme, must follow the laws of nature and thus have the triple constraints, i.e. show me a project you can accomplish without time, money or resources. This tells me that extreme project management as defined by DeCarlo is really an attitude shift and possibly an updated operating model of the current reality which affects the way you use processes and tools to produce value. This doesn’t mean to discard traditional processes but to build on them or reconstruct them to accomplish your objectives.

Third and last point, the really hard part of determining how to conduct your project is really based upon your knowledge and experience. Knowledge of what has worked before, both for traditional and non-traditional projects, and the common sense and experience to guide you in making decisions based upon what you are trying to accomplish, for whom, when, and what will it take?
Even as he chides the three-toed Newtonian sloth, DeCarlo understands the peaceful coexistence that must exist between the Newtonian and the quantum mindsets. After all they are just different forms of the same energy.



1 thought on “Beyond Traditional Project Management”

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    Amen, Frank! Too bad common sense is not common practice. Must we pay homage to the PMBOK? Not at all! It is a tool, and if you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. As project managers we must have the good judgment to use the right tool for the right job. Sandpaper is a fine tool, but you wouldn’t wipe your behind with it, right? Thanks for setting the record straight about this. I always favor reason and judgment over blind application of tools. You know what they say . . . “Give a fool a tool and, well, you’ve still got a fool!”

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