Extreme Project Management: Unique Methodologies, Resolute
Principles, Astounding Results, Shaun Ajani, Writers Club Press, 2002.
Extreme Project Management (EPM) is a quirky little book with much to offer and some glaring gaps. First of all the term "extreme" in the EPM title is a slight misnomer. Since extreme is not in the same context as Extreme Programming or other "extreme" words used in the software development domain.
Let me get some of my grips out of the way first. There is no index. In a modern word processing and desktop publishing world this is nearly unforgivable. The lack of an index is made up for by an easy to read style and brevity of the presentation. There are chapters, but they are simply "place holders" for these ideas rather than any formal structure.
The ideas themselves range from the obvious (at least for me), to the thoughtful, to the thoughtless - more on this later. Before proceeding, let me make my recommendation. Buy this book. At the $12.95 cover price, if only one new idea is extracted it is worth the investment. The primary value to me includes:
An iconoclastic style, which is welcomed in these days of formality and high-ceremony in the PM world.
The slightly offbeat concepts of PM, which is again welcome, if only to stimulate conversation as to why all this formality is actually necessary in the presence of "emerging processes" in the software business.
Several powerful concepts that support agile and extreme software development processes, including"
Time box scheduling
These concepts of course are not new, but they are refreshing in the current PM literature. Overall Ajani has a traditional approach to software development with a design-code-test, SQA, and review processes. The "Test Driven Development" approaches of XP, SCRUM, and Crystal have yet to enter the mainstream PM vocabulary, so traditional is still the PMBOK linear approach.
In EPM focus is placed on customer engagement and managing the expectations of the stakeholder. This is a critical success factor of any PM method and even more so in Agile PM methods. Rechtin's great quote "if the politics don't fly, the space craft never will," is universally applicable and nearly universally overlooked by inexperienced PM's.
Ajani's "Review and Appraisal Based on Human Attributes (RABOHA)" is a concept of how to assess the talent base for a project. His observation that project members are "cranky" most of the time is refreshing. Instead of trying to make people "happy", simple improvements in quality and productivity go a long way in creating the illusion of happiness in the workplace. This is similar, but at the same time different, from Covey's Seven Highly Effective Habits concepts. Making changes to the underlying behavioral environment "produces" effectivity and productivity. A profile of an employees behavior is provided with recommendations actions for improvement if gaps appear. This section of the book consume around 40 pages. It is not only useful, it is "eye opening" for the inexperienced PM as well as those of us struggling with managing a variety of different personality types. Up to this point some of Ajani's personnel and behavioral recommendations appear a bit odd and inappropriate in my agile PM paradigm. This section (Chapter 8) makes up for all this quirkiness.
For me Ajani, gets it right when he states users of PERT and CPM need to "keep it simple." Planning to the detail level is NOT the role of the "extreme" project manager. This type of planning is done by the team members along with their stakeholders. "Manageable tasks, but not manageable sub-tasks" is the concept.
Another oddity is Ajani's concept of time management. Time/Importance Framing defines how to prioritize items in a proper time frame. It is not this idea I object to, but the blatant manipulation of co-workers by changing their perception of the importance of an item. An "agile" PM would be more fully engaged with the team and the customer and therefore avoid the need for these little "minds tricks."
The Chapter on Risk Management is similar to other misunderstandings of risk in the PM literature. Risk is defined quite clearly by the SEI and Elaine Hall's Managing Risk - "it is the probability of an unfavorable outcome and the assessment of the consequences of that outcome." The items Ajani uses as example are unaddressed project issues, not risks since they have a 100% probability of occurrence. A thorough read of the SEI's Continuous Risk Management should be mandatory for anyone claiming to be a PM.
My final gripe is something I'm subject to myself - typos. My excuse is I'm a sole proprietor and as such edit my own stuff most of the time. Books have editors, this one needs a bit more editing.
Overall this is a book that should be read. It's content stimulated new thoughts for me. It may do the same for others.
Glen B. Alleman
Niwot Ridge Consulting