Extreme Project Management: an introductory guide for beginners

Extreme Project Management: an introductory guide for beginners

Extreme Project Management an introductory guide for beginners
Posted by Wimi Staff, on Monday 15 June 2020

During your career as a project manager, you will be leading various and diverse projects. Some are going to be relatively easy to manage while others will require continuous adjustments and changes to satisfy the client; some might have to be abandoned for different reasons.

There is a wide choice of project management methods (some older and newer) such as: agile method, Waterfall, Six Sigma, PRINCE2, PRiSM and many more. In order to choose an adequate method, you should take into consideration the complexity of your project, the way your team works and the client’s involvement.

Did you know that a dedicated method for complex projects exists? It’s called Extreme Project Management (or XPM).


“Extreme project management is the art and science of facilitating and managing the flow of thoughts, emotions, and interactions in a way that produces valued outcomes under turbulent and complex conditions: those that feature high speed, high change, high uncertainty, and high stress.” – Doug DeCarlo, author of Extreme Project Management

As suggested by its name, Extreme Project Management (XPM) is used to manage extreme projects in complex and uncertain environments. In such cases phases of a project or its mile stones are not defined. What is more, no precise instructions concerning task completion are usually set.

The idea of Extreme Project Management is to adapt to the situation and execute the project in the best possible way. It’s a flexible and fast method, perfect for helping you deal with the unexpected. The goal is to deliver the desired results, not the expected results.

The Extreme Project Management method is perfect when managing projects where clients change their opinion regularly or are unsure of what they want. Why? As it offers the freedom to modify plans as often as necessary. It could be compared to a trial and error method, where there are multiple attempts taken before completing the expected outcome.

Examples of projects that can be managed with XPM:

In order to know whether the XPM method is appropriate for your projects, here are a few general characteristics of extreme projects:

  • High paced environment,
  • Very complex needs and expectations,
  • Frequent changes in the requirements as the project progress,
  • A trial and error approach,
  • A self-correction process as the project starts to deviate from its objectives,
  • Non-hierarchical decision-making processes,
  • Projects based on human resources, not processes.

XPM is adapted for projects such as IT software development where it is possible to add or delete functions and features as the market, data and users’ expectations evolve.

Extreme Project Management method is particularly suitable for complex projects which must be divided into independently managed sub-projects or projects with blurred perimeter (which makes it difficult to set milestones and deliverables).

Finally, the Extreme Project Management method is a good choice when you work with collaborators who are new to project management or do not have skills nor knowledge necessary to carry out the project – it allows you to make several attempts and correct the project as it progresses.

How does it work?

The fundamental condition for this project management method to work is the permanent client’s involvement in the project.

It is also essential to train your team in the XPM as it’s totally different from other (traditional) project management methods. Your employees need to understand the basics and fundamental principles in order to be able to put this method into practice. Training is also a good way to see whether this work method is suitable for your team.

Basic rules of XPM:

  • Project requirements and tasks may be chaotic – it’s normal when working with this method,
  • The only certain thing in an extreme project is incertitude,
  • It’s almost impossible to fully control this kind of project,
  • You have to accept that changes are inevitable,
  • The feeling of security comes with the development of flexibility and reduction of the will to control the project.

Surround yourself with a flexible team ready to work at a breakneck pace then follow these 7 steps:

  1. Plan your project according to the XPM method (this means: with the awareness that changes and errors are going to occur).
  2. In order to guarantee the project’s success, answer the following questions: who needs what and why? What is needed to complete the project? Do we have all it takes to go all the way? Is it worth it?
  3. Organize your work in short cycles (max a few weeks per cycle).
  4. Make a project launch meeting which is essential for informing and motivating your team, specify your expectations and communicate well on the project from the very first day.
  5. Communication with the client should be continuous. Listen and always take into account their requirements and needs; communicate them immediately to your team.
  6. Carefully follow the progress of each cycle and avoid deviations from the cycle’s objectives.
  7. Celebrate each success, be it the end of a cycle or the entire project. Keep your team motivated by appreciating their efforts and encouraging your collaborators to start each meeting with the achievements they are proud of.

In order to be successful with your extreme projects, remember to favour simplicity and avoid overly complex processes.


The Extreme Project Management method is adapted for complex, chaotic and unstructured projects. It allows the project manager and their team to work in an unpredictable environment that is prone to changes as well as to manage more easily the unknown. Moreover, it underlines that the project needs to be adapted to reality, not vice versa.

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