Getting a Grip on Chaos, Part 1: It Takes a Quantum Mindset to Lead an Extreme Project

Doug is the author of the landmark book, Extreme Project Management®: Using Leadership, Principles and Tools to Deliver Value in the Face of Volatility. He works with clients who undertake projects in very demanding environments: those settings that feature high speed, high change, high unpredictability and high stress. Doug has lived in the trenches—from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Beijing, China—with over 275 project teams with budgets that ranged from $25,000 to over $25 million. He is one of the founders of the Agile Leadership Network, an organization dedicated to connecting, developing and supporting great project leaders. He is known for his hard-hitting and humorous keynote speeches that address vital issues facing today’s project-based organizations. You can visit Doug at

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘thank you.’ In between, the leader is a servant.” -- Max De Pree

In today’s increasingly complex project world, more and more project managers are finding themselves riding an extreme project. Yet few possess the leadership skills, mindset and temperament to succeed. In this article, I’ll outline what it takes in my experience to be a successful eXtreme project leader.

My conclusions are based on training and coaching 275-plus teams over the last 20 years across a wide range of projects. These have included bio-tech, IT implementations, new product development, new product launches and others. About two out of three were extreme projects, a term that I’ll define in a moment.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I’ll cover the quantum mindset and contrast it with the opposite (Newtonian) mindset. In Part 2, I’ll present nine core practices for leading an extreme project.

The Big Picture
The successful eXtreme project leader possesses a world view that is compatible with change and uncertainty. I refer to this world view as the quantum mindset: a forward-looking temperament that feeds on change and thrives on new possibilities. This is in contrast to the Newtonian or stabilizer mindset, which I’ll explain shortly.

When faced …

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