Generally speaking, the scope of a project should not change.
However, in the real world scope change is difficult to eliminate altogether. Inevitably the presence of many interrelated moving parts means that the initial project estimate and the final project cost (or deadline) are rarely the same.
Scope change can be authorized or unauthorized. The latter is often called Scope Creep, and requires strong, active management from the project manager. But even authorized scope changes (the former) often hurt customer or client relationships.
How, then, do you control project scope?
- Write a Good Scope Statement
- Define Requirements
- Maintain Strong Communication
- Create Good Estimates
- Monitor External Influences
Write a Good Scope Statement
The scope statement forms a boundary around the limits of the project. If it is poorly written, or insufficiently detailed, the project team will not know the boundaries of the project and will be prone to adding things that shouldn’t be there. They might also misinterpret the strategy used by project to achieve its objectives.
Communication is key, hence there is no substitute for a good scope statement.
In some industries, like I.T., the project requirements are usually front and center with a Requirements Traceability Matrix being used to track the changing nature of the requirements throughout the project. In others the requirements are minor, but they are always an essential underlying ingredient that supports the scope statement. Regardless of the established norms, the project requirements need to be known to the project team to avoid scope creep.
For example, a requirement for a bridge construction project might be:
- To gain regulatory approval from the Fisheries Department.
Communicating this requirement regularly to the project team ensures that the necessary biologist reports, meetings, and so forth, will be planned for without requiring future costly scope changes.
Maintain Strong Communication
Scope creep tends to be inversely proportional to the amount of communication between the project manager, project team, and stakeholders. It is easy to add tasks to the project, advance an agenda, “gold plate” the product, etc. when the project manager is not regularly communicating the project requirements and expectations.
This is where meetings come in to play. Now don’t get me wrong, meetings have a cost and should not be scheduled because someone does not want to work. But the concept of regular, face to face meetings will never die. I believe that a regular meeting between project manager, project team, and stakeholders is essential to a healthy project that finishes on time and budget with all stakeholders satisfied.
It is also a foundation of project management to have regular status updates, complete with earned value reports, scope statement reviews, and so forth, and this coincides beautifully with project team meetings.
Create Good Estimates
In the normal tug of war of business, projects tend toward lower project costs at the beginning (to win work, etc.) but higher project costs during project execution (to provide the highest quality product, etc.).
This tug of war has resulted in many frustrations for project managers who must deal with the consequences of the resulting scope creep.
Although strong project management helps, there is no substitute for good project estimates. Low confidence within the estimating department means extra contingencies, potential delays, and higher risk of unexpected events. These can hurt the business case for the project and cause significant hardship to the project manager.
Make sure you’ve done everything you can to get project estimates right.
Monitor External Influences
Many projects have gone smoothly with impeccable project management, only to have an external influence throw a monkey wrench into the plans. An earthquake, for example, or a plane crashing into the office. Seriously, though, most external influences come from unexpected “friendly” sources, like budget reductions from the organization, or stakeholders who change their acceptance criteria.
The risk register can be analyzed and prioritized in whatever detail is appropriate for the project, but the principle is unmistakable. A project manager must be on regular lookout duty for possible external influences that can derail a project.
In my experience, project managers are not normally held accountable for circumstances outside of their control, in fact, giving early warning notice to stakeholders can even look good.
How to Manage Scope Change
In the undesirable event that a scope change is necessary, how do you go about defending it? I have negotiated some million dollar plus scope changes, and in this little bonus section I will give you the keys to making it a success for all parties.
The underlying foundation that needs to be established is the business case for the change. The stakeholders need to know that their money is getting something they need. The following checklist can be used to justify the scope change.
- Added value. The scope change adds value to the end product. Also, the scope change adds more value than its expenditure relative to the original project.
- Market needs. The market needs have changed, and they require a product or feature set that was not anticipated at the outset of the project.
- Return on Investment. An opportunity has been identified that results in a return on investment that wasn’t known about before.
- Impact on Schedule/Cost. The expenditure of additional funds will reduce a stakeholder’s future cost, or result in a quicker project completion.
- Product Liability or Risks. The organization is taking on additional risk that was not foreseen, or the reduction of a known liability is worth the cost.
Although eliminating project scope changes altogether is a noble goal that is not always easy to achieve, if actively managed, it can be within your grasp.
Good luck on your projects!