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Some weeks ago, I wrote a blog containing some tips for successfully managing changing project requirements. It can be quite difficult. Scope can morph and evolve as more and more is known about the project objectives. In this blog, I discuss three reasons why managing scope causes headaches.

Depending on your project, your management, your client, your budget, and the risk environment, the need to tightly control scope may be more or less important. For example, if you’re doing work on government contracts, it is essential to keep documentation that will convince an auditor that the scope of work was satisfactorily delivered to the client.

I’ve been thinking about why managing scope is so frustrating in the business world. Scope management begins with the process of defining scope. I’ve always advocated defining scope exclusions, but clearly we can’t list every possible activity in the universe.

If we think about scope as the different pieces of work that fit into a box that represents the entire project, then the analogy of in scope and out of scope makes sense. The work is either in the box, or not.

Here are my top three reasons why managing scope causes headaches.

Competing objectives: Control scope versus be helpful.

There is an ethical need to adhere to the stated scope in order to complete the project on time and on budget. Clearly, if we are always expanding on the scope, there is a concern that we won’t finish anything on schedule.

There is a genuine desire to help the client, and that includes helping management. We want to give them what they ask for. We want to think ahead about things that might be useful.

There is an obligation to “prove” that the project objectives were met, particularly when they are specified in a written contract. It doesn’t matter whether you are working on a government contract, a start-up, or a non-profit project. We should always have clear documentation on the project activities – what work has been done, and what work remains.

Hidden Agenda: The Game of Gotcha!

Why would someone want to play the game of gotcha!?

In an environment of change, people can be afraid for their jobs. And there can be this thought that if I contribute meaningfully that will help me keep my job. It’s a great thought. But what happens when that meaningful contribution is an allegation that someone else is not meeting unimportant deadlines or not working hard enough, or has missed part of the scope?

Whenever there is someone involved on a project who seems determined to sabotage it in some way, there can be a nagging concern that someone is setting up someone else for a game of “gotcha!” That’s not a fun game.

Change is the new normal.

Anyone who has ever built their dream home understands the concept of change orders. In the construction world, the common practice is to negotiate the scope in complete detail before construction begins. It makes sense.

Clearly, no one would be able to frame the house without understanding whether the front of your house was going to have standard 9 over 9 double hung windows, Palladian windows, or bay windows. If the homeowner decides to change their mind, a change order is executed to document that understanding.

In the business world, the pace of change has accelerated with the development of the Internet. While we clearly need to identify the overall project objectives, there can be less of a need to define all of the details.

Staying flexible and being able to capitalize on changing needs can be a good thing. And yet, when scope morphs and evolves without any controls, it makes it hard on the team to ensure that they are able to complete the contracted work on time and on budget. This can create team chemistry issues.

Where is that line between defining and managing scope and staying flexible? It depends. I usually recommend that you break a project down far enough that you can estimate your costs. But that is not a hard and fast rule. Talk to your client. Talk to your management.

Clearly, understanding how to manage scope is important. Maybe understanding why managing scope causes headaches helps. If not, give me a call and I’ll try to pull another rabbit out of my hat.