Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 34;   August 22, 2007: Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional

Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional

by

Scope creep is the tendency of some projects to expand their goals. Usually, we think of scope creep as an unintended consequence of a series of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's much more than that.

Some project sponsors know in advance that they cannot secure the organizational commitment necessary for what they actually want to do. To overcome obstacles, they seek approval for something else that's related, but different and less ambitious. Once that's underway, the organization is "hooked," and they begin expanding the scope of that smaller effort to achieve their heretofore hidden agendas.

The spine of a human male

The spine of a human male. One example from nature of probable scope creep is the "mission" of the human spine. The modern prevalence of back troubles and back pain suggests the possibility that what we now ask the spine to do is well beyond its original mission. We're larger than we have ever been, and we carry loads of such a size and in such a manner that the spine is constantly at risk. Some employers insist that employees wear "back belts" as protection, but there is no scientific evidence that they are effective in preventing injury. Photo courtesy U.S. National Library of Medicine.

I call this tactic scopemonging and its practitioners scopemongers. Some call these people scope creeps.

Sometimes the target of the misrepresentation isn't the project team — it's the owner of the sponsor's budget. When the sponsor is an external customer, as it would be for a contracted services provider, the target is probably a budget owner within the customer organization. But wherever the target is, the team can suffer the consequences, which can appear as pressure, overtime, or long, unpaid extra hours.

Here are some indicators that scope creep might be part of a hidden agenda.

Inexplicable passion
When a project sponsor seems inexplicably passionate about what seems to be a dull or inconsequential effort, check for hidden agendas. Possibly something more is planned, but it hasn't yet made its appearance.
When passion and commitment seem out of proportion to the project at hand, investigate. If you know or can guess what else might be intended, try removing from the team or the project any elements that, though inessential for the stated purpose, might be necessary for the conjectured scope expansion. If no expansion is contemplated, removal of those items should meet no resistance.
It just doesn't make sense
If the sponsor's or champion's vision doesn't hang together logically, consider the possibility that you aren't hearing the whole story. Ask yourself what the missing pieces might be. Once you know what they are, the vision might indeed make sense.
If the sponsor's or champion's
vision doesn't hang together
logically, consider the possibility
that you aren't hearing
the whole story
If you suspect that pieces are missing from the sponsor's requests, argue for their inclusion in a "not-requirements" section of the project plan. Once everyone agrees that these items are explicitly out of bounds for this project, any subsequent scope expansion to include these items will be much more difficult.
Resistance to not-requirements
When you first propose a set of not-requirements, you might encounter resistance, which could be evidence of some intention eventually to include the proposed not-requirements as actual requirements.
If the discussion occurs early enough in the planning cycle, you might be able to insert the proposed not-requirements as actual requirements, which usually triggers estimation of their costs. The ensuing dialog will likely expose the impractical nature of the items in question.

Sometimes, the organization rewards scopemongers for "making things happen" and "having a can-do attitude." If that's the case where you work, the problem is bigger than one scope creep — it might be unwritten policy. We'll examine more indicators of scopemonging next time. Go to top Top  Next issue: More Indicators of Scopemonging  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

For more about scope creep, see "Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for July 18, 2012; "The Perils of Political Praise," Point Lookout for May 19, 2010; "More Indicators of Scopemonging," Point Lookout for August 29, 2007; "Some Causes of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for September 4, 2002; "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy," Point Lookout for June 29, 2011; and "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration," Point Lookout for June 22, 2011.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin PowellDevious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends. Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage. Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.
RaspberriesHuman Limitations and Meeting Agendas
Recent research has discovered a class of human limitations that constrain our ability to exert self-control and to make wise decisions. Accounting for these effects when we construct agendas can make meetings more productive and save us from ourselves.
Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesNarcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends.
Feeling shameEmbarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings.
Lost in a mazeI Don't Understand: II
Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification. How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful?

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A form of off road driving also known as mud boggingComing November 30: Avoiding Speed Bumps: II
Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
Tuckman's stages of group developmentAnd on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenZLkFdSHmlHvCaSsuner@ChacbnsTPttsdDaRAswloCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.