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.
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 storyIf 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. Top Next Issue
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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.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Devious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
- While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control,
or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate
you to find another way.
- Ten Tactics for Tough Times: I
- When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation
for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of
approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
- Obstructionist Tactics: II
- Teams and groups depend for their success on highly effective cooperation between their members. If
even one person is unable or unwilling to cooperate, the team's performance is limited. Here's Part
II of a little catalog of tactics.
- How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness
- When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who
nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?
- Grace Under Fire: II
- When we debate at work, things sometimes turn unpleasant. Out of control, one party might maneuver the
other into losing control. If we have better tools for recognizing these tactics, we're better able
to maintain self-control. Here's Part II of such a toolkit.
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- And on April 8: Intentionally Misreporting Status: I
- When we report the status of the work we do, we sometimes confront the temptation to embellish the good news or soften the bad news. How can we best deal with these obstacles to reporting status with integrity? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
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