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Volume 7, Issue 35;   August 29, 2007: More Indicators of Scopemonging

More Indicators of Scopemonging

by

Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to overcome budgetary and political obstacles.

Last time, we introduced scopemonging — the use of gradual, planned scope expansion for political ends or to overcome organizational obstacles. By first gaining approval for something reasonable and less ambitious, scopemongers manipulate the organization into attempting something that's unreasonable or overly ambitious.

Mars as seen by the Hubble Telescope

Mars as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. The announced plan for a manned mission to Mars could be an example of scopemonging by advocates of manned space exploration. Ask yourself how many of the indicators described in this article and the previous one are possibly present in this decision. Photo by D. Crisp and the WFPC2 Team of JPL/Caltech, courtesy U.S. NASA.

When the tactic is successful, scopemongers commandeer resources already committed elsewhere. They place the organization at risk, and their actions can result in severe stress and overwork for the people around them.

We examined several indicators of possible scopemonging last time. Here are a few more.

In for a penny, in for a pound
Sometimes, later in the project, the scopemonger asserts that we've committed such a high level of resources to the project already that we cannot "afford" to fail. Ironically, scope expansion itself often presents even greater threats to the organization than failure would [Note 1].
To refute their arguments, focus on increased costs and on how scope expansion threatens the probability of success. If the scopemonger has used the same tactic in the past, point to that and ask, "When will this end?"
Bribery
There are always those who want to carry out tasks that aren't yet budgeted or that are inconsistent with the organizational mission. Perhaps they want to work with a new technology or try a novel strategy, or there might be a feature they've long wanted to add. Scopemongers sometimes bribe these people by advocating for these items as a means of winning allies within the project team.
If you suspect scopemonging, describe the bribery tactic to colleagues in advance of its use. Gain commitment to a united position opposing scope expansion by identifying bribery as a tool of scopemongers.
Flattery
Scopemongers also use flattery to elevate and manipulate the leading team members. They might say, "We want you to do this work, because frankly, we think you're the only ones up to the challenge."
Flattery is Scopemongers place the organization
at risk, and their actions can result
in severe stress and overwork
for the people around them
especially helpful when success requires beyond-the-call-of-duty effort by the people flattered. Flattery can distort judgment. It can make the flattered believe that the impossible is possible and that the unsuitable is suitable.
Migration patterns
Sometimes the organization successfully resists scope creep, and the scopemonger moves on, seeking a more vulnerable piece of the organization. Often, he or she then targets for acquisition the same resources previously targeted, now using a different project as a base.
In some ways, the scopemonger behaves like the mole in Whack-a-Mole. Defeat scopemongers in one place, and up they pop somewhere else, again trying to expand the scope of some project or other.

Because scopemongers can create stress and push people to the edge of burnout and beyond, they can harm the organization even when their tactics "succeed." The damage they do isn't always immediately apparent, but it is real and it is expensive. Go to top Top  Next issue: Divisive Debates and Virulent Victories  Next Issue

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, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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; "Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional," Point Lookout for August 22, 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.

Footnotes

[Note 1]
This mechanism is related to, if not driven by, the sunk cost effect and the sunk time effect. Back

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We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

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