On April 11, 1951, in the midst of the Korean War, U.S. President Harry Truman relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur, replacing him as "Supreme Commander, Allied Powers; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command; Commander-in-Chief, Far East; and Commanding General, U.S. Army, Far East." This historic act followed months of conflict between the General and the President, in which MacArthur repeatedly and publicly criticized Truman's policies. Worse, he had repeatedly and publicly offered his own analyses and alternative policies for comparison with Truman's. Some of his statements might even have influenced the North Koreans and the Chinese in formulating their own policies and strategies.
In effect, Gen. MacArthur's actions led to the wartime analog of the scope creep that is so familiar to project managers. But unlike many scope creep incidents, this scope creep originated not at the top, but somewhere below — at "ground level."
And something similar can happen in projects, when scope creep results from the behavior of team members who aren't high-level decision makers. Here are three examples.
- Technology aficionados
- Technology aficionados usually have technical roles and purely technical interests. They're more interested in the technical issues than they are in balancing the technical and the business agendas. When they encounter or generate an idea that is outside the scope of the effort, they urge it forward if they feel it's "the right thing." They act publicly, using meetings, email, or other communication channels to make their ideas part of the overall task. When they act without first consulting those responsible for managing organizational resources, they create "fires" that managers must extinguish.
- Tactically oriented sales representatives
- Tactically Some people act publicly, using
meetings, email, or other
to make their ideas part
of the overall taskoriented sales reps focus on immediate sales opportunities to the detriment of a more strategic perspective. In some cases, they promise customers features or capabilities that the organization must then deliver, even if they weren't originally in scope.
- Embedded consultants
- Technology consultants are sometimes embedded in the organization on a short-term basis. They often have technology-specific knowledge and perspective, and some bear certifications in proprietary technologies. Sometimes, they acquire a bias in favor of their own areas of expertise. They lose objectivity. When that happens, their advice can conflict with the larger goals of the organization. That is, even though we invite technology gurus into our organizations for specific purposes, they can exert influence on the people they work with relative to their specializations, and beyond their charters. However innocent their motives might be, their advice can nevertheless lead to scope creep.
Were it not for the effects of organizational politics, a combination of training, orientation, and performance management could prevent or contain the effects of these mechanisms. But in organizations, as in war, once the unwelcome ideas float upward from ground level, politics can limit the ability of the organization to contain them. Top Next Issue
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For more about scope creep, see "The Perils of Political Praise," Point Lookout for May 19, 2010; "More Indicators of Scopemonging," Point Lookout for August 29, 2007; "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.
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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.