Decades ago, if the definition of a project's scope was clear enough, it helped keep the project team more or less focused on the task at hand. From time to time, when we weren't watching closely enough, or when organizational politics intervened, a project's scope might stealthily "creep" to include some activity that wasn't intended from the outset. When that happened, we adapted. To keep it from happening again, we created project governance. Governance procedures began to require project scope statements that included elements such as Goals and Objectives, Requirements, Not-Requirements, Tasks, Deliverables, Resources, and even Change Procedures.
But Changes in the environment, or markets,
or customer expectations, or even our
understanding of the problem bring
about changes in scopein today's rapidly changing environments, we rarely know enough at the outset about these elements to provide adequate control of scope. Projects are now so complicated that by the time we've defined a project's scope, we need to change the definition. Changes in the environment, or markets, or customer expectations, or even our understanding of the problem bring about changes in scope. We no longer strive to control scope; we now seek to manage it.
Augmenting project scope statements
Project governance processes are designed to deal with entire organizations. They must address projects of all kinds, in various states of development. The general problem of controlling the scope of such a heterogeneous project population requires a general solution. And that general solution has inherent difficulties in exploiting the particulars of each target project.
In part, the difficulty in managing scope traces to the attempt to deal with rapidly changing scope of every kind of project in every state of development using only general language. To address this difficulty, we must find ways to augment scope statements using specific knowledge about the projects themselves.
Ambiguity reduction by example
One approach to reducing the ambiguity of very general scope statements involves including examples of in-scope and not-in-scope.
In many cases, scope is not well-defined in the mathematical sense. That is, the definition of the term within scope for any given project might have more than one interpretation. For this reason, although devising a scope definition to control the scope of a project is necessary, it isn't sufficient. We must add to the definition explicit limiting examples of what is within scope and what is not, using what we know about the debates that led to the definition.
When we include examples, the differing interpretations of the project scope statement must take the examples into account. The examples of what is within scope — and examples of what is not within scope — then serve to limit the "ambiguity radius" of the rest of the scope statement.
Three guidelines for constructing limiting examples
Examples do serve to clarify the scope statement, but they also serve to limit political influence on scope. Some politically powerful individuals succeed in expanding scope by making out-of-scope promises on behalf of the organization. Including their likely promises in the list of out-of-scope examples can deter such promises. The deterrence effect is especially strong when the individuals involved have reviewed and approved the scope statement.
Here are three categories of examples of out-of-scope capabilities that can be included in scope statements.
- Whatever people were disappointed about being excluded
- Track the capabilities that were once proposed for inclusion in scope, but which were ultimately excluded. That will produce a list of items that are at greatest risk of being included in the project at some later stage.
- Wherever scope has expanded in the past
- A second class of high-risk capabilities includes those that were within scope of other projects, either in the past or underway, but which have been removed for one reason or another. Whatever forces were at work to have these capabilities included at first might still be active.
- Past incidents of secret scope creep
- Some scope expansion comes about as a result of actions taken by project team members on their own initiative. They don't consult team members or team leads in advance; they just perform the work privately. To limit this effect, include examples of "secret scope creep" that clearly illustrate the practice. If you're aware of initiatives that some have been advocating, use these as explicit examples of out-of-scope activity.
Small size is among the stronger arguments supporters of scope expansion use to advocate items for inclusion in scope. But the size of a scope expansion isn't determined by what's contemplated for inclusion in the present project. Rather, the size of a scope expansion is determined by the size of the ongoing commitment it implies, in every aspect of future support. For products or services, this can include everything from introduction to retirement. The scale of this commitment, not the scale of the current scope expansion, determines what is at stake when making scope expansion decisions. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Scope Creep and the Planning Fallacy
- Much is known about scope creep, but it nevertheless occurs with such alarming frequency that in some
organizations, it's a certainty. Perhaps what keeps us from controlling it better is that its causes
can't be addressed with management methodology. Its causes might be, in part, psychological.
- On the Risk of Undetected Issues: I
- In complex projects, things might have gone wrong long before we notice them. Noticing them as early
as possible — and addressing them — is almost always advantageous. How can we reduce the
incidence of undetected issues?
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition.
But how can we get something good out of it?
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: I
- When new problems pop up one after the other, we describe our response as "firefighting."
We move from fire to fire, putting out flames. How can we end the madness?
- Seven More Planning Pitfalls: II
- Planning teams, like all teams, are susceptible to several patterns of interaction that can lead to
counter-productive results. Three of these most relevant to planners are False Consensus, Groupthink,
and Shared Information Bias.
See also Project Management and Workplace Politics for more related articles.
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- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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