Friday, June 29, 2007

The Art of Scoping

The core objective of project management is delivering initiatives on time and on budget. In order to do this, a Project Manager must possess a combination of interpersonal skills, forecasting, risk management, problem solving and more! Regardless of skill level or experience, however, a Project Manager will have trouble delivering an initiative on time or on budget if the project wasn't properly scoped to begin with. In this context, scoping relates to the estimation of work effort and hours allocated to a given project for all the resources assigned to it. At a core level, it is the 'make or break' element that will drive a project from start to finish, and it is, without question, an art.

How do you scope?: Scoping happens very early on in the project life cycle - ideally before a client commits to the project. In order to properly scope an initiative, the person responsible must have a deep understanding of the production cycle, as well as the role of each contributor. In other words, who will touch a project, at what point, and how intensely. This information will determine how many hours each resource will need. This requires a grasp of the 'big picture', and an appreciation for the nuances and risks of the project. The person who is scoping a project must ask themselves 'what if...?' for any number of potential scenarios that could upset the original breadth and depth of the project. As an example, what if the client-provided content isn't written in a manner that's appropriate for the web? Who will be responsible for structural editing, and how intense will this effort be? If your team will edit the content, it will change the scope of the project because additional hours will be needed to complete this task. Identifying these project pitfalls is a key component of the scoping process, which leads to the next point....

Necessary companions of scope: Anyone who has worked with me will know I am as focused on project assumptions and exclusions as I am on the actual scope of a project. I describe scope as drawing a box around project deliverables. Scope is about identifying what will and will not be done to deliver a project, so that the client and project team agree to the end product. In order to do this, the scoping exercise must result in a definition of what is included, as well as what is excluded and what is assumed to be true. These are fundamental elements in the equation which will help clearly solidify the commitment of the agency and client alike. As a rule of thumb, a Project Manager should never provide a quotation or project scope without accompanying assumptions and exclusions.

Scoping is a complex and critical skill, which needs to be developed over a long period of time. Remember these fundamentals when you scope, no matter how small a project may be - you will do your company and your clients a disservice if you take any shortcuts. Practice by scoping smaller initiatives and by identifying assumptions and exclusions for them. After some time, you will feel confident enough to tackle larger projects. The test for any scope is to execute the project and compare actual work effort (typically measured in hours) to the hours you originally scoped. Identify the differences and learn from them. Doing this will ensure that each project you scope is estimated more accurately, resulting in improved profitability for your company.

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