Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How to Manage Scope Creep

As a continuation of my last entry, The Art of Scoping, I wanted to explore the management of scope throughout the life cycle of a project. Establishing initial scope and cost are the first step in a project - the responsible execution of the scope, however, requires diligent management through the identification of any elements or nuances that should be considered additional. The concept of items that fall outside approved scope is generally referred to as 'scope creep', and it is a Project Manager's duty to flag these elements for resolution.

How do you identify scope creep?: Scope creep is one reason that precise, clear project documentation is critical. In order to identity scope creep, a Project Manager must be able to prove that a given item falls outside the original agreement. The best way to do this is to reference a project plan, project charter, statement of work, or other similar documentation. This means project documentation needs to define the work effort of an initiative in a very detailed manner. More importantly, exclusions and assumptions will also support the identification of scope creep by clearly spelling out any items that are considered additional work.

What do you do when you identify scope creep?: When you are confident that the client or internal team has requested an element that is out of scope, it's important to flag the item as such so that you manage expectations. When you do this, clearly define what is out of scope, why it is out of scope (referencing the original agreement and documentation), and what the impact might be to the project if you move forward with the out of scope element (the impact could be to the timeline, budget, or both). Ideally, you want to be able to go back to your client and suggest a solution - this could be a simpler solution that could be accommodated within budget, a cost for the additional work, or a plan to execute the additional work in a subsequent phase of the project. Regardless of your solution, be very clear, and work with your team or your client to find a resolution together.

Damage control: When you identify scope creep to your client, this may result in a very awkward situation. Many times, clients will request items without realizing they are out of scope. As much as you need to protect the project budget, ultimately, your relationship with the client is more important, so don't assume the client is deliberately trying to get something for nothing. Clients will often become frustrated and upset, but this also presents a key opportunity to strengthen your relationship by resolving the matter. Be transparent with the client to build trust - make sure the client understands why the item requested is out of scope. Have a discussion about options so that the client contributes to the solution and feels comfortable with the outcome. As a Project Manager, you need to be prepared for these situations, so do your homework by sitting with your team first to understand the details.

Managing scope creep is one of the more difficult parts of a Project Manager's job, but solid documentation, clear communication and detailed information will minimize any risk to the project and the client relationship. When in doubt, draw on the expertise of your team to determine a few options your client can choose from. In the end, this will help ensure your project are delivered on budget and on time.

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