Sunday, February 10, 2008

Managing Project Scope

Ok - you're about to kick-off a project you're managing. The scope and budget are set, the team knows what they're delivering, and everyone is ready to begin. You're confident that hours have been allocated appropriately, but you also know how easy it is for scope to slip away from you - you need to keep a good handle on this project to ensure the team doesn't squander their hours and push the project over budget. In this entry, I'll review some solid tactics you can employ to progressively manage your project budget and maintain total visibility from beginning to end.

Granular Scoping: The first tool in your arsenal of budget management needs to be rolled out before the project is even approved for commencement. It's what I refer to as granular scoping, and it means that the budget should be allocated to each resource at a task level. In other words, don't estimate required hours in large lump sums - when you are going through the initial scoping exercise, ensure hours are broken down into as much detail as much as possible. This will allow you to subsequently assign and manage project hours in smaller steps, which will inherently provide you with greater control and transparency as your team consumes their allocated hours. The ultimate advantage is greater visibility regarding how long each project task actually takes. This information will be invaluable to you as you estimate future projects with similar tasks.

Accurate Time Capture: It amazes me to learn of interactive agencies that still are not capturing project hours through some sort of time sheeting system. There is no chance a Project Manager will have success in measuring project profitability with any comprehension if each resource isn't recording hours spent on specific projects. Ideally, resources will log how much time is used on each project task (back to granularity), so that you will understand exactly what areas of the project are most time consuming. This information will allow you to compare estimates against actuals, refining your scoping methodology by making corrections moving forward.

Milestone Reconciliations: If you've executed the first two recommendations, you'll also be able to complete this one - providing you with absolute clarity and opportunity to recover from potential pitfalls as you move through the project life cycle. Reconciliation is an exercise during which you analyze project completion (how much work has been done) in comparison to work effort (how may hours have been used). If you have broken down the scope and hour allocations in a detailed way, and hours are being recorded by each project resource, you will be able to reconcile at key points in the project to identify if you are over or under budget before the project is completed. IF you know you are over budget early on, you may be able to take action and correct this trend before it's too late to make a difference. Project reconciliations also present an opportunity for you to share accurate information related to scope and budget with your client. A client that understands how much effort goes into a project, and how the team is working to remain within budget, will be more amenable to paying for legitimate overages.

As a Project Manager, your most critical responsibility to the organization you work for will be scope management - it directly affects the bottom line, contributes to corporate success, client satisfaction, and professional achievement. While this task may seem overwhelming, it is within reach if you can breakdown work effort and measure profitability as you move through the project. Ultimately, agility will provide you with options - and understanding where your budget is at each stage of a project will allow you to react and manage project scope successfully.

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