Scope Changes are not Unthinkable

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“We must dare to think ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world. … We must dare to think about ‘unthinkable things’ because when things become unthinkable, thinking stops and action becomes mindless.”  
 – J. William Fulbright (April 9, 1905 – February 9, 1995)

While most project managers try to limit the number of scope changes within their project, changes should not be “unthinkable.” Changes are inevitable. It is one’s ability to manage those scope changes that delineates the successful project managers from their peers. So how does one effectively manage scope?

We have found that to become a master of scope management means one must understand the need to revisit scope definitions repeatedly.  For example, throughout the project management life cycle, there are a number of points that are opportune for reviewing scope (e.g., project approval, phase gate check points, financial oversight committees).  It is the constant reassessment of scope that helps manage expectations and provide assurance.  However, one should not assume that changes to scope – like changes to the course a ship follows – are necessarily bad.

Slalom Consultant Kelley Rapoza

Kelley Rapoza is a Management Consultant based in Denver who is committed to driving projects to success.

Course corrections are necessary on the open seas.  Without giving up their final destination, those at the helm may chose alternatives based on the hazards in their path.  Foul weather (an issue), a brewing storm (a risk), or even the need to make a change based on the welfare of those on board – all of these are potential causes for course change.  Similarly, a project may need to change course; the project manager must maintain an eye on the final destination.

Before one chooses to alter course the impact to the project must be assessed.   One method for conducting an impact assessment is to consider the three T’s:  Time, Talent and Treasure.  We have found that careful consideration of each of these “T’s” is important.  Equally important is the interdependence of the “T’s.”  Unless one is able to carefully consider each, the assessment may be incomplete.

  • Time:  The impact to project milestone dates as well as the overall project end-date must be identified and documented. Certain milestones can move without an impact to the final delivery date.  Sometimes there must be a negotiation for changing an end-date, for instance, to preserve quality.  In some cases, project end-dates cannot be moved.  For example, when regulatory or  audit requirements are in play, dates are often specified by outside entities and are not up for negotiation.  In those cases, it becomes increasingly important to understand the impact of the other two “T’s.”  Once effects are documented, agreement much be reached with project Champions, Sponsors and other key Stakeholders.
  • Talent:  As the scope changes, it may be necessary to alter the resource make-up of the project.  Adding resources or reallocating resources to focus on new requirements may be an approach worth investigating.  However, it is important to clearly define the needed skills and the number of resources required.  One can alter the resource mix on an initiative, but it should be done in a way that maintains the quality of the delivery.  An increase in number or type of resources may likely cost the project; a link to the last “T.”
  • Treasure: Treasure refers to the financial impact to the project.  When there is a change to scope, impact to the budget is almost always unavoidable. In many cases, Treasure is the most difficult part of scope change to discuss.  A key approach to a successful discussion regarding budget is to ensure a thorough option analysis.  Presenting more than one or two options to
    decision makers is usually always appreciated. In fact, anything less than two options will usually get you a “go back and do it again” response.  While financial impacts are usually what leadership wants to hear about first, the two other “T’s” remind us that money is not the only important part of change.

All PM’s should be familiar with the macro-concept of balancing the Triple Constraint.  We must also be careful to balance the micro-concept of assessing the Three “T’s” impacting scope change.  A clear assessment and presentation of the tradeoffs across each area is essential for good decision-making.

Once the scope changes are approved and communicated to the project team, one must remember to incorporate the changes into future discussions.  This will enable PM’s to begin the next cycle of repeatedly revisiting scope.  And, to paraphrase Fulbright, will also help to ensure that we don’t stop thinking about our projects and become the mindless leaders of our initiatives.

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About Carl M. Manello
I am Slalom Consulting's Practice Lead for Delivery Effectiveness. I work to support organizations' capability and delivery maturity -- not just IT organizations -- so that their initiatives run more predictably, efficiently and provide the best results.

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