Tuesday, January 15, 2013

IT Projects - Keys to Success #4 - Managing Scope

Occasionally, the film industry will produce a comedy about something that started small and turned into a nightmare.  If they did a film about an IT/Systems project, it would probably best fit in the Science Fiction category, and the biggest reason is ineffective management of scope.

There are lots of terms for this, most notably 'scope creep' (which is an interesting double entendre, don't you think!!?)

Managing scope is a notoriously difficult problem for several reasons:

  1. When word gets out that a new system is being implemented, managers often see a way to resolve the chronic issues that have plagued the organization for months, years ... even decades.  It sounds like this ... "As long as we're doing ABC, let's add XYZ."
  2. While scope is generally established at the beginning of a project, odd things appear during Due Diligence (which in my mind should be done well in advance of project start up).  The whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa were in the news as this writing because of the mysteries surrounding his death.  There's an analogy here for IT/Systems projects ... some hidden system will present itself at the wrong time, causing scope creep.
  3. Although people start with a clear view of scope, it is inevitable that new discoveries will cause change and additions, typically in terms of system interfaces developed long ago.
  4. Executive pressure.
  5. There is a more subtle reason scope is increased --- those who truly are opposed to the project will add scope, giving the appearance of interest and participation, all the while subverting the project by adding layers of demanding complexity that will sabotage success.   And then say "I told you this wouldn't work."

What to do?

  1. Every two-year-old kid has one very powerful word: "No."  Why not use that as a lever?
  2. Have the person who adds scope articulate the impact to the project, in terms of dollars, human cost, opportunity cost, project delays and additional consulting fees.  While they may have a valid reason for adding scope (improved ROI) it's a real good idea to get a sharp understanding of what the addition means.
  3. Be wary of someone who says you're not a team player if you won't add scope ...
It takes managerial discipline and courage to set very hard boundaries around a project - but it is one of the best ways to ensure success, to finish the project on time and within budget. 

Accomplish one of these monsters and your work will become a thing of corporate legend.  Fail to do so through excessive scope, and your work will also become a corporate legend.  Think about it. 

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