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Scope or: how to manage projects for organization success, part 1

Toby Elwin Blog, Portfolio Planning, Project Scope Management, Social Project Management 8 Comments

Projects are how organizations deliver and realize their executive strategies.  The degree of what people expect is called project scope.

Misunderstand scope of what, when, quality, how much, where, and what “done” looks like and you misunderstand scope.

Scope kills projects and projects that fail to deliver kill organizations.  Scope is one of the most important ways to manage project success.

The ability to deliver a project provides an ability to compete for relevance. Organizations rely on projects to remain competitive and when projects succeed, organizations succeed.

Projects fail at an alarming rate:

  • 74% of all projects fail to come in on budget or meet their original deadline;
  • 90% of major IT project initiatives fail to complete on time and on budget;
  • A survey by KPMG, an international consulting firm, finds globally that 56% of IT projects fail at underestimating the scale of the problem;
  • Certus, the UK IT director forum, believes that the failure rate of IT projects is closer to 90%

This is a first in a series of scope and project management blogs to improve project delivery.  No prescription guarantees repeatable success.  Project management is not a process, but a business promise.

To understand scope we need to broaden our scope and this series will look tools, views, and principles from multiple disciplines.  After all, the scope of an Information Technology (IT) department is to serve business, not technology.

How Projects Fail People

Why is scope so important?

When projects fail, business loses money and that project’s lost opportunity becomes lost cost:  lost in lost work hours and lost in capital available for alternative investments.

Project failure increases organization risk to deliver projects.  As people lose confidence in coworker ability to deliver projects and for teams to design solutions valued people resources are pulled from projects.

The more that projects fail the more resistant people are to associate with new projects or to work on projects:  no one wants to fail.

The below CIO survey results interest beyond the number one response Resistance by Employees.  Responses such Unrealistic Expectations, Inadequate Sponsorship, No Organization Change Plan, actually every response is a human capital issue.

People set project scope, but people and human capital are far bigger than any project management process.  There is need for something more.

The CIOs surveyed reveal the downstream symptoms of poor project scope root cause.

Toby Elwin, project scope management, Deloitte, consulting, CIO, survey, Project Failure, PMO

Top 10 IT implementation failures are scope failures

Project Scope Management

Successful change management relies on successful scope management.

Successful scope management relies on people management.

Projects start with, what seems, the best intention, but along the way to deliver on time, on budget, and up to original expectation scope changes.

Scope is a fixed idea of what to deliver, but scope ruins projects in three ways:

  1. Scope ill-defined;
  2. Scope modified (often called scope creep or gold plating); and
  3. Scope of today is less certain than tomorrow

Too often the zeal to start a project to meet a delivery date supersedes scope.  When people take too little time to interact with project sponsors, stakeholders, and customers to collect and analyze their expectations or the impact the project will introduce or require change to their world.

Starting the project without a detailed scope management plan is the difference between getting the project done or getting the project accomplished.

Projects fail when scope is not clearly defined.  Scope is not clearly defined when sponsors, stakeholders, and customers are not listened to or asked their needs.

Modifications to scope adds project risk down the entire project’s life.

Projects that fail increase the very real risk of an organization’s ability to compete.

How People Fail Projects

Scope, in project terms, is simply, “what’s in…what’s out”.

When you change the scope of a project, be it an added feature, a delivery date revision, or quality criteria modification, you affect clarity of what is delivered, by whom, for whom.  Change to one element impacts the other two, this is known as the triple constraint between:

  1. Cost/Resources,
  2. Time/Schedule,
  3. Scope

Try to tweak any one of the above three without affect on other two. No level-headed mortal can get around that any change ripples impact onto others – despite project sponsors who close their eyes and ears to that reality.

Scope management includes process to ensure the project includes all the work required, and only the work required, to complete the project successfully, to include:

  • Features
  • Quality standards
  • Schedule
  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Risk

Scope management includes the processes required to ensure the project includes all the work required, and only the work required, to complete the project successfully.

Managing the project scope is primarily concerned with defining and controlling what is and is not included in the project.

Without a clearly defined scope, projects fail to hit the bull’s eye, let alone identify the target.  When scope changes, budget changes, delivery dates slip, and resources might expire.  When scope is continually modified, how can anyone expect to deliver a project on time, on budget, and within anyone’s expectation?

What’s Project Scope Got to do With It?

Scope is not a target you aim for.  Scope is the bull’s eye.  You either hit or you miss.  Constant scope shift obscures the view and without defined clarity no one knows what success looks like.

A project changing scope is just as negative as a trying to manage project success with a poorly defined scope.

Both poorly defined scope and constantly shifting scope will kill a project.  Poor scope definition hides the opportunity to accurately build a budget, understand the return on investment, staff the project, and manage progress against measurable objectives.

Scope is about communication and trade off, scope can change as new conditions unfold, but sharing what to stop, what to start, and what to continue focuses resources on reality’s impact.

Without this work upfront the project or product scope continually changes as people step forward to challenge the project or ask for change.  See Scope or: how to manage projects for organization success, part 2.

Below is my first ebook, modified from a presentation I gave to the Project Management Institute Mass Bay Chapter on how to identify, manage, and control scope.  Included are tools, tips, and templates I’ve used for stakeholders management, impact analysis, communications planning, and risk management.

Sources:  A Guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (below).  There are better books, but this sterile guide to the Project Management Book of Knowledge is a must-have and one of the best places to begin.

toby elwin, project management, guide, project management book of knowledge, pmbok

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