Avoiding Too Many Changes in Projects
Have you ever been on a project that seemed to develop a life of its own? Suddenly, instead of one key objective, you had to take care of three secondary objectives before you could get back on track – and then you couldn't finish on time?
Let's look at a home repair example. You want to replace your kitchen countertop. But then you think the back tiling could be updated and replaced too. And you certainly can't replace the countertop without a new sink and faucet. Oh no – the sink you want doesn't fit into the old space. OK, you'll just move the plumbing pipes, right?!
Before you know it, you've torn apart your whole kitchen, and you're waiting for new cabinets, appliances, and flooring. You're trying to figure out how you'll live in a house with no kitchen for the next six weeks, and you don't know how you'll pay for all these little extras and upgrades that seemed like a good idea at the time.
Have you ever experienced this with a business project?
Projects can quickly grow beyond their initial boundaries if you don't carefully control changes to them. It's called "scope creep" – new objectives and needs "sneak up" on you with no warning. This can lead to the following:
- An extended project schedule – You need extra time to explore the new requirements and then complete the work.
- Increased project costs – More time and additional requirements often mean higher costs.
- Decreased overall value – Project stakeholders expect results on time and on budget, so when you don't deliver, they're not satisfied.
To minimize the risk of scope creep in your projects, you need to take appropriate measures to manage the scope of the project, and keep it under your control.
Scope Creep Management
Control is the key. Projects can and will change. Almost inevitably, as you begin work, you'll discover situations and results that you didn't anticipate. You could decide to adopt a "no change" policy and complete the project exactly the way you originally intended. However, you'd probably miss ways to improve the project outcome.
The objective of scope control is to anticipate as many of these potential changes as possible before they happen, and then have a process in place to evaluate and accept only those changes that are reasonable and appropriate. Furthermore, it provides a framework within which stakeholders can understand the cost and delay that changes involve, and decide whether or not these are acceptable.
Scope change and scope creep are not the same. They each refer to modifying the original requirements, specifications, or objectives. However, the difference is this: scope change is achieved through a defined process, but scope creep happens without a plan. You control scope change – but scope creep controls you!
Strategies for Controlling Scope Creep
Scope control starts well before a project begins. It's built into the project plan, and it allows you to maintain power over what happens, when it happens, and why it happens.
Try the following to help control the scope of your project:
- Develop a clear project vision – You need to understand why the project is important.
- What underlying need will be met if your project is successfully executed?
- How complete is your vision? Create prototypes, talk directly to key stakeholders, and include end-users in the planning and development process. The more complete your vision, the tighter your initial project plan will be.
- Determine project priorities – Which elements of the project are most important to the project's sponsors and stakeholders?
- What "must" you have, and what would be "nice to have"?
- What is most important? Is completing the project on time more important than completing it within your budget? Where does customer satisfaction fit in? Is it better to schedule extra time to gather customer feedback – or do you want to roll out the product quickly, and then make changes later?
- What risks are associated with your priorities and tradeoffs?
- Formally define the project's requirements – Conduct a business requirements analysis. This is a structured process for understanding the fine detail of what's needed within the project, and for agreeing this with everyone involved.
- Create a detailed schedule with major milestones – Use this to allocate resources and build in extra time for the unexpected. This can give you flexibility to assess and implement legitimate scope changes. Tools like GANTT charts, PERT charts, and Work Breakdown Structures can be used for effective scheduling.
- Develop a process to manage scope changes – You'll probably be asked to change the scope at some point, so set clear guidelines for evaluating and executing changes.
- What criteria will you use to evaluate proposed changes?
- How will you manage the change process?
- How will you assess any risks that proposed changes may bring, and how will you manage these?
- How will you assess the impact of the change on the business case for the project?
- How will you document your changes and how they affect the project over time?
- Who will sign off on changes?
- How will you communicate your scope change plan to all stakeholders and get agreement from them? Address this issue with the project sponsor early on, and gain agreement that you will accept no change without due process.
If this is your own project, you may need to set boundaries and simply say no to project changes. You can usually make something better if you work long and hard enough – that's why some perfectionists have such a hard time getting anything done! Use your judgment to determine when the current objectives and requirements are sufficient. Consider releasing later versions or providing upgrades in the future to meet changing needs.
- Identify project phases – Use predetermined breaks in the process to properly evaluate and accept additional requirements. If appropriate, delay any scope changes until you reach a new phase.
Scope creep is hard to prevent, because most large projects encounter new and unexpected issues after they begin. But don't allow these issues to grow too numerous or too big: uncontrolled changes can affect your time and budget, they can reduce the overall viability of your project, and they can undermine the project's business case.
To avoid this, carefully define your original requirements, and create a plan to deal with the scope changes that you'll inevitably face. With a scope control plan, you can manage the number of changes, the impact of those changes, and when and how those changes are integrated. It puts you back in control of the project – and it helps ensure that you'll successfully reach your goal.