Establishing the scope of a project is perhaps the most important planning decision that is made. If the scope is too narrow, the project outcome will be disappointing regardless of how well the project is executed and controlled. If the scope is too broad or too aggressive, the project may cost too much or fail altogether.
Scope begins with the focus of the project. Is the project central to the strategic objectives of the organization or is it a tactical exercise to improve efficiency. If it is strategic, scope needs to be aggressive yet within the comfort zone of organizational risk.
But once the scope of a project is determined, it must be managed over the lifecycle of the project. And here is the problem. Many project managers, sponsors, steering committees, and project management offices interpret scope management as ensuring that that scope remains within the boundaries set at the beginning of a project. The big concern is “scope creep,” where project ambitions grow as the project unfolds and as constituents express the need for more not less.
For many projects, however, the emphasis is misplaced when scope management addresses cost, budget and time containment as the principle “objective” of the project process. It is misplaced when scope management is synonymous with “law enforcement.”
Scope must change if the project’s outcome is to position the organization in a better competitive situation. The reason it must change is because the competitive environment is very likely to change from the day when the project is first conceptualized to the day the project is completed.
We all know that invention, innovation, product development, product introduction, are all part of the competitive landscape. And we all know that while we are working on a project our competitors are working on their own projects. In fact, during the project management life cycle information often reaches us suggesting that the scope of our project needs to change. In a product development project, for example, new information may suggest that we redesign the product, cut its manufacturing costs, or add features. In a cost reduction project it may be necessary to consider the use of recently announced state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. Or, in a marketing project, it may be necessary to consider the use of a new media, such as social networking, that our competitors have started to use very successfully.
Scope management, then, is not a “law enforcement” job. It is a process of continual observation and project feedback ensuring that the project will meet its competitive goals.
In some projects we should be very suspicious if there has been no scope creep.