Protecting Your Scope – Practicing Effective Change Control

The eternal struggle of every project manager is keeping your project scope intact. Competing priorities on the customer’s end can lead to many uncomfortable conversations where you as the project manager are forced to say “no” to the customer. The integrity of your scope supports all other aspects of your project, including schedule and budget. If you let unauthorized scope creep in, you put your entire project at risk. Here are some tips to practicing sound change control.

Know Your Scope – What’s In and What’s Out

You cannot definitively say what is in or out of scope without studying your contract with the customer. Well written contracts will not only define what is clearly in scope of your project but they will also detail what is out of scope of the project. Often times during contract negotiations customers will pull scope in an effort to reduce budget or timeline – typically those items are specifically stated as out of scope so as not to get confused back into the project during delivery. Without the luxury of a well-worded contract, it’s still the job of the project manager to ensure that the understanding of what is in and out of scope of the project is shared between the project team and the project sponsor. That forms the foundation for protecting your project scope.

Manage Stakeholder Expectations

As a project manager, keeping expectations managed is a critical task that never seems to sleep during a project. Getting consensus understanding from your project sponsor is the first step however as the project progresses there may be grey areas that aren’t as easy to depict as in or out of scope. It’s the job of the project team (not just the project manager) to make sure that as new items, ideas or requests come up that a clear understanding of the scope impacts exists. Is it in scope? How can you defend (not argue) to the customer that it is out of scope? Most of the scope arguments are borne out of that “grey” area in the scope section of contracts. Valid arguments can be made on either side on whether or not to include it in the project – this tests the mettle of a good project manager who can leverage not only intricate scope knowledge but also the positive relationships built with the customer to ensure that scope integrity is protected.

Scope management is one of the most difficult challenges a project manager will face. Scope debates can be tense at times and when not handled correctly, can lead to damaged relationships, sometimes irreparably. It takes a lot of knowledge, some swagger and a lot of confidence in your understanding of the project scope to be able to properly defend it against scope creep. Scope creep can also add significant issues that impact your budget and schedule, and subsequently your customer’s trust in you and your project team. Effective scope management calls for a profound understanding of your project scope, what you are committed to doing for the money they are paying you as well as the wherewithal to push back when your customer tries to increase the delivery load that your project is commissioned to provide. Keeping your scope healthy will allow you and your team to focus on actually performing the work and delivering a great solution to your customer.

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