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Scope creep – a project manager’s nightmare or an opportunity?

Let’s talk about scope creep. One of biggest (and most infuriating) issues affecting project managers.

Imagine: you firmed up the scope of your project months ago, you’re knee deep in delivery, everything should come in on time and to budget… and then a key stakeholder suggests an additional output. “Wouldn’t it be great if we did a showcase event?” “How about a fundraising dinner?” “While we’re changing our CRM, let’s re-design the website too!”

Great ideas! But you’ve allocated all resources to the original project – something has to give. What do you do?

1. Assess

As the project manager you have the clearest overview of the project as a whole and how the resources are spent. Being in this position means you’re the best person to assess the impact of adding a new feature. Ask:

      • Could we deliver the new element without increasing the current resources? What impact would that have on our delivery time or quality or results?
      • Does the new idea surpass the current one in terms of having most impact for our service users? Is the original project rationale still valid?

2. Consider the options:

The is a great way to understand the three linked features of projects: time, resources and results (quality). All three need to be in balance: it must be possible to achieve the results with the given resources within the time.

If someone is asking for your project to achieve an additional result, this suggests that you’re going to need to compromise on at least one of these elements of the project triangle.

Look at your project plan and work out your options. For example, you could:

      • take people or resources away from the current results you’re working on, in order to deliver the newly requested element instead. This may mean you don’t achieve the quality of results you had expected.
      • ask for some more resources, money or people so that you can have maximum impact in both the original project results and the new element.
      • ask to extend the timeline to deliver the additional element with your current resources

3. Communicate

As soon as you can, talk to your project sponsor about the options. Your job as project manager is to constantly communicate with key stakeholders, manage expectations and clarify their priorities. Share the options you’ve figured out, be clear on deliverables and what the compromises are.

Factor in time for the sponsor to consider the choices. You may not get an answer straight away. Ultimately, the project sponsor will have sign off on which way to go. Sometimes they may take your advice, and other times they may not choose the route you think best. As project manager, you are there to advise on, and action the decision once it’s been made. So long as the sponsor is fully aware of the impact their choice will have on the results of the project, you’ve done your job.

Finally

Remember, it’s not always a bad thing when someone suggests a new idea for the project, even halfway through delivery. If it’s come from a key stakeholder, it’s showing they’re engaged at least. Make sure not to immediately reject an idea just because it is a hassle to consider it. It might save you time and resources and have more impact to change direction sooner rather than later.

If you’ve found this blog interesting, and would like to explore project management skills further, take a look at our Project Management training programme. Or if you have a specific challenge, get in touch and one of our experienced consultants will be happy to help.

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Charlotte Scott

About Charlotte Scott

Charlotte specialises in leadership development, team facilitation and strategy development. Charlotte worked for over 20 years in the not-for-profit sector. Before joining =mc ten years ago, she created and implemented...

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