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The problem with project scope

Jed Simms
June 23, 2011

Project management contributes to project success, but does not guarantee it. Project management can efficiently deliver the wrong result as well as a high-value result; it is content agnostic. You, therefore, need effective project management to increase the efficiency of your project’s delivery. But you cannot rely on project management to increase the quality of your project’s outcomes if they’re not set up correctly in the first place.

PMBOK, for example, does not include either a requirements definition stage or benefits management process; these are value delivery processes and therefore not part of the project management stream (even though they are often assumed to be).

As project management is about organising the delivery of ‘something’, a project manager is naturally pulled towards getting to the delivery stage as soon as possible. The time required to define the desired outcomes and business requirements can be as a frustration to the project manager, which is why so many projects rush off with vague scope definitions and no, inadequate, or inappropriate measures of success.

Which leads us to ask whether ‘scope’ is a project management or a value delivery tool. Traditionally, scope and its management is seen as a key project management control mechanism with strict change controls asserted over proposed scope changes. This appears to make sense when you see most scope change proposals discuss their potential impact on the project’s resources—time, effort and cost.

However, this is a mistake; as the impacts on the business outcomes, benefits and value are usually not considered. This can lead to massive value loss.

In one recent case a project under financial pressure ‘de-scoped’ one segment to save costs and keep within the original timeline. However, our value analysis showed that this one segment delivered more than 60% of the business value and without it, the project was not viable. This value-destroying decision was made because no one had considered the impact of de-scoping the benefits. Indeed, as they had used conventional business case approaches, they could not link the components of the project with the prospective benefits!

Our view is that scope management is an integral part of the value delivery stream as it establishes the value to be delivered through what’s in and out and should only be changed after full consideration of the resultant business benefits and value impact. It is, therefore, a value management tool.

What do you think?

Jed Simms
Jed Simms is the founder and co-creator of Totally Optimized Projects, an internationally recognised strategy-based, business-driven approach to delivering projects. He specialises in project governance and control and value and benefits management. He is also the founding partner of consultancy Capability Management.
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