When a project begins, you must gain agreement with your sponsor on project scope. The scope is defined at a high-level in the Project Scope Statement. At a low-level, the scope is detailed through the approval of the business requirements. Once these two documents are approved, you have enough information to understand scope through the remainder of the project.
However, like death and taxes, change is inevitable. There are two reasons. First, it is almost impossible to define ahead of time exactly what the final solution should look like, and so the requirements may change as the solution starts to evolve. Second, overall business conditions change over time. Some of this business change will force changes to the project scope in ways that are not known ahead of time.
So, what do you say when the inevitable changes start to come in? If you say yes without understanding the consequences to the project, you increase your chance of failure. If you say no, you may introduce conflict with the client and run the risk of delivering a solution that does not meet the client’s needs.
The key to scope change management is to not say “yes” or “no”. The better response is to follow a scope change management process. This process should include:
- Understanding the business value of making the change
- Estimating the impact on the project budget and schedule
- Taking the information to the project sponsor (or their designate) for an approval decision.
Scope change management is really the process of letting the sponsor make the decisions – once they understand all the facts and implications.
You should establish scope change procedures based on the size of the project. For small projects (maybe less than 250 effort hours) you don’t need to worry about scope change as much. The project will likely start and end before the business can change much, and most of the requirements are probably fairly well known. The project manager can quickly evaluate a small change request and work with the sponsor to determine if it should be accommodated.
For larger projects, scope change is a big deal, and must be managed accordingly. The entire team, including the sponsor, must be sensitized to understand when a scope change request is made. The scope change request process may have a number of steps and require a template or two. If the sponsor approves the change, the budget and timeline are changed accordingly. If the change is not approved, it is noted as such and the project continues on its way. You might be surprised how often the sponsor does not approve the scope change, once they understand the impact to the project.
Many project managers do a poor job of managing scope because they don’t want to offend the client. However, that should not be a part of the scenario at all. Instead, the project manager’s job is to make sure the scope change management process runs effectively, and that the project sponsor has the information they need to make the best decision possible on whether the scope change should be accepted.