In the past, I was very proud that I’d meticulously defended my projects against scope creep, but I was missing the point. The real reason organizations should undertake projects is to achieve value.
What should be the priority, then, defending against scope creep or value-based delivery? The agile movement fundamentally understands this. Its core principles acknowledge that requirements will change as understanding grows. However, if you look at traditional agile tools and concepts—like the burn up (or burn down) chart and the cone of uncertainty— you’ll see they are often scope-oriented.
The most important question project managers should ask themselves about any project is not “What?” but “Why?” The business case for project execution could be reducing OPEX costs or meeting compliance goals, for example. When you understand the outcome your organization or client is seeking, you will know where to direct your team and efforts.
We recently worked on a project to develop a system for a legacy customer. They did not have a system for efficiently managing interactions with the international healthcare community (healthcare professionals, patient organizations, etc.). Considering the scope of the project, it was easy to plan and deliver, but we later realized that the project had gone over budget and was extended by a couple of months. This was because of continuous growth in the project’s scope.
Was this a failure? I could have defended all scope changes. After the delay and going over budget, we delivered the project. The new system drove the customer’s commercial business as well as contributing to the discovery and progress of Research and Development. The customer is highly regulated and at high risk in life sciences. We were able to deliver standardized processes across international customers, provided transparency of professional’s use, and enabled compliance monitoring for risk mitigation.
Defining and reporting against these additional requirements was far more challenging than simply relying on scope, time and cost but gave us much more confidence that we were delivering business value. This approach requires very rigorous thinking and a real understanding of what it takes to deliver success. In my experience, the ability to help define the drivers of success is one of the skills that makes a project manager a great business partner.
As another example, the Sydney Opera House could probably be seen as one of the most disastrous construction projects in history. The project was originally scheduled for four years, with a budget of AUS $7 million. It ended up taking 14 years to be completed at a cost of AUS $102 million. Do you see this as a failure?
Below are the project statistics which are available in public forums:
As a project, it was a failure, but as an idea, it was a huge success. It’s one of the 20th century’s most magnificent buildings and one of the 21st century’s busiest performing arts centers.