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How to Handle Scope Changes in Project Management

Nov 25, 2019 | By Synnove Vandal | 0 Comments

Topics: A/E/C industry, Project Management, Industry Insights, Featured

Has every project you have ever been involved with delivered exactly what your client asked for during the initial phases of scope definition?

How to Handle Scope Changes in Project ManagementAre your clients always completely satisfied with the deliverables at project completion because you delivered exactly what they wanted?

Does your team always fully understand the scope of what you are being asked to deliver before work begins?

Chances are, you answered no to one, if not all, of these questions. That’s because projects fail. And more often than not, the failure is a result of poor scope change management.

While you may do your best to learn from the mistakes of past projects, it’s important to examine the impact poor scope change control may have on your project success.

Project challenges influence perceptions about your project manager, project team, and your firm overall. Developing a practical approach to better prepare for the inevitable reality of scope change will help you ensure every project is a success.

Why do projects fail?

According to a Preto analysis conducted on survey results from over 500 professionals, the top 4 causes of project failure are:

  • Poor or incomplete requirements
  • Scope Creep
  • A lack of structured project management methodology
  • Lack of change control

Regardless of who you ask, whenever a list of reasons for project failure is compiled, scope change is sure to be on the list. Common causes, such as incomplete and poorly defined requirements, lack of scope verification, and scope creep are all symptoms of poor scope management and scope change control.

Scope change vs. scope creep

Before you learn how to manage scope change, it’s important to differentiate the phenomenon from scope creep.

Scope change is an official decision made by the project manager and the client to change a feature, to expand or reduce its functionality. This generally involves making adjustments to the cost, budget, other features, or the timeline.

Scope creep, on the other hand, refers to the phenomenon where the project scope grows beyond what was originally defined in the statement of work. Scope creep almost always lacks proper planning, costing and approval processes (Related: 5 Tips for Fending Off Scope Creep).How to Handle Scope Changes in Project Management

When designing a new office building, a client may ask you to add a small feature to the entryway. This is an example of scope creep, a seemingly small change that wasn’t defined well in the scope document. And while scope creep might not mean big changes, it impacts your bottom line.

An example of scope change would be when your client decides to redo the entire entryway of the office building, but then also decides to obtain an estimate on redoing the bathrooms as well.

Managing scope change

No matter how well you define a project at the start, things are bound to crop up that will require scope changes. While scope change is inevitable and natural, it still entails a change to your original plan. And mismanaging these changes could create havoc for your projects.

7 steps for scope change control

You need a solid change process that will help you streamline requests, delegate work to the appropriate people, and maintain oversight of your project scope. It’s important to define this process before you get a request for scope change.

1. Focus on the foundation

Before you can address scope change control, you must implement a process to define scope. Trying to introduce any sort of controlled change in an organization without any structure can present challenges.

Changing a few aspects of a project is not inherently difficult. But changing organizational behavior to accept these changes is another matter altogether. The more change you attempt to introduce to your firm, the harder it will be to adapt, accept and embrace that change.

Limit the scope of change and define a basic process so that, when scope change does happen, you know how to manage it and you aren’t redefining internal structures.

2. Create a structured approach

In order to capture the business objectives associated with project requests, you need a structured approach for defining, evaluating, and approving the preliminary scope of work.

How to Handle Scope Changes in Project ManagementApproving the scope of work should involve more than shaking hands or a verbal okay. When it comes to project management, approvals imply documentation. When you document a change or approval, you have evidence of an agreement and a foundation to build on.

While you may feel like documenting every change is excessive and limiting, creating a record doesn’t mean you are locked in for the rest of the project. Rather, the record sets boundaries and provides a foundation for effective planning.

3. Understand project completion

Unlike reaching a destination in your car, reaching the end of a project can be a little less obvious. A project is complete when you have delivered on the business objectives. But how does your firm define final client acceptance?

Define what this acceptance is before you start your project. Create a formal recognition that the initial objectives defined in your project scope, and all objectives agreed upon in formally approved changes, are met.

Establishing a plain definition will help you avoid any differing opinions on what was wanted versus what was documented.

4. Define the process

Aggressively managing expectations is your best opportunity to influence your clients’ perception of value.

Define, document, and communicate a structured approach for requesting, evaluating, and approving change requests. Determining decision points in advance can help you avoid any confusion when change happens.

Consider defining pivotal project moments, such as:

  • What the tripwires are for approving changes
  • What the associated levels fo authority are for approval
  • What events must be escalated
  • What needs to be reviewed before approval

But keep in mind that too much bureaucracy or unnecessary paperwork may incentivize others to circumvent your process.

5. Create a work breakdown structure

When defining all of the work required to complete a project, work backward from the desired end state and expected benefits.How to Handle Scope Changes in Project Management

Document and validate the full scope of work as you determine what work is required to reach the end goals. Try to communicate upfront that change is not free and additional requests must be formally requested, documented, agreed upon, and approved before you include them in your project scope of work.

6. Continuously manage change

After you lay the foundation, all you have left to do is manage according to your policies and plan. You also need to manage any change requests that come your way.

Also, know when to say “no”. There will be unreasonable requests for scope changes that you shouldn’t green light. Not all scope changes are created equal and part of managing your scope is saying no to unreasonable changes.

7. Use project management software

Your project management software can be a valuable tool for managing scop changes. Use a tool that gives visibility to your team for the entire project and assets. Your project management tool can help reinforce your process for handling requests and scope changes.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

If you don’t have a process in place to manage scope change, your projects will suffer in multiple ways.

Consider the leaning tower of Pisa. Why is it that the tower leans to the southeast? Because the foundation is weak. Loose rock and soil allowed the foundation to shift direction.

You must build your house on a strong foundation to prevent unplanned changes. This applies to both sudden and obvious changes as well as slow and undetectable changes. And while it’s important to build a foundation, the emphasis here is on a strong foundation, not a complex one.


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