Doctor Project Forum – Helpful Advice for Managing Project Scope Change

October 2009

Dear Doctor Project

My project is a constant challenge. Resources are often pulled by their managers and assigned to do other work or projects. The consultants are often late completing their deliverable requirements. The budget is over our project costs to this point in the project and the customers are getting impatient for the delivery of the new product and service. Our original scheduled date for launch was about now. Our new targeted completion date is 6 months from now.

Now my Sponsor has just come to me with the most ridiculous request I have ever seen! He wants my project to be completed in 2 months or less. No budget increase. No additional resources added. When I asked how he expected me to do it he snapped back “You’re the project manager. You figure it out”.

I don’t know where to begin. How do I manage this new constraint? I am already working long hours.

I look forward to your advice,

Dear Desperate,

This is surprisingly a very common dilemma. Our PMO research indicates that this is a major constraint on the ability of projects to be managed successfully. However, there is a simple solution.

I know that our first and preferred response would be to give this seemingly unreasonable request back to the Sponsor and tell them that it is not possible. The truth is that we cannot do that. We must manage this request and do it as we would any change to a project.

This request is referred to as a “Scope Change”. This refers to anything that will now be different to what had originally been agreed-upon in the original Project Scope Statement and subsequently the Project Plan. Your sponsor’s request certainly fits into this category. Here’s what to do:

1. Begin an analysis on the sponsor’s request. You will want to explore how this “Scope Change” will affect your project’s costs, schedule and customer requirements and identify the impact of the change for each of these major categories. Research and record options or alternatives associated with the requested change. This includes the following two options:

  • Give more time to the project so that there will be a higher likelihood that customer requirements can be met.
  • Manage within the time constraint presented but add more resources and budget to ensure customer requirements will be
  • met.

2. Complete a Change Request. The change request form must include:

  • The impact of this change on the project – including its cost, schedule, customer, and any other factor
  • The options in processing the change; i.e., approve option a or b.
  • Your recommended action and approvals required before proceeding with the change.

3. Review the completed form with your Sponsor. Discuss the change impacts and the options. Essentially you are trying to educate your sponsor. Sponsors will often come to you with seemingly unreasonable requests because they may not fully understand the impact such requests may have on the project or the challenges that you project team may face to successfully implement them.
While not a guarantee for success, by applying a methodical assessment of the change requested by the Sponsor, you will increase the likelihood that your Sponsor will understand the full impact of the change request on both the customer and the project and be more amenable to accept your recommendations regarding the change.

Please keep me updated on the impact of using this change request process,
Doctor Project

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Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

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