The implications of skipping scope definition

When you have an idea, do you begin to implement it right away? If so, you have missed at least one important step: scope definition. Perhaps you were not aware of the process of transforming your idea into a result. Perhaps there is a misconception that skipping scope definition will save time and money. Did you skip a step? Have you considered the implications of skipping scope definition?  

The process

In my experience, the general, abbreviated process of transforming your idea into a result goes something like this:

  1. Share your idea. Perhaps with colleagues over lunch (save that napkin!), or with your team or manager in a meeting (save that whiteboard!).
  2. Discuss your idea with a group of people responsible for determining if your idea is the right one to pursue at this time. Ideas are the source of innovation, yet most organizations do not have the resources to implement all ideas all of the time. If the decision is to pursue the idea now, your organization should take the next step.
  3. Justify your idea. I recommend creating a high-level business case that elaborates your idea and transforms that napkin or whiteboard into something more structured. Time-box your business case creation to one or two weeks. Among many other things, the business case contains your scope definition.
  4. Present your business case to a group of people responsible for determining if your idea is the right one to pursue at this time. Ideally, this is the same group of people that decided that now was the right time to pursue your idea. This time, the decision is made based on the additional information provided in the business case. If the decision is to pursue the idea now, your organization should take the next step.
  5. Create your project charter. Think of this as further elaboration on the information in your business case at an intermediate level of detail.
  6. Present your project charter to a group of people responsible for determining if your idea is the right one to pursue at this time based on the project charter. If the decision is to pursue your idea now, you have a project, and your organization should take the next step.
  7. Deliver the solution.

The implications

In that general, abbreviated process, there are five steps between having an idea and implementing it. Scope is defined in the third step. Consider how much you might be experimenting with success if you skip scope definition:

  • Expectations cannot be managed. George Harrison sang in Any Road, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” If your idea was for better footwear, is the result a hiking boot or a stiletto? If the result is a hiking boot, did your stakeholders want that or the stiletto or something else entirely? Lack of shared understanding of what the result is (and is not) makes it incredibly difficult to put your project’s costs, resource requirements and schedule into proper perspective.
  • Project costs, schedule, and quality cannot be baselined; therefore, changes cannot be managed. Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” When the scope of the project’s result changes, you must know what it is changing from in order to determine impacts on cost and schedule and to sustain stakeholder commitment. A project manager of a project with an undefined scope will not be able to welcome changing requirements or determine if scope creep is occurring.
  • Alignment with organization strategies, goals and objectives is unknown. Morris Chong said, “Without strategy, execution is aimless. Without execution, strategy is useless.” Without scope definition, you will not know if your project is aimless or useless.
  • More work will be done than necessary. Or worse, not enough work will be done. Winston Churchill said, “You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” A project’s work plan should contain only the work necessary to produce the result. Nothing more, nothing less.

Resist pressure to skip scope definition if you want a valuable outcome that your stakeholders will view as a success.

Want to learn how to define scope? Please refer to my article, How to Best Define Your Project’s Footprint.

Do you want to understand how to distinguish solution delivery from outcome management and project management? Please refer to my article, Differentiating between outcome management, project management, and solution delivery.

 

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