Scope Management: Challenges for SMEs

by Qais Mujeeb

It’s not common for many SME’s to encounter scope management challenges. Scope management is arguably the single most important factor that determines project success. It is in scope management that a project manager starts capturing all the scope and out-of-scope items in a project. All other factors, such as cost and schedule, largely depend on the scope of work. This makes it all the more critical to have detailed scope documentation to the most granular level.

From defining the key features, functions, and deliverables to breaking them down to the operational level of tasks and activities, the clarity of the scope of work enables you to associate a duration and cost in monetary value to each unit of work.

For large projects initiated, planned, executed, monitored, and controlled at large enterprises, the scope management is given the desired attention and due diligence but taking this discussion to the context of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the challenges start showing up. Some of the common experiences faced by project managers at SMEs can include the following:

  1. Scope defined only once at the start of the project
  2. The projects are usually awarded on a fixed-cost basis.
  3. Ad-hoc or non-existent scope management process.
  4. Scope creep happens along the cycle without being accounted for or included in the scope of work.
  5. The end results could be extended timelines and budget, killing all the profits and often leading to losses.

The biggest scope management challenge is scope creep, and it is a big devil because of poor scope definition at the initiation stage itself. In other words, the pretext for scope creep is that the project sponsors assumed it to be an integral part of the project. Though it might not have been listed in the statement of work, the customer or sponsor might still think that certain requirements such as third-party tool integration for a web-based application are presumably a part of the offering. So, at the time of capturing the scope, all of these potential questions must be asked, and responses must be captured in writing. It is only against well-documented and baselined requirements that any kind of scope creep can be identified and classified as a change request. Understandably enough, this would necessitate revisiting the timelines and the cost impact.

Let us consider a specific case of a typical website development project. Today, websites are increasingly perceived as standardized products with nearly stable costs across the world. With open-source platforms becoming commonplace, there are multiple platforms and ways that making it look like a DIY thing to get a website. This leaves little room for SMEs to treat a website on a time and materials basis, and fixed cost is the only model to be considered. In such a scenario, there isn’t much profitability margin left for the agencies or service providers. Any delay in response time from customers, mismatch in expectations could eat away the earnings.

When it comes to scope management challenges for SMEs, the only way to ensure project success in fixed-budget, small projects is to carefully list down all the features and functions to be developed. Subsequently, work out the unit cost for each of the features and functions, which would further enable the estimation of the incremental costs for any change requests or enhancements. The idea is to treat a project like a product and have cost numbers for each task, increment, or component.


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