Project Management

Mitigate the impact of large scope-change investigations

Investigating the project impact of some scope-change requests requires a substantial amount of time. In fact, Project Mentor Tom Mochal says that the investigation itself may end up having a larger impact on the project than the scope change.


Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on real-life situations. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

The dilemma
When I met with Ted recently, I noticed that he was falling behind on his project—installing the company’s standard manufacturing package at our new plant. It was not enough of a lapse to cause panic but enough to warrant a question from me.

“Last week, you were slightly ahead of schedule. Now you are slightly behind,” I said to Ted. “I hope this isn’t the start of a trend.”

“Our customer had an off-the-wall idea about making substantial customizations to our standard package because of some differences in how this new plant will operate,” Ted explained.

“A change like that would probably require replanning the entire project,” I said. “I hope you invoked your scope-change procedures. This is clearly something that you did not envision when you began the project.”

Ted agreed that a scope change would definitely take place. “Unfortunately, I can already see where this is heading,” he said. “We can’t make a change this major and still open the plant on time. We’ll have to spend a couple of weeks looking at the impact and preparing an estimate. The work will suffer, but we’ll still be held accountable for hitting our original delivery date.”

I asked whether the scope-change procedures included an estimate of how much time would potentially be spent on investigations.

“They only say that we will investigate the request to determine the impact to the project in terms of effort, cost, and duration,” Ted explained. “The sponsor will then decide if we should proceed.”

The solution
“That sounds like a good beginning, but you’ve missed something,” I noted. “The analysis required for the scope change is itself a scope change. It’s a substantial piece of work that you didn’t count on, and it will impact your effort and schedule. You need to check with the sponsor before you even begin undertaking the investigation.”

Mentor advice
When you create your initial project estimate and work plan, you should build in time and effort hours for project-management activities. On most projects, the recognized standard is to add 15 percent to help cover the effort required to investigate any scope-change requests and make recommendations to the sponsor.

Some scope-change requests, however, require a substantial amount of time to investigate in order to estimate the overall impact on the project. In fact, the investigation associated with a scope-change request may itself sometimes affect the project. In these instances, you will need to engage the sponsor very early on. He or she must understand the request and the impact the investigation will have on the project so that he or she can decide if the value of the investigation is worth the potential detriment to the project.

In Ted’s case, he should speak to the sponsor immediately, since the investigation is only partially complete and additional work on it will further impact his schedule. Unless the business value is high enough to approve the schedule disruption, the sponsor will probably reject the request and leave the original scope intact. However, if the sponsor does approve the investigation and its impact to the project, then the budget and/or schedule will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

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