Real world example of scope creep

Large projects have a tendency to incorporate scope creep almost by inheritance. The small details of one of the many facets of the project are easily overlooked. In this example, the small details that didn't get planned turned out to be the entire network of a new building.

Large projects have a tendency to incorporate scope creep almost by inheritance. The small details of one of the many facets of the project are easily overlooked. In this example, the small details that didn't get planned turned out to be the entire network of a new building.

BBJScope creep is defined as the tendency of a project to grow in scale and complexity as more individuals get involved. It also occurs as the details of the project are presented to the project owners who requested it, usually management, who then say, "Can you also make it do this or that?" Let me give you an example that happened to me just the other day.

I am the IT Manager for a private jet charter management company. Several years ago we added Boeing Business Jets to our fleet. These are larger than the Gulfstream aircraft which comprise the majority of our aircraft. A BBJ is a 737 that is tweaked out with tens of millions of dollars worth of custom mods that make it into a flying luxury yacht for the very wealthy.

Of course a bigger aircraft requires a bigger hangar. So we built one. No, it's not a simple project. It requires a lot of environmental approvals and just the right touch with the airport authorities. An older and smaller hangar was purchased and demolished and the new one has been rising in its place over the past year. It will house the BBJ and two smaller G550 aircraft.

Getting the details defined

From day one I offered management my assistance in defining the network and communications requirements. "No thanks", I was told. "The building contractor has that all taken care of." I sensed trouble and kept following up with occasional emails over the past year asking specific questions like how they would like our sites connected and what the phone system would be.

I confess I played CYA with these emails, documenting each offer of assistance with specifics of what would be needed to make it all work - switches, routers, VPNs, PRIs, VoIP phones, wireless access points and a domain controller for local authentication and file replication. I suspect that the verbiage about wiring closets and cross connects just went over their heads.

This week I received a call from one of the subcontractors wanting to know how many network drops were needed and where exactly they would be going. Did I freak? You bet I did, but I managed it in a very professional way. It was obvious that the contractor had failed in planning properly for all the electronics involved in the new building. Has this ever happened to you?

Managing an out of control project

I told the wiring contractor I would get back to him. I fired off an email to the site project manager, an employee of our company, notifying him of the situation. He assured me that they had provided all the necessary details to the general contractor and it was all included in the plans. Somehow copies of plans don't always make it down to subcontractors, do they?

Next the phone contractor calls and asks, "Where is the MPOE?" There is no physical wiring from the phone company in the building yet. "Let me get right back to you on that," I respond. Is it panic time yet? The building is supposed to be occupied in sixty days and they haven't yet arranged for voice and data to the outside world. Oh, and no phone system has been chosen.

That's it. I call for a general meeting with the contractor, the project managers from all sides and the subcontractors. It turns out the project manager from our company simply had no clue about networks and phones. He thought the contractor had it all handled. I shake my head in amazement. How can you build an expensive hangar and not plan for the damn network?

Here's where the scope creep occurs

During the general meeting to resolve the network and phone issues, the various kinds of phone systems are discussed. I notice out of the corner of my eye that the VP who's baby this is begins to look uncomfortable when we get close to finalizing on a stand-alone VoIP PBX. "What's the matter?" I asked. "Can I pick up the phone and call an extension back at the main office?"

Our existing phone system in the main hangar is twelve years old. It does not even support a PRI (T1). It also does not support remote locations. A single building wiring project just turned into a multi-building job. New phone system for both buildings and new wiring in the old to support VoIP. I was looking for a good reason to upgrade. Its funny how things work out.

Now I have to sell it to the CEO. "What! You want to spend $60,000 on a phone system for this building? We only have a few employees in the new hangar. Why do we have to replace the phone system here?" Ah, the joys of being an IT Manager. If only someone had listened to me from the beginning, this could have all been planned for and budgeted. Now it's a shock to all.

Summary and conclusion

You can draw all kinds of conclusions about how poorly this project was managed. I'll point out one right away - poor communications. But, I've got to tell you after thirty years in this business that this is not all unusual. I've just never seen it happen on this large a scale before. CEOs and VPs are busy with their day to day tasks. Delegating everything without follow-up doesn't work.

In addition to poor communications, the details were undefined in advance. Nobody knew what kind of phone system was wanted or needed. Nobody knew or asked how we would connect our two networks. Wireless access was not even considered. The subcontractors are now overjoyed because they get to sell us a whole lot more equipment than they thought when they were hired.

It all works out in the end. It's only money, right? Unfortunately, it's all too typical of how some large successful companies run projects - everyone likes to delegate but some decisions will always need to be made near the top. That's called leadership but it's hard work because it means dealing with uncomfortable details. After all, that's what IT Managers are paid to do, right?


I never take on consulting work with a firm that can't control scope. About 90% of my time is researching new clients, which pays in the long run by helping avoid assignments like this, so I don't have to put up with this type of junk.


Well, building a hanger is costly and blah blah blah. Why not just give a cell phone to anyone that works over there? Hell of a lot cheaper than wiring it for twisted wire or even a wireless network. Although, I imagine they would like to have some computer driven diagnostic tools for their new planes... still, I appreciate your story. Here's one from my home town. New England Life in Boston re-branded themself as The New England. Wanting to replace the old "New England Life" engraved stone lettering over their main entrance, they tracked down the quarry where it came from 60 years earlier- in Itlay. Seems the family that owned the quarry were Not in business, not really wanting to sell.... long story short, The New England they bought the damn quarry for over market, several million dollars as I recall, had the stone quarried, carved and installed on their Boylston Street entrance. It looks so new (and wrong, to my eyes) against the rest of the weathered stone... Another example of corporate decision making gone bad, very very bad.


I love this story. It's the same storyline, just with different settings and characters each time. My executives have finally learned (the hard way)...and I find that (having been able to say, "I warned you" on multiple occasions) attention is paid when I start squawking. :)


In this case, though, we caught it early. One of my stores was undergoing a major remodel and expansion. At the first project meeting we discovered that the electrical contractor thought somebody else was installing the data network. The look on his face when the project engineer said "You've got it all" was priceless. In his defense, the Communications chapter in the project spec book was titled "Not Applicable." As I am the store service tech and the guy who was going to get called anyway, I spent one or two days a week at that store until the project was finished, making sure my customer never lost service. In some cases, I actually did the work for (and got paid by!) the consultant rates!


I was amazed the other day to get a phone call from a wiring subcontractor asking where we wanted the network drops in our new building. Is it possible that the project manager had forgotten to include the network in the design of the new building? Well, just the details. Read the story: This illustrates why it is a good idea to get network engineers or IT Managers involved from the beginning of a new building project. If it hadn't happened to me, I wouldn't have believed it possible. Have you ever been kept out of the loop on new business expansion projects like this?

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