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, and then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

The dilemma
When I met with Meg, she showed me a draft of a project definition document. The project involved implementing a construction cost-estimating package for the facilities department. Immediately, I thought she needed more definition and clarity around the project scope.

“When I read your scope statement, it leaves me with more questions than answers,” I said. “I’ve heard different people talk about the benefits of this cost-estimating package, and it seems like everyone has a different idea about what the final solution will look like.”

“I’ve defined the scope as best I know it,” Meg said. “I’ve stated that we ‘will be implementing a tool to help estimate costs on major construction projects.’ It seems pretty clear to me.”

“Well, let’s see if it is clear to the people reading the project definition,” I said. “First of all, are you clear on whether the tool will be available worldwide or just in the U.S. division?”

“That’s an easy one,” Meg noted confidently. “Other countries have different construction rules and regulations. The tool will be used initially for U.S. construction projects. However, it may be customized for other countries later.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “Your business customer is the facilities department. But I’ve also heard that the tool might be of use in the capital accounting group so that they can better allocate costs to the appropriate capital accounts.”

Again Meg had the answer: “My sponsor said that I did not have to worry about the accounting implications. If they want to leverage the package, they will need to wait until the initial implementation is completed.”

I had one more question to drive home the point: “I also heard that people like the idea of being able to use the tool on their laptop. Then they can enter information when they are at the construction site and update it in real time.”

Meg was getting the picture. “Actually, the standalone capability will be available in an upgrade product. By the way, I get your point. Given the different expectations people have for this project, I guess the original scope statement was pretty vague.”

Read about risk

Want to explore other aspects of this fictitious project? You can read another scenario related to this week’s column.

Mentor advice
Scope can be thought of as a box that holds your project. Defining scope is like describing the box. How big is it? What materials is it made of? How thick is it?

In Meg’s case, she has a lot of relevant information on scope that she is not including in her scope definition. She should be much clearer about the tool that will be implemented, the version of the tool, and the organizations that are impacted.

Because there is some confusion from other organizations, she should also specifically state that accounting is out of scope and that an upgrade to the newer version is also out of scope. By being clear up front in the project definition, she can better manage expectations because she has built a solid foundation for managing scope during the project.

One of your first responsibilities as a project manager should be to define scope. You should think about the aspects of scope that may spark questions, and then specifically define what aspects are in scope and out of scope. Areas to consider include the following:

  • Deliverables
  • Organizations
  • Data or databases
  • Business processes

This process will also help you determine what the project will deliver and what will be delivered in subsequent, related projects.

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.

Controlling scope creep

Are there steps you take at the beginning of a project to keep it manageable? Share them with us. Send us an e-mail or start a discussion below.