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Project Scope Is Like a Box of Cracker Jack

Aug 17, 2007
Are your projects consistently missing estimated completion dates? Do project management stakeholders always seem to ask for and get more, more, more, while project sponsors won't change the project completion date? Then, you probably are experiencing problems with project scope.

Think of project scope as a box of Cracker Jack where the prize at the bottom of the box is the goals and objectives of the project. When you open the box (start a project) the box is full and you know the ingredients and you can see the prize but you can't reach it until you eat your way to the bottom. Well, if someone comes along with more cracker jacks (more stuff for your project to accomplish), it will fill up your Cracker Jack box and make it even harder for you to get to your prize. Pretty soon your box will bulge, become worn and flimsy and eventually fall apart, losing the prize.

Here are some quick hits to avoid project scope problems:

Document the scope - commit the scope to writing with regular project audits. Make sure project stakeholders, team members and sponsors clearly understand it. Requiring project stakeholders and sponsors to sign-off on the scope document will help ensure the project's scope is communicated.

Avoid gold plating - Don't add more bells, and, whistles to something if they are not in scope, even if they are minor improvements. If you keep adding these minor improvements, the minors can add up quickly to become major efforts. Furthermore, if you start adding out, of, scope improvements, project stakeholders will be more likely to expect you to continue to do it throughout the course of the project management.

Clearly define scope at all levels - When talking about scope the focus is usually on project scope not task scope. The project team and stakeholders need a clear understanding of the scope of the project's tasks. For instance the project might include a task "build widget". To some people "build widget" might include gathering the parts for the widget and then assembling them. To others it might include only assembling them. Project management templates can provide a valuable tool for defining the scope.

Outline scope change control procedures - Scope changes will occur, proper management of them can avoid these changes from creeping up on you. At the beginning of the project, document the procedures with regular project audits to address when communicating and executing scope changes, making sure these procedures are clearly understood by all project stakeholders.

If you find, to the best of your efforts, your project scope still bulges and is about to fall apart, here are some tips to help you get back on track:

Assess damage - Analyze where you are vs. where you should be. Make sure this assessment does not cause a great loss in the momentum of the project. Regular projects audits can prove invaluable in your assessment.

Identify causes - Determine why scope problems occurred and implement an action plan to avoid these causes going forward.

Adjust appropriate documents - Modify project management documents (scope, plan, assumptions, etc.) to reflect the change in scope. Identifying and controlling project scope is one of the key ingredients in completing a project in accordance with its plan, goals and objectives. Using the information above will help you reach the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box.
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Canadian Management Centre has earned the reputation as a trusted partner in worldwide professional development and management education that improves immediate performance and delivers long-term results.
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