Analyzing Scope Creep

“A project is primarily based on how well he/she manages the project’s triple constraint (project scope, cost, and time)” (Hans, 2013).

This week I am charged with writing about either a personal or professional circumstance that involved scope creep. In the following blog, I will briefly outline the project I was involved in, what scope creep issues occurred, and better ways management could have controlled the issues.

A few years ago I worked on a project that installed communication racks into military vehicles. Our project outsourced a few companies to create rack sleds and manufactured cables for the communication systems. Before the outsourced company began to make the gear we had requested to be made, our company built and tested a sled and requested cable to ensure the gear would properly fit and work before buying mass quantities to be made. After our engineer department tested the cable, the government wanted to change the design and cable length. Unfortunately, our company did not notify the outsourced company. The cables and sleds were produced, delivered, and then sat on the project’s shelves for a few years. Once it became time to field the sleds and cables, this issue hit our project square in the face. Needless to say, huge amounts of money and time were wasted and we could not produce when required. Kuprenas & Nasr (2003) state, Total cost management of a… project requires control of costs through all phases of a project, including the design phase”.

The first thing I thought of when I heard of the severe issue was, who is accountable? Portny et al. (2008) states, “Project success requires that project managers can count on the help promised to them by the people throughout the organization”. During the design and modifications of the sleds and cables, a couple of factors contributed to the scope creep. First the government decided it wanted to change the length and design of the cable, which ultimately changed the cost and timeline to produce the cables. Secondly, after the changes were made, the communication breakdown between government representatives and the engineer department contributed to the sleds and cables continuing to be made to the specifications of the original design. Lastly, after the gear was made and shipped, the QA and Technician departments did not test the cables.

It is easy to say now what should have happened when the government requested to change the design. The first thing that should have happened was the PM should have been notified immediately so he could have built the scope creep into an adjusted project plan. Bellenger (2003) states, Contact the client immediately if the scope changes during the project, explain why it is needed and why it is outside the original scope of services, and request written permission to proceed”. “In order to meet project plan goals, the PM needs help from multiple project team members (Portny et al., 2008). If the PM had been notified immediately, he could have redirected resources and personnel to drive the change thus meeting the costs and timeline.

Bellenger, L. G. (2003). Avoiding scope creep protects the bottom line. ASHRAE Journal, 45(10), 58. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/220432044?accountid=14872

Hans, R.T. (2013). Work breakdown structure: A tool for software project scope verification. Retrieved from http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1308/1308.2876.pdf

Kuprenas, J.A. & Nasr, E.B. (2003). Controlling design-phase scope creep. AACE International Transactions. 1

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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7 thoughts on “Analyzing Scope Creep

  1. Mr. Zirkle

    WOW, did any heads roll? That sounds like a mess. It makes me wonder how often things like this happen. How much waste is out there? I am not a PM. I don’t have much to add to your scenario. I can see how things like this can be prevented. Portny et al. (2008) explains some ways to monitor projects. Your project sounds very large and complex. Was a PMIS used? Portny et al. (2008) also lists various reports that can be used. Routine reports, exceptions reports, and special analysis reports were mentioned. Were any of these used? Could they have found out about the sleds and avoided this catastrophe is reports like these were used?

    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    Reply
    1. dwjanicki

      Joseph,

      I think Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007) say it correctly by stating “It is important to communicate any changes in timeline, budget, and risks” (p. 96). As you said the changes should have been communicated to your PM immediately and because they were not it caused a rather large problem. Do you think there was anyway for your PM to have avoided this situation by keeping up contact with both the engineering department and the government? Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007) state “the project manager will collect project status information from project team members and customers. The method used is less important than being proactive in seeking information” (p. 95). If your PM was more proactive with collecting status information would he or she have been able to see tis error and possibly avoid this mess?

      References

      Lynch, M. M., & Roecker, J. (2007). Project managing e-learning: A handbook for successful design, delivery, and management. London: Routledge.

      Reply
  2. Angie

    “The first thing I thought of when I heard of the severe issue was, who is accountable?”
    This is a difficult question to answer in this situation. Multiple people and teams were involved in the failure to communicate the change and to fully evaluate the project results. If we embrace Portney’s statement that “Project Managers are responsible for all aspects of the project,” can we then attribute some or all of the ultimate project failure to the PM (Portney, et al, 2008)? It almost feels like the first portion of the project prior to implementation was not fully completed before it was set aside for several years. Whose responsibility was it to determine this phase was successfully completed? From your answer, it looks like all three groups were equally responsible. This is similar to one of our case studies this week where there are multiple teams completing different phases of the project. It reminds me that clear and constant communication is a critical component in project management.
    Angie

    Reference
    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, & S. M., Sutton, M. M. (2008). Project Management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    Reply
  3. R M Wilcox

    Mike,

    You presented an interesting yet somewhat miserable scenario that sounds like a textbook example of how government contracting goes awry. I am connected with similar projects and though my experiences were not as severe Obviously, the cause of the scope creep was a breakdown in communication between the government client over revised technical specifications for the radio rack cabling.

    Although it perhaps does not belong in the category of “fraud, waste, and abuse” it certainly sounds like a poor use of the taxpayer’s funds. Anecdotally, I have heard of similar contractual mishaps over the years and sadly, these occur more often during times when military contingency operations are at a higher pace.
    I wonder if your firm ever did a project postmortem that Leslie Wolf of the University of California describes as:

    A process for assessing how the project went. It gives the project team a chance for calm reflection of the overall project arc, to talk about what went well and what could be done better next time. The ultimate goal is “lessons learned” — a set of actionable ideas for improving the next project – to determine the root causes of the communication breakdown. (2010).

    In my experience, when there is a major or even catastrophic breakdown in a project or program, organizations often avoid post mortems, after action reviews (AARs) or other reflective processes. I suppose that this may be due to personal reasons such as to not embarrass management, or even to avoid the session devolving into a “blame game” situation. Anyway, thanks for sharing this example and I am sure that you will ensure that needed communications are exchanged when you are in charge of the project.

    References:

    Wolf, L. (2010). University of California. California Digital Library. Project Post Mortem. Retrieved from: http://www.cdlib.org/cdlinfo/2010/11/17/the-project-post-mortem-a-valuable-tool-for-continuous-improvement/

    Reply
  4. davidsmith42014

    Funny how the lack of communication can break down when something important needed to be addressed. After being in the military for over 24 years I complete understand how this can happen. As a PM we need to make sure we communicate with our entire team so things like this can be avoided. If the right people were notified the cables would have been modified and the cost of the project would have had to be addressed. Of course in the military they need to know who was at fault, sometimes it does not matter who dropped the ball we just need to fix the problem and do our best.

    Reply
  5. rosa.gallardo@waldenu.edu

    Joseph,
    The project manager (PM) is responsible for the project even if he/she delegates authority (Portny et al., 2008). In your example unfortunately, the PM did not “identify all impacts the change might have on other project tasks, … translate these impacts into alterations of project performance, schedule, and costs, … [and] communicate accepted changes to all concerned parties,” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 346-347). At work, if the person requesting a change has not sent me any written form or note, I email him/her what he/she needs. This is a way getting the information I need. Then I proceed with the identification of impacts, its repercussions, and appropriate written communication to the parties involved. This procedure has saved me time, work, and money and helped me to succeed in my endeavors.
    -Rosa
    Reference:
    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

    Reply
  6. bonofigliozoa

    I find that the deeper the hierarchy and red-tape the more difficult it is for effective and efficient communication to operate. You are absolutely correct that first and foremost the contractor should have been notified. However, without a proper checklist when changes happen or anticipating changes and having a plan for communication in place will have this same result…every time.

    I think this was a valuable lesson learned for all of us who read your post. Thank you!

    Reply

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