Every morning as a newly wed i used to do something mildly evil. I would wake up before my husband, keep my eyes shut and pretend to be still asleep. He would be moving around the apartment, waiting for me to wake up. He would eventually succumb to his need to eat and go make breakfast. Why did i do that? Both of us grew in an environment where women cook, men eat. I was not going to succumb to this traditional expectation and bring it into our marriage. The result? For more than 15 years the breakfast is a fun and pleasant experience for both of us.
Similarly, in projects, project managers have to deal with expectations. I say ‘have to’ because otherwise projects risk acquiring the “scope creep” disease.
The project scope creep is a rather moody beast. Your client might not care about “your scope”. The beneficiary wants it big, shiny and now. The sponsor’s demands change and go up. Or the sub-contractor suddenly appears at your door with an invoice 3 times bigger than the initial estimations, while trying to sell ‘new features”. All – easy ways to make the initial project parameters become XXL, or gi-enormous, as my daughter calls things, which are unreasonably large for her taste, while the budget will stay on XS.
Documenting and communicating on project requirements help on the prevention side. Yet, sometimes, people get creative and as fine as a scope guardian as i would like to believe i am, additional demands appear on my radar screen.
In time, i learned that my finest ally in this pressure attempts is the approved Project’s Objective. Is the new demand in line with the Project Objective? For example, a beneficiary wants training on a particular skill for some members of the organisation not involved in its management or development and the project’s objective is institutional strengthening.
If the demand passes the “objective test”, i submit it to the “budget test”. Is there enough money? If yes, is the expenditure an eligible cost under the financing rules?
Further on and in case of necessity, if the budget test gets the demand cleared, then the impact and cost-efficiency tests apply. I am a lawyer so maths and econometrics are not my strong point but I would get advice.
Finally, you do not need to be a solo-decision maker in this case and appear as the ‘bad guy’. To kill or manage the scope creep beast, you might need your superiors or the project’s steering committee. A justified No will help them decide.
Then, when you know the answer or the decision is made, invest time in communicating back to those who placed the demand.
I also learned to say No from the beginning, when signs of project creep appear. In a polite and firm way. It is also good for risks management.
If you are looking for some inspiration on why and how to say No, “The Power of No: Because One Little Word Can Bring Health, Abundance, and Happiness” by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher, 2014, can provide some insights into the healthy No.