Tag: scope creep

The holy trinity of projects

Every project has a

  • Scope,
  • Budget and
  • Timeline.

This is what differentiates them from routine/regular business. Project management literature calls this trinity ‘the triple constraints”.

This trio also serves as a success measure. Truly successful projects deliver what is required, within the budget and on time.

I also believe the Trinity is in good company when Quality and Integrity butt in.

Some trade-offs might be necessary between the scope, budget and time. If the sponsor or client want a closer launch date of the product/service, additional resources and reduced scope might be necessary.

Sometimes, the project manager will have to have the courage to say No to trade offs. Saying No at the right time to anything which risks creating a scope creep is a project’s manager duty. It can be No during the design phase, before the commitment. It can be No during the implementation phase, when the client’s appetite increases. This requires some business acumen.

In the business world, some use the “law of two-thirds” to decide the trade-offs. It offers criteria for decisions about what will define a product or organization (inspired by Tyler Kleeberger, A Technique for Deciding When to Say No, Medium, published on Medium, January 2019). Essentially, you can’t do everything so what should you do?  It will not surprise you that the three criteria are (again):

  • Quality
  • Speed
  • Price

You must consider all three, but you can only choose two. For example, a manufacturer wants to deliver quality and wants to be fast? Then the products are likely going to be more expensive. A business desires to offer its services at low prices, but also wants to maintain quality? Then, it is likely that the speed is going to be reduced. Those who want something that is fast and cheap, will have to compromise on quality.

It will be important to keep an eye on the perspective and the short, medium and long-term benefits, along with a good risks management strategy. I would never compromise on integrity though.

It takes humility, strength, and fortitude to acknowledge your project’s, your team’s and your own limits. It also takes visions and leadership to choose and to focus on priorities. It is not unusual for me to ask my colleagues and my client: “So what are the 3 big things this project shall deliver?”.

IMG_1374image credit StamfordGlobal, 2008.

 

 

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No – the project manager’s best friend?

I remember my first change request: “We need the center to host 150 people, 50 more than initially planned, which means building one extra wing.” That would have increased the budget by 30%. It was unrealistic, given the budget cycle. I had to ask another colleague from the regional coordination to say “No”. Then I came across Peter Taylor’s book ““The project manager who smiled” where I read:  “The most valuable and least used word in a project manager’s vocabulary is ‘No’.

Project managers get often requests like: “We want these new features to the product. And by the way, why doesn’t the software have these new reporting tools we just adopted?!” or  “We liked the study visit. We would like to go on one more by the end of the year.”

These are not Christmas letters to Santa. But it is pretty close. In the course of project implementation, beneficiaries tend to try to get more than initially planned. And it’s normal for them to try, for different reasons. I usually do not questions their motives. Not my job. My project manager’s job is to give them what we agreed, when we agreed and for the budget we agreed, without jeopardising the expected quality.

Because the project manager is not Santa, it’s ok to say “No”. There are a number of ways to say “No” in a project by considering the repercussions on the project and ultimately the beneficiary. The most important part is to have the beneficiary understand why the project manager says “No”. Reference to facts or similar past experience may support the understanding of pragmatic beneficiaries. One approach is to show what would happen if “yes” would be the answer.

Let’s take one of the wishes from the above list. “Yes” to an extra wing would mean delayed opening of the temporary detention centre (due to reopening the construction authorisation procedure etc.) and increased risks of revolt at the current facilities, which hold 100 people in less than acceptable conditions. Data shows that over the last three years the number of incomers is stable and the documents processing rates have improved. Therefore, the centre’s capacity is aligned with the demand. It worked in a project I managed years ago with a data-adept beneficiary.

When the beneficiary is guided by emotional or more personal motives, he/she may not hear /want to hear a reasoned “No”. The costs of “No” can be also high. For example, it asks to choose a certain consultant/service provider. A “No”, even if demonstrated by strictly adhered to procurement procedures and open competition rules, can have the beneficiary complain to the project sponsor and/or lead to the rejection to work with the chosen consultant/service provider. Each project is different and each beneficiary’s powers are context specific, so careful consideration is warranted. What I found important in such situations is to be as open and transparent about these kind of requests with all concerned. It cost me once a friendship, but then it was not perhaps the kind of friendship I would keep.

A “No” does not need to be brutal and cutting-off. One soft way of saying “No” is to help the beneficiary find another project who can accommodate the request. It will bring value added through networking to the relationship with the beneficiary, in addition to the opportunity for a good collaboration with another project/partner.