Descoping before starting

There is the common belief that everything is possible if you work hard enough. Unfortunately working hard by itself is no formula for success. Working hard implies long working days, weekends, squeezing every minute out of each hour for the sake of productivity (meetings, calls, emails, documentation…). Working smart, instead, is a better way to invest time. Smart workers are outcome-oriented and achieve significant results through prioritization, focus and difficult decision making. Project managers understand that time, money and energy are scarce assets, but then fail to act accordingly. What if there were a way to do less and to achieve more in your projects?

Scope that matters

If you have heard about the gold fever you will be able to easily understand the principles of properly scoping a project. As you start the conversations with your stakeholders, your pan is fill with deposits which represent all the potential scope for your project. If you gently agitate the deposits until everything unnecessary is washed out, the gold sinks to the bottom of the pan. That gold represents scope that matters, the rest only low-value work.

Now that we understand the principle, let’s put some real examples of how to pan for gold in your project definition.

Tipp #1: Discover what drives the project

Early in the project the stakeholders do not have a clear idea of what they need specifically, but they do know why and what for. As a project manager you need to discover what drives your stakeholders. Do they care more about delivery on time, quality, reputation, costs? Of course, at the beginning they will tell you that everything is equally important, but that is not true, it never is! If you help them to put priorities in their drivers, you will help them get an excellent outcome. Of course it is not an easy job to get that information you need to know how to do it.

Tipp #2: Use context-free questions

Context free questions are general questions that can help to uncover assumptions and unknown motives about the project.

  • What does success look like?
  • What problem is this product solving?
  • What is the major contribution of this project?
  • Imagine that we are closing the project and you are not satisfied, what happened?

Tipp #3: How to put it in writing

Identifying project drivers and the hidden assumptions will not be of much use if you don’t document properly the project scope before starting. People tend to forget what is important in the face of stress. You can make sure that everything that is essential to success gets a special place in your project scope statement. If your stakeholders request to have less relevant work or product features in the document, make sure that you create a special section for it.

Don’t wait too long to descope

Everything starts with the project scope and how we negotiate and handle it. Early on in the project everything seems possible. But an extensive scope is like noise.

Sometimes, in a natural intent to satisfy our stakeholders, we tend to include too much work in the scope of our project in the planning phase, even without considering any priorities or underlying needs. Then when the project goes off-track we start looking for compromises and trade-offs.

Descope starts right in the beginning not in the middle of the project.

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