Monday, January 21, 2013

6 Tips for Managing Stealth Change

Scope creep, the seemingly inevitable series of minor, but sometimes costly, changes in a project are a common cause of project budget failure and misunderstanding between designer and client. Let's examine a hypothetical scenario and outline some tactics for managing these changes.

Assume that you are managing the design of a new county animal shelter. The project consists of a building with kennels, cages, veterinary facilities, and administrative offices with an animal adoption room. One end of the building has an open-sided shed roof to provide a covered area for the delivery and unloading of animals from the animal control vehicles – a sally port.

As the project continues through Design Development, the client requests that the open end of this area be covered to provide a wind block. No problem. It's a minor change with little or no increase in design cost.

After further design, the client returns and requests that the remaining two sides be provided with roll up doors, again, to provide protection from the elements. This change then triggers structural and architectural changes, more lighting, additional electrical to operate the doors, extension of the fire sprinkler system, and possibly the addition of plumbing and floor drains. And so, an initial minor request – add a windbreak – morphs into a major project addition.

The fact is that scope creep is, too often, a budget-busting fact of life in the delivery of projects. Here are six simple tips for managing this:

1. Develop a shared project vision with the client. Understand the client's critical success factors and understand what is driving the project.

2. Develop an appropriate detailed work breakdown structure (WBS) at the outset of the project. Share this with your client. In the best of cases, jointly develop the WBS with the client.

3. Establish and maintain continuous project communications with the client. The most effective strategy is the one-page, seven-paragraph project status report outlined in PSMJ's Project Management Bootcamp. When scope creep occurs, document this in "Other issues and concerns." This provides notification to the client and documentation of the issue.

4. Recognize the primary causes of change and scope creep. These include changes requested by the client and changes triggered by condition issues, such as underground "surprises" or code.

5. Understand the change management culture and processes of your client. If your client has a "no change, no way" culture, you have an education effort in front of you. Most clients, particularly those with a modicum of sophistication, recognize project changes are inevitable, particularly during the design phase.

6. Conduct a project post-mortem including an analysis of project changes. Consider how and why they occurred and how they were handled. While this will not help with the current project, the post-mortem can increase awareness of the issue for future projects.

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