Managing Scope During Project Life Cycle Phases

One of the biggest issues that plague project managers is scope creep. It is all too common for requirements and goals on a project to be drawn up, but then during the implementation phase of a project, things start to get out of hand.

Schedules get stretched, costs go overboard and by the end, project stakeholders are not happy.

Through each phase of the project life cycle, project managers need to ensure that scope is managed and kept in check. As a research paper by Richard Larson and Elizabeth Larson, for Project Management Institute, very eloquently puts it – “Change on projects is inevitable, so the possibility for scope creep is inevitable.”

During each phase or at each milestone of a project, dynamics change and managing change well is one of the most important things for controlling scope of a project. Scope cannot always be restricted and getting people on board is one of the key challenges for even the most successful project managers. Equally challenging can be adapting and keeping processes flexible so that change is easier to implement.

Here are some strategic project management practices that can help in this and thus, project scope management.

Identifying and involving key stakeholders

One of the most important project management functions is to serve stakeholders. By identifying and engaging key decision makers and stakeholders throughout the project phases – right from project sponsors and team leaders to impacted employees and support partners, project managers can understand requirements and manage expectations better, thereby pre-empting a lot of issues if conflicts in scope do arise. Stakeholder mapping is a helpful strategy.

Some of the most successful project management strategies in this regard come from consulting agencies, because they need to manage stakeholders in a variety of settings. For example, Accenture suggests three ideas for managing change, that can help with scope:

  1. Defining which stakeholders will have to alter their strategy and mapping out how they can do it.
  2. By mapping out a plan, stakeholders will have the necessary information to modify their approach.
  3. The needful resources and materials can then be arranged to make sure that things are done in time.

Tight feedback loops

When dealing with change management and evolving scope, getting feedback across as early and as often is a very effective strategy to manage the project life cycle. A major challenge in organizations and teams are information silos.  The larger the scale of the operation, the greater the threat of information silos. This can be due to a combination of structural barriers, processes and team behavior. Often, ideas will come from a few stakeholders, and if silos form in the team, then others will not be able to come into the loop till the implementation phase of the project.

By incorporating better processes and tools into practice, information silos can be overcome so that feedback is better exchanged between teams. Agile project management methods, which are now adopted by a number of teams, advocate short and quick iterations where feedback and reviews are a vital part after each phase iteration.

Another good strategy is to create a central repository of all data and project deliverables. Tools like Basecamp provide a platform for teams to work with internal and external stakeholders. zipBoard is a tool that can help teams in sharing contextual feedback between project stakeholders and convert the reviews and feedback into trackable issues.

Setting up a deliverable schedule

One of the ways that projects can be made more manageable is breaking down tasks into sub-tasks and the overall schedule into smaller phases and milestones with a focus on producing deliverables at the end of each milestone. This inculcates better accountability throughout the team and a goal-oriented approach that drives projects. If a solid understanding of the project goals exists among the stakeholders, then it is easier to identify deliverables.

By building project plan schedules around deliverables, project managers have a concrete entity that can be measured and verified. When things are broken down into a micro-structure, optimizing tasks is also easier.

However, since deliverables cannot be established until stakeholders and goals have been identified, doing so as early as possible in the project planning process and analysis phase of the project life cycle is a good practice. A path is identified for the the team to follow and dependencies and avenues for scope creep can be identified at a much earlier stage.

Prioritizing feedback

When feedback comes in from multiple stakeholders, effectively managing it can become an issue. Client feedback is one of the most common reasons why projects will pivot from their original plan. It is important to be able to manage your project backlog so that things that are not along the critical path can be put on the back burner when other pressing priorities need to take precedence.

Prioritization gives a big boost to projects because it allows stakeholders to align and concentrate on the tasks at hand, and also reduces operational dilemma for the implementation phase of the project.

Conclusion

Change is inevitable during the project life cycle. Managing change and evolving scope in a project is absolutely critical for successful execution. Keeping in mind some of these strategies during the project planning and execution process can help teams achieve better deliverables during the implementation phase of the project.

Rishabh Saxena

Rishabh Saxena works in marketing for zipBoard, a bug tracking tool that helps manage feedback and review across project phases and milestones. More such writing and similar ideas, you can follow him on Twitter.

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