Startup Lessons: Bounded by Scope

# Prologue

It’s a tough thing to deal with Scope Creep. Clients ask for more than what was initially promised. This is human. It feels good to get more than you bargained for. Scope Creep occurs when the project team ceeds. When the team caves into the pressure of satisfying their client and fulfilling their every demand. Managing scope creep can make or break a project. The proverbial project trifecta states that projects are bounded by scope, cost and time. The slightest nuance or change in any of these will result in rippling effects in the others. Thus, resulting in scope creep being one of the toughest and most important challenges for any project team. This, is a story of managing scope.

# Exposition

I’m just about to meet with my client. They hired us to develop a set of sales tools for them and I was placed in charge of the project. Unfortunately, 9 months later, we’re still working on fulfilling the client’s needs. Month after month we met with our client team to discuss the project and review the deliverables. And month after month the project team ceeded the scope to more customer needs and more product requirements, continuously inflating the project scope beyond its capacity. Our usual bi-monthly progress review meeting was coming up but it wasn’t a progress review as per usual. Today’s stage was different. In the past, there was always a bug to be fixed, or the next feature to work on. But today, we had finally completed the project. All deliverables had been developed; all tools had been deployed. We’ve been fully  functional for 2 weeks straight; smooth operations in effect. Eager to finally close the chapter on this project, I was determined to make right during today’s review.

# Rising Action

An hour before today’s meeting, I’m thinking about what I could do differently this time around. Would it be preparing to handle the customer’s objections? Or would it be being ready to wave off feature requests for some “future coming soon”. Not enough time on my hands to prepare for any of these, I decided that there must be an easier way. I thought hard about what had gone wrong before. Why had we let the scope slip so bad? Why was it so easy for the client to add things to our to-do list. And suddenly it all made sense to me. Anything unmanaged allows itself to be vulnerable influence. In this case, it was our project scope. Nine months ago we kicked off the project with a tentative project scope and ever since we had never gone back to revisit it. Every review meeting we started off discussing our customer’s needs and every meeting we added requirements to our scope. This was no way to run a project review. So today, 10 minutes left to leave the office I rush to find our initial project scope to finally bring to light what our team had initially set out to do.

It was so simple, so clear in those initial documents. Our team had defined 1 project goal, to mobilize the sales process and develop the supporting tools to do so. Anything beyond this was out of scope. Looking at what we had developed over the past 9 months I realized we had done this and so much more. So I thought, How can I use this to get closure during today’s review? I decided to print out a 1 page brief. The brief contained the goal: “To mobilize the sales process”. It then detailed how we would go about to achieve this goal, listing our 4 to 5 project objectives. And finally, I included a summary of progress and next steps. Looking at it, it became obvious that our team had delivered on the project and that our work here was done. With this new tool in hand, I was ready to take on the client meeting.

# Climax

I arrive to the client site. Everyone’s sitting around a long boardroom table. This setting was familiar to me. It usually began with a project complaint or a request for more features. As soon as the CEO sat down he took the lead and told me “What’s going on? Tell me about the project?” This was my chance. Opportunity had knocked on my door and it was the time to take it. To my advantage, I was ready this time. I reached into my folder pocket and pulled out a 1 page brief. Slowly I placed it in front of the CEO and said: “I’m here to share with you our team’s progress. I plan to run you through our project scope and share with your our progress. Let’s begin.” Without a second to waste, I started with the Project Goal: “To mobilize the sales force”. I referred back to the days before us when they relied on paper and telephone to capture orders and talked about how agile and effective our digital capture systems had been. Everyone nodded in agreeance. Leveraging the fact that all attention was on this 1 page brief, I went over each deliverable one by one. “You need a way to do ____. We built ____ and the benefit has been ____.” One by one. I stressed that these tools had been built just for them. That none of our customers had these and that these benefits would give them an edge to compete in the market. Little by little it was obvious to the crowd that our team had gone above and beyond to deliver exceptional results. And while everyone was devouring my every word, the client asks, “So what’s next?”. This was his move, his way of opening the table to product suggestions. Not about to lose it again, it was my time to take it home.

# Falling Action

I take a deep breath, and with a confident smile, I say “Our team is confident that these products will give you the tools to equip your workforce and mobilize your sales process. As part of our methodology, we’ve decided that we’re going to focus our efforts the next months to provide ongoing support for your salesforce and ensure they are ready to use these new tools to their fullest potential. Your salesforce is experiencing a learning curve and it is our responsibility to guide each and everyone one of them through this process, ensuring their success.” Boom. That was it. My final trick had been unfolded. Nothing left, I sit in silence and look straight into my client’s eyes, waiting to see his reaction. For a second, he seemed like he was just about to throw an objection at me. But he holds. And a stern stare turns to a sly grin. And out of his mouth come the words, “Good Job”.

# Resolution

I stand up, and triumphantly shake his hand. I look around the room and everyone agrees with the CEO. Not an objection in sight. We discuss the next steps for a minute or two, outlining I’d be in touch with his sales assistant to coordinate the final steps of the project. The CEO asks, “If nothing else is needed of me, I’ll be leaving now”. Proudly, I thank him for this time and he walks out of the room. One by one the client team start excusing themselves until I’m left with the head of IT. One final move to make, I confirm that he is in charge of all IT expenditures and pass him the final invoice for our payment. This payment was more than a mere cash-in on our efforts. It symbolized the closing of a chapter, a chapter that had gone on for way too long and had finally come to an end. Our project scope was complete. I thank him for his help these past few months and tell him that we’ll to reach out if he has any questions. I walk out the building door, a strong step in my stride. I hop in the car, once again, take a long deep breath, and with a proud smile, I drive away.

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