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Managing Project Scope Changes

You’ve signed that agreement with your customer and you’ve been very diligent to make sure the statement of work is complete. After all, you’ve committed to deliver what the customer has asked for at the agreed price. As the project launches, you feel very confident that all of your diligence in the discovery processes, white boarding sessions and project planning will help to keep the project on track with the customer’s expectations. Deviations from the plan can be costly to both parties and one particular form of change is the bane of most consultants or developers working on a fixed price agreement.

The problem begins when the agreement is made on the initial scope of the deliverables to be included with the project. Many projects fail to include an agreement about how changes will be managed during the project timeframe. Several factors should motivate both parties to agree on a formal change control process to keep expectations and deliverables on a consistent and anticipated track. As the project progresses, you may learn that certain assumptions about the proposed solution do not match the reality of actual usage. Naturally, this scenario drives both parties back to the planning drawing board to make appropriate adjustments.

Clearly, agreeing on a method to manage changes helps the customer to assure they get an acceptable solution and may also protect you from taking on more than you agreed for the price. It may also protect your reputation if you doggedly stick to a plan to deliver what was initially agreed in spite of the evidence that it is not the optimal solution. Frequently, the problem starts with small requests that seem trivial and you gladly add them to the project to please the customer. After a while, the accumulation of these small requests amounts to a significant commitment of time and resources not contemplated anywhere in the agreement. This is the insidious process we call scope creep.

Here’s the good news; scope creep means that your customer is engaged in the project. Scope creep does not mean that they held back critical information during the planning phase. Nor does it mean they do not like what you are doing for them. Nor does it mean that they changed their minds. These are common misinterpretations by many frustrated contractors. What it means is that their imaginations are fired up and they are looking at ways to make the ultimate solution more user friendly, more feature-rich and ultimately more valuable to them.

With a disciplined change control procedure in place, the scope of the project can grow as agreed by the parties. This may mean the customer pays more and the project lasts longer: both are good news for you. It may also mean that the customer will need to make hard choices along the way to remove certain features in exchange for others that now seem more desirable. Having a well-defined change control process in place allows that discussion to occur in a productive, logical and objective fashion and helps to prevent it from evolving into and adversarial argument that you can never win in the long term.

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