The importance of having your ducks in a row cannot be overstated in project management

Considering that IT projects often involve many millions of Rands, and can entirely change a company’s strategic trajectory, the propensity for litigation should not be underestimated.

And, should you ever have to defend your actions in court, you had better have followed the correct processes to the letter because, when it comes to giving evidence, the importance of having all your ducks in a row cannot be overstated. No doubt, this notion would serve us all well, regardless of our line of business. But project managers, accountable for projects worth many millions of Rands, would be especially well advised to manage their projects as if they had to defend them in court (or at least to an auditor) one day.

In essence, project management is as simple as it is complicated and, if you stick to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) knowledge areas, you won’t go wrong.

One issue that accounts for many project managers’ headaches is the very real threat of Scope Creep. Simply put, Scope Creep relates to undertaking work not included in the project plan. This is very common and has been the downfall of many an otherwise sound project and diligent project manager.

IT projects are inherently dynamic – technology changes, needs change and perspectives change along the way and it makes good business sense to be responsive to these changes; but not at the expense of the entire project. The simplicity of effective project management is clearly illustrated by an equilateral triangle with the three equal length sides representing time, cost and quality. A shift in or change to any one of these aspects of the project automatically affects at least one, and more often both, of the others.

So what is a project manager to do to keep the triangle in balance and avoid scope creep derailing the project? First and foremost, the team should quite simply not be working on any activity that is not on the project schedule. And, taking it a step further, no activity should be added to the schedule without a duly approved change request.

But this is not always quite as simple as it sounds. It’s often not easy for project managers to stand their ground when senior executives issue instructions (or colleagues call in favours) that fly in the face of the project’s best interests. So, despite the simplicity of just needing to follow the correct policies and procedures, dealing with scope creep also takes guts from the PM, and respect for the project management processes.

To take the emotion – and politics – out of the issue it is vital to have in place a formal Scope Management Plan that has been agreed to by senior management. Then, once a Change Request (or Variation Order), comes in, the PM needs to sit with the team and define what’s involved, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Only once this information is presented and approved can the changes be added to the project schedule, the project cost and the team’s activities.

Sign-off on a project plan is often delayed because stakeholders want to be sure that they’ve covered all possible bases. An effective Scope Management Plan can provide the added advantage of speeding up sign-off because it provides comfort to stakeholders that additions and changes can be accommodated if the need arises.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.