Project Practitioners > Sanity check! Strong goals alignment or lurking scope leap?

Sanity check! Strong goals alignment or lurking scope leap?

By Cinda Voegtli

The project manager's job is to ensure that each project has clearly defined goals, and that the team is always working towards those goals and ultimately attains them.  The goals might change along the way but those changes should be reasoned and deliberate, not accidental or capricious. (That's part of the job too.)

But scope creep (or leap!) is so COMMON.  How can we avoid it, vs. having to fire-fight it all the way through a project? 

The standards talk about "monitoring and controlling" to describe the "making sure" part of our job, including making sure we meet the right goals.

Monitoring has always struck me as somehow drily mechanistic, and a task done outside the main action, and even something done passively sort of "on the surface.   Monitoring schedule tasks and status isn’t enough to be sure you’re really on track.

I like to think of myself as an excellent project detective.   Picture me with my Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass, looking closely, looking under furniture, proactively looking for clues. to what's REALLY going on with the project.  Sensitive to warning signs of potential trouble.  Probing for evidence of off-track aspects that have not been revealed, have not become evident.  (This, by the way, sounds to me like a heck of a lot more fun than "monitoring"!)

Controlling always hits me as so focused on being reactive. Controlling the project by reacting to scope creep when it happens is not the most fun way to spend my time. I'd rather do everything I can to set up the project to avoid needing to be controlled :-).   Of course we have to be ready to stand for goals, handle requests and changes along the way... But I don't want controlling to be my main tool! 

I like to think of myself as a combination of project doctor, protector, and artist. 

Doctor: A good doctor doesn't wait for sickness happen to take action; the best ones help us be as healthy as possible from the get-go.  Then if sickness strikes, they know the foundation they helped us set and can diagnose underlying issues from there. 

Protector I'm not there to be process police or schedule police; I'm there to serve and protect: serve the company and the team; protect the business goals of the project. 

Artist An artist doesn't force things according to certain rigid rules; they are creative in their approach to what they see. 

Rolling this interesting mix of roles together in the project sphere, to achieve goal alignment and ward off scope creep and leap, I really want to:

  • Make sure the project goals are defined strongly and clearly and fully understood and bought into across the team.  I have to set that strong foundation of clear targets to guide daily action.
  • Proactively anticipate, look for warning signs, and address possible threats to the goals.  (Misunderstandings of priorities.  Overzealous desires to add yet more cool new things that we just know the customer will love. A well-meaning desire to improve performance that forgets cost implications... )  It's my job to be on the lookout and protect the team from itself :-) and protect the project overall.  Hey, the project detective mindset comes in really handy here.
  • Embrace the art aspect of project management.  I need to deal sympathetically and creatively with the real messy world of different people and competing perspectives and lots at stake with customers and competitors. No one can mandate away scope creep in the real world even though we all know it causes issues. But we can be creative about how we work with people up front while the goals are being set, and then gracefully handle scope issues that still do occur. 

This is an interesting way to describe our roles :-).  But how to put it into action?   The key here is that we want to proactive about goals alignment, not reactive to scope creep, to best avoid project impacts. Here's a way to sanity check your projects -- a quick personal checklist to see where you stand on "strong goals alignment" vs. "scope leap just waiting to happen."

Goals Alignment Checklist - Strength Indicators

Did you as project leader get aligned with the executive sponsor up front, hearing their understanding of goals and priorities in their own words?

Were all cross-functional groups represented early in the project when business goals, customer needs, and priorities were discussed?

Did the cross-functional "core team member' or representative in those discussions understand and follow through on their responsibility to communicate about goals and priorities to others in their group?

If there were disagreements on goals, including on how to balance among Scope, Time, and Cost goals for the project, were discussions held and decisions made with involvement of critical stakeholders?  Were trade-off decisions documented (including rationale) and communicated thoroughly, to avoid misunderstandings or the decisions getting reversed later?

Were target customers, their needs, priorities, success factors, and business goals all documented concisely in a Charter or Vision, so that there is ALWAYS an easily-digestible place to look for extreme clarity on what this project must accomplish?

Have partners been involved enough in discussions of customers, project objectives, and priorities to  strongly aligned on the goals as well?

Does your team (and sponsor and stakeholders and partners) treat that Charter or Vision as effectively a CONTRACT, meaning that everyone realizes that no changes should be made by anyone without discussion, if those changes would violate an item in the Vision?

Do you ask team members in every team meeting whether they've been asked to make changes, or have hear rumors of "something else we may  need to add"?

Does every team meeting include a discussion of RISKS to achieving any of the goals?

Is there anyone on the team that appears to be skeptical or unsupportive of the current plan, not necessarily really committed?

Are there people who are deemed so powerful that they are often expected to cause scope creep, but the team feels powerless to do anything about it?

If one team member suggests a scope change to the project, do other team members chime in to remind about the Vision and caution about making changes without discussion and approval?

Do design and deliverables reviews include the team explicitly evaluating whether the deliverable at hand does still support meeting the overall project goals (schedule, scope, costs).


"Yes" answers to theses questions mean you've taken strong steps on Goals Alignment that will naturally ward off scope creep.  "No" answers point to areas of opportunity!   

See where you fall... then try thinking like a project doctor, detective, protector, and artist  all rolled into one.  Be sure that the right goals-oriented foundation is set for the team! Keep the goals-focus stays pervasive in team conversations!  Recognize pre-cursors of nasty scope creep or leap and protect the project! Take creative action to keep those disruptions from happening at all!   

It's a lot more fun than just "monitoring and controlling" and a lot more powerful too.



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