Wait, What will this product NOT do?

An idea you can use to manage scope for your next project

I googled “reasons why project management fail” The top three links had 101, 4 and 10 reasons respectively. Reading through at least these three links, you get some mention of “managing scope”, “unclear project objectives” and along with “failure to set expectation and manage them.”

What exactly is project scope?

Project scope is defined as “the part of project planning that involves determining and documenting a list of specific project goals, deliverables, features, functions, tasks, deadlines and ultimately costs.”
Cannon Mount at Bunker HIll

That sounds easy enough, but yet, project scope is almost always listed as a reason for failure. If we assume a product has a certain set of features (scope), the assumption leads to implicit expectation. And when expectations are not met, people are dissatisfied. But we asked folks what they want, repeatedly. We discussed at great length what went into the product. We met many times, even with deadlines crunching on us, management breathing down our necks, with people riding us hard, to vet the purpose and the features.

Ask what the project will NOT do or include

Everyone thinks they have an idea of what the project will do — especially technology projects. Everyone thinks they know what features will be included; but it can also be said that not everyone knows to what extent those features need to be developed. This is where scope management in the real world can occur (and slip). Along with asking “what does this project accomplish and do?” ask the question “what does this project not do?”

Having used this technique at both formal and informal project initiations, the resulting conversations have been educational for all. When I ask the question, I usually get a bit of a chuckle, a bit of an “isn’t it obvious” with maybe a hint of “really?” Then they humor me and start the discussion. At which point, one of us will throw something in the “the product will NOT do” column and another participant says “hold on, well not really” before we ensue in interesting conversation.Asking this simple and short question reduces the area of unknown and assumptions. It clarifies some of the hidden assumptions and increases the amount of shared understanding about the project.

So, while all components of project management are key, and we need project charters, good communication, and so on, take a minute to ask “what will this project not include?” It will better clarify the intent for all and save confusion, assumptions and dissatisfaction as the product launches.

This is a series of articles as part of the “Applied Guide for Busy Leaders.”

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