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In project management, part of setting up a project requires determining the scope – what you are seeking to accomplish and what you are not. It’s like setting boundaries for yourself based upon the objectives, the time you have to allocate to the effort, and the money you are willing to spend.
As I’ve thought about scope this week, I’m reminded that scope is not so black and white and clear cut. There’s always some wiggle room. And, it’s good to have a little wiggle room to exploit opportunities as they arise and to give ourselves a chance to surprise and delight those that will be a recipients of the project or work outcome.
So, this is a reflection on some thoughts that have come up this week. Thoughts about checklists, the nuances of carrying out work by yourself and how it changes when other people enter the mix.
Of course, some people have the issues of always piling on ideas and expectations that are well beyond the basic requirements to any form or work or project. Others us would do well of thinking about the possibilities of adding additional value within the baseline expectation of a project.
Either way, I hope it is a reminder to do what you say you will do, but leave a little space to give something extra.
Episode 128 Transcript
This is Rebecca Clark Episode 128 managing scope creep. This podcast is for anyone that knows they haven’t yet found and offered up their best work but are compelled to seek it out and do it. Mhm. Are you ready to move your desk? Yeah, Yeah. Mm hmm. Yeah. Many of you listening our checklist people and I’m a checklist person. I like planning. I like making my lists. I enjoy the process of identifying what needs to be done. And I enjoy the process of crossing off things that have been done and I really enjoy adding things to the list that weren’t on it. And crossing them off to sometimes in that process we can forget that some of the most value added inspiring and enjoyable moments come from those moments where we do add something to the list that wasn’t there. And we cross it off because we did it. I’ve been thinking a lot about these lists lately because one of the things I have done regularly throughout my son’s young life is create little lists saying, hey, this is what we’re going to do today. And it’s kind of given him something to look forward to because he will say what’s on the list, what else do I have to do or what else do I get to do? Depending on whether it’s a chore or watching a show or going to do something that he deems as fun. But I’ve noticed lately that the list brings up other challenges. And one of the challenges that brings up is that he becomes hyper focused on it and doesn’t see other possibilities that are all around him. And so I’ve started saying, okay, we’re going to add something to the list. And what we’re going to add to this list is the idea or the requirement that you need to figure out something interesting For you to do for 30 minutes now. That can be playing soccer out on the lawn, that can be playing with your cars, That can be reading a book. That can be anything that isn’t sitting and watching a show or going to the library or to the store or something else that he loves, right? This is something where he needs to figure out how to play or create something by himself and to make that choice and decision so that he is thinking outside of his personal box. And I’ve realized that maybe this needs to be even more part of the planning process with him and saying, wait, you need to figure out in most moments what’s the most important thing to do next or what you can do to keep yourself occupied. So that your job isn’t to just always ask what’s next or what are we going to do, but to decide what you’re going to do because that process gets the creative juices flowing, It also gives confidence because you’re making decisions and you get to learn and have fun as you take that step and actually do the thing that you have identified for some reason. This was on my mind this week because I’ve been talking a lot about scope and in projects you identify the scope right up front, you decide what the project is trying to accomplish what it’s not trying to accomplish. And you decide that based upon a few different factors, don’t you? You might have a particular need that needs to be addressed and you have a certain amount of money and time to address that need. So you decide right up front with whomever is involved in that decision making process, what the budget will be, what date it’s due on and what you expect to be the outcome from that effort. So you decide on this scope upfront and it’s typically very easy to figure out compared to actually making sure that you stick with it. Because often as we get started on any endeavor in life, we get new ideas that come up and possibilities and we want to change up things and say, no, no, that wasn’t our goal. Let’s change the goal, let’s do something else, which may be fine in some circumstances, but in other circumstances you are into deep, you just have to finish because there’s other people that are waiting or anticipating that this will be done and often they’ve paid money into it or they’ve had buy in in some way right, there’s some kind of stakeholder you could look at as a checklist as a set of activities you’ve decided to do in order to complete something. And so they’re kind of requirements that are within the scope of what you are trying to accomplish. And as I’ve been talking about this topic with different students, it’s interesting to see the people that are just introduced to the idea of scope start to get very focused and narrow minded and go, okay, Well here’s these 10 things we said we’re going to do, you requested that 11th, but we’re not gonna do it because that’s out of scope. Right? You became very black and white on the issues or the tasks involved and say no, no, we’re not going to do more. We only said 10, this is what we’re meeting. In fact, you’re lucky, we’re not meeting seven or eight. We found all 10 that we can accomplish. I’ve thought about this saying, wow, it’s so interesting to look back over the years and see the different contractors and different individuals that I’ve worked with and realized that high performers and people that have done a very good job of providing value and excellent customer service and that kind of thing are people that are simultaneously good at sticking to the scope of a project or a job, but they’re also very good at identifying ways to go beyond it kind of you scope as a set of minimum expectations and a set of minimum requirements that they must meet and they are delighted to be able to show that they can give you more within that scope, whereas others looked at it so black and white that they would cut you off from any requests that would come in at a certain point in a project because like, nope, that’s out of scope, we’re not going to do it. And sometimes the discussions about how we were not going to be able to do it took so much time that it would have been more valuable if the person just said, you know, let’s think about the possibilities. Let’s see how we can work this in to this project. Let’s see how we can work this into this job because that makes sense. We see an opportunity here and it’s almost like your to do list where you’re running around doing everything on the list. And there’s this moment where like you know what, I’m going from this store to this store that other stores in between, it’ll take five minutes to get that extra thing. I hadn’t planned on it. But this is the perfect time. I didn’t realize it was the perfect time. But it is because I’m going buy it anyway, I can quickly go in and grab it and be on my way. It doesn’t mess up the schedule. It doesn’t cost a lot of money and I’d be glad to do it and how cool is it that I’m gonna get back saying I was going to do these five things and I came back and I got seven done and almost the same amount of time but added more value. Now there’s wisdom involved in making these decisions, isn’t there? You have to know what the trade offs are. An example that’s in my mind, first of all is if you are an employee and you get hired and you look at that job description you were hired to and you say, ok, I’m going to be doing this, this and this and you find out on the job that it’s a little bit different that you’re actually going to do that, that and that, but you’re also going to do this, this and this mm you’re like, wait a second, that’s out of the job description, like well, if you are someone that does a lot of brain work on the job, like it’s not just watching widgets go down the assembly line, you actually have to think of ideas and creative solutions and problem solve, then you’re most likely going to be doing something that wasn’t in your job description, the job description is kind of boilerplate most of the time they’re putting it out there saying this is what you’re going to do high level and then you get to the job and realize ah things shift around a lot, you may be needed more to focus on a particular area than to be able to address all of these broad things and so to recognize it as we walk into a job. Yes, there are some minimum requirements that are expected us. We need to find out from the boss what we need to do if we need to learn how to do that work, if we don’t know how to do it and be good at asking questions and clarifying things. But there’s also an opportunity two provide better customer service than our job requires us to go out of our way a little sometimes to add that extra touch to a process or to give that extra explanation to a fellow employee or to a boss or leader to the janitor, to the help desk, to the instructor, whomever. And the interesting thing is sometimes we could view this as out of scope. It’s beyond the checklist. But is it really? I think I brought this up in another podcast episode where a week later the people working at the place still didn’t know the answer to the question. And so I bet if you put down on paper, how many hours and minutes are spent on confusion comparative someone just bothered to go that extra step and learn something that you’d find out that it was actually a lower level of effort to go find out the answer to something to help someone with a question than it was to turn for a bit. I find this a lot with help desks. I submitted a request the other day online and in an email, I got a phone call one hour later and I got another follow up phone call another hour later and in the second phone call, they said we’ve been trying to reach you now, you’re going to have to submit another request online. I thought this is very interesting. I had two hours of meetings, how was I supposed to call? So they called it two hours in a row, then they were done, they closed their ticket and they were done because it was out of scope apparently to actually solve the problem. They just wanted to show that, yep, I contacted them twice, that’s what I was supposed to do, close the ticket, I’m done, but it didn’t solve the problem. So I had to email them again and after I emailed them again, I now knew that I had to make sure I had my phone on and that I did not have anything going on the next three hours so that when that call would come in I’d be available to answer it. Well, The call came in 30 minutes later, thank goodness. I had cleared the space so I could Get on the phone. The person was actually very helpful and we got it resolved within 15 minutes. There’s no reason this had to take two rounds of communication, right. They could have given me an exact person to call back to or they could have told me what I needed to do on the phone because I had explained my problem already. What’s fascinating to me is how often we think things can be easily put on a checklist or they can be made into six sigma activities of perfection when really it’s a combination of art and science where there’s going to be a lot of combinations of possibilities in a process. And you have the need to use wisdom in it to know where the trade offs will be and when it makes sense to hold fast to those hard and fast requirements and where it makes sense to go, you know what, let’s see what opportunities can come up. Let’s see what opportunities arise in this process that we can exploit for our good and can add additional value to a customer or to a boss or to a friend that we didn’t think were possible. This is easy to do as a person, right? We make a list of food we want to purchase, we go to the store and in the store we can stick to our list and because we made the list and we brought our money, we can decide when we’re walking down an aisle, You know what I’m going to buy the cheap mustard this time because I would rather get that extra little treat over there to surprise and delight those that I’m buying this food for and it may be for yourself, right? So you still come out with pretty much the same costs. But you kind of made a little trade off in there where you still met your personal desire to buy the mustard but you also got the treat. But what happens if you go to the store with your spouse or your Children? The whole family goes to the store, we’ve done this right, Our whole family’s gone to the store and we have the list. But then there’s a few different people that are making trade offs in their minds and thinking one thing is better than the other and when you go to buy the cheap mustard like no no we wanted the grey poupon, we don’t want the cheap mustard. Well if we do that that means we might not get the treat unless we’re willing to spend more. And how those trade offs exponentially increase the minute you go to the store with someone and then you have the other situation when you go to the store with someone else’s money and someone else’s list, maybe you’re buying stuff for someone else’s party or you’re going to cater for something and how you have to be so well attuned to what they actually said on the list. But what they actually think and feel that’s beyond the list. So if I were to go to the store for one family, I know I know that they wouldn’t mind me buying the generic brand of everything on the list right? And if you can do that great then you can add in even more treats or some extra paper towels or something. But I know another family that if I were to go shopping for them, this would be no deal. They say okay, we want the best of everything. And if we can’t have the best of everything, we’re going to have to figure out how to take one thing off the list and maybe up the budget a little bit or give you a little more time to do some comparison shopping. So we make sure we get the best of these particular brands and notice none of these are wrong. But in the last case I shared you would most likely find yourself on the phone calling from the store, wouldn’t you? Because you say, you know, I understand that you have very distinct taste and certain things and I want to make sure that if we make some tradeoffs here, that I choose the right trade offs for your taste. But in that process you could still bring up ideas and bring up different options to them that they may not have thought of. And so you are not strictly following the list. You are thinking about so many things that aren’t on the list. So what am I trying to say in all of this rambling. Mhm And why did I feel so strongly about it? Well, we are all human beings trying to do the best we can and when we ask someone to help us with something, whether we hire someone to do a job, whether we ask someone to go to the store for us or we are in charge of a project. It’s important to recognize that even if we come up with a list or define the scope up front and those requirements that they’re going to be opportunities along the way to think beyond that list and there are ways to meet what’s expected, but do it in a different way than was imagined. And sometimes we are the person in that process that helps people see that there are other possibilities than what they initially thought they wanted, that they have a deeper need that has to be filled. So as you go about your work today or your special project, I encourage you to yes, follow the requirements that have been put out there. Follow the checklist. But I also recognize that, wait a second. I’m betting there’s some things that are not on this list that that person expects or wants from this. And how can I think of fulfilling this in a way that surprise and delights them kind of like all of the great product developers in the world, those that make something that does the function, it’s supposed to do and those that do the function and take care of another need in the process. If we are here to offer up our best work, then we can think beyond the checklist doesn’t mean giving it up. It doesn’t mean the checklist is not a value, but it can mean that we can leverage it as the starting point to think through other possibilities. Just some thoughts from the desk today, I hope you pull out a piece of paper, create a list of things that need to be done, things that you’d love to be done and leave a little blank space to keep yourself open for those extra inspirations insights that come your way. I’ll talk to you soon. Mhm. Yeah. Thanks for listening to the show today. If you enjoyed it, I’d love if you’d write a review and share the show with your friends, sign up for a weekly nudge at move your desk dot com.