Oops—Miscalculated Scope!

Dear Elizabeth:

Last week my team had one of those “didn’t see it coming” moments, where we miscalculated scope and found ourselves in need of more time and resources to deliver the original project. How do we present this to our board, and let them know it won’t happen again? – Tail-Between-Legs PM

Dear Tail:

Oops! Well, you’re not the first to have had that happen—and you’re right to go to your board with it.

First, you need to be confident that your miscalculation won’t happen again. The best way to do this is to review your calculations a second time (at least). In addition, make sure you’ve incorporated extra resources and time needs based on all recent data into your project plan—and that you’ve triple-checked your assumptions.

While you’re doing that, let your project sponsor and board know that it’s coming. No one likes surprises on projects.

When you’re confident that you have a new plan complete with: detailed risk management plans in case something similar happens again; an explicit contingency buffer, and preferably an estimate expressed as a range you’re ready to write it up. Then, run it by someone who doesn’t know much about your project. When you’re ready, present the plan honestly to your board in a meeting, preferably face-to-face. Answer questions and backup your decisions. Ask them to approve the change to the timeframe and the additional resources.

If they do, great. If they don’t, you’ll have to work together to come up with a suitable alternative which might be taking work out of scope, reducing quality or splitting the project into multiple phases. They might have other ideas, including canceling the project totally if the “moment” was so huge that your new plan is commercially unfeasible. Be ready for that!

It’s fine to go back and ask for more because things happen on projects and situations change. Most managers will have lived through similar moments and they know that. What’s not OK is going back to ask for more time week after week, month after month. That’s a fast way to lose credibility.

Every month, project management expert, Elizabeth Harrin, fields readers’ questions about the challenges, risks, and rewards of project work on the LiquidPlanner blog. This selection is used with permission.

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Written by Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin has over twenty years’ experience in projects. Elizabeth has led a variety of IT and process improvement projects including ERP and communications developments. She is also experienced in managing business change, having spent eight years working in financial services (including two based in Paris, France). Elizabeth is the author of 7 project management books including Managing Multiple Projects. She is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management and writes the popular blog, Rebel’s Guide to Project Management.

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