Vanquishing the Scope Creep Monster

Has the following ever happened to you? You’re working on a project, maybe it’s at work, maybe at home, or even at church. Things are going well, you’re on budget, on time, and then someone says “Hey, while you’re doing XYZ, we need you to do ABC too.” A little later someone else says, “Glad to hear you’re working on XYZ, and I heard you were going to do ABC too? Great! Do you mind fitting in D and E as well? After all they’re the next logical steps.” Not wanting to disappoint, you get XYZ and ABC done, and make a stab at D and E. But by now you’re behind schedule, way over budget, and people are asking where that money is coming from. Sound familiar?

This happened to me on one of my first installs over 15 years ago. We had contracted a church member who owned a cabinet shop to build a new mix position. I got there the day of the install and saw this incredible piece of woodwork—handmade cabinets, high end countertop material for the desktop, solid oak and maple construction, hand rubbed lacquer finish, under cabinet lighting—this thing was amazing! From the sketches and drawings of our $500 plywood, pre-made cabinets with inexpensive laminate, this guy had truly taken a little and created a lot. But midway through the day the pastor drops in and informs me the deacon in charge of the finances says that we are $5,000 over budget and asked how I was planning to make up the difference. My jaw dropped. Turns out that $500 inexpensive desk solution that the church member had agreed to build was no longer $500. Some folks in the church began to tell him their wishes for it and how it should look, and so forth. So he went and made everyone’s dreams a reality, and without thinking anything of it handed the church a bill for over $6,000 in materials.

I’m sure we could all tell stories of this occurrence. It’s called scope creep. The scope of work slowly grows and grows and grows and grows, and pretty soon becomes a monster that cannot be tamed. How do we prevent it? What can we do if we are in it? People have written books upon books on this topic but much of it doesn’t transfer over well to a ministry setting. These steps may not be the end-all weapon to vanquish the monster of scope creep, but here are some things that may be a help to you if you find yourself in the grip of the scope creep monster.

1. Stop

Seems simple doesn’t it? If you see the scope creep monster rear its head, stop. Hit the brakes and hit them hard. Proceed to step two fast. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

2. Find out who’s in charge

Notice we did not say the church member who’s been there for 40 years and thinks he’s in charge.  Find out who really and truly is the person in charge of this project. Find them fast. Call a meeting—a sit-down, face-to-face, one-on-one meeting.

3. Communicate

Have your facts—who said what, when, and where. Know what the costs involved will be, know the time commitments that it will take, or at least make an educated guess. And then as one of my friends likes to say, “Guess and triple it. And while you’re at it, triple the budget too.”

4. Decide

Bring those in charge to a point of decision. Ask a pointed question like, “If we do X we are going to be $4,000 over budget, and the project will take an extra 2 weeks. Do you want me to do that?” Get a clear “yes” or “no” answer.

5. Ask

Once the decision has been made, ask the person in charge to communicate his decision to those who have asked for the changes, and anyone else who should be in the know.

Why do we recommend these steps? Because they work. I was in the middle of a multi-phase job for a church, and the previous phase of the project had been just riddled with scope creep. It was one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen, and those that were in charge were the ones causing the creep. A project that was supposed to take 3 days ended up taking 3 months and 13 different visits. Several months later, they called me back to do more work. This time I was answering to the deacon over technology. Within minutes of that call I got an email from other deacons wanting this and that, and thus the creep began. I was having visions of another 3 month project on my hands. I immediately hit stop, and called the deacon over technology. He asked me to forward the emails to him, and then we talked. We drafted a written Scope of Work that we both agreed to, and I asked that he send an email to all involved letting them know about this decision. We came in on time and on budget.

But instead of just stopping the monster after it pops up, wouldn’t you rather prevent it from rearing its head in the first place? One of the most important things to prevent the creep is to have a very public Scope of Work or SOW. A SOW lists out what is involved in the project, the steps that will be taken, what the costs will be, and who is charge of the project. It doesn’t have to be a complicated or even extremely lengthy document. It just needs to communicate to everyone that needs to know who’s in charge of the project and what’s involved in the project in adequate detail.

But are there any times when scope creep is a good thing? Well, believe it or not, yes there are some rare times that it is, but we’ll discuss that in a future article. For now remember these tips to vanquish the scope creep monster from your projects.

One Response to “Vanquishing the Scope Creep Monster”

  1. Meet Bob! | Ministry Tech

    […] get the word from his music pastor about the big Christmas production they are doing. To avoid scope creep a meeting is called, and everyone is sitting around the table coming up with ideas. “We have […]

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