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Impact of Project Drift

Call it scope creep, drift or shift. Whatever we call it, it’s not good and is often cited as a major cause of project failure. In its 2018 Pulse of the Profession, The Project Management Institute describes this phenomenon as the uncontrolled expansion of product or project scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources.

The PMI survey found that 52% of PMs experienced scope creep or uncontrolled changes to project scope and, not surprisingly, listed ‘change in organization’s priorities’, ‘change in project objectives’, and ‘inaccurate requirements gathering’ as the top reasons for project failure. All these contribute to unbridled scope creep.

Factors to Consider

Let’s look at some of the reasons why project drift or creep is to pervasive and what can be done about it:

  • When a project portfolio becomes too large, resources get stretched too thin. Correct resource allocation and matching is essential to project success. Just throwing more resources at a problem does not usually solve the problem.
  • An overreliance on certain key individuals can result in project problems. This dependency on key experts introduces a lack of project flexibility and limited collaboration.
  • It is critical to set realistic expectations for projects at the earliest planning stages. KPIs and other metrics are often selected that seem inappropriate or random, both internally and by clients. This can be a source of scope creep or drift.
  • Trust—or a lack thereof—is often a cause for project drift. Employees have an inability to speak truth to power, such as to clients or C-Suite executives. This results in an inability to be open and honest when reporting to superiors who, rightly or not, team members believe to not want to hear about problems, only solutions.
  • In a related point, many C-Level executives do not have a realistic view of true business readiness and demand perfection that can place too much pressure on a project team.

How to Prevent it

Most experts agree that adequate time must be devoted up-front to planning and what a project is and isn’t setting out to achieve. Some timeline leeway and contingency funds should be built into projects to help account for the “unexpected” requirements that inevitably pop up mid-project.

Even Waterfall projects can be divided into smaller bits—similar to the Agile approach—where in-depth planning at smaller scale will hopefully result in a more accurate scope definition.

We recently spoke with the CIO of a global technology firm and learned how that firm is using global templates to increase the stability of PM culture worldwide and better align far flung teams. The ongoing struggle between the business and IT is one that the CIO was working hard to fix. Getting to know the work styles and preferred means of communication of global teams was important for smooth collaboration.

Drift and creep can be minimized by spending more time upfront to discover the amount of risk inherent in a project. Be sure to cast your net wide to ensure you’ve covered all your bases. Speak to every stakeholder in the initial planning stage. Go so far as to host sessions with end users, and try to use their insight to help eliminate risk.

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A Final Word

Scope drift or creep can be devastating to a project’s health if left unchecked. Requests from clients and other stakeholders for changes or additional features must be reported in real-time and dealt with just as fast. The PM and team members must quickly work to understand the intention or need for the change, discuss the consequences with the client—there’s a cost in time and budget to every change—and, once a change is approved, it must be tracked and managed using PPM software that supports seamless collaboration and 360-degree real-time views of project status.

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