Scope change management is one of the most important skills a project manager needs in their arsenal. The flexibility and creativity needed to adapt to changes out of your control are crucial to keeping clients happy without burning out your team.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room: You should avoid project creep wherever possible. But back in the real world, you need effective scope change management to pick up the pieces.
At times, even the best teams have to change their scope — the number of tasks that a project needs to cover. Changes in scope are always down to new information, whether that’s an impossible-to-predict change in circumstances or a predictable consequence of poor planning.
In this article, we’ll delve deep into what scope change management means in the context of project management. Then, we’ll provide you with six strategies to help you avoid potential catastrophes and keep your project on track.
As we mentioned in the introduction, you can really take control of your scope change management by investing time and effort in a risk management matrix. Risk management allows you to minimize the chances of unexpected circumstances affecting your project, and gives you systems to deal with them as and when they arise.
Looking to the future, you should always track both expected and unexpected risks and document the success of your responses to them. This way, you can adapt and improve your strategy every time you launch a project.
If you’ve never created a risk management matrix before, here are five elements that it should include. Cover these points and add your strategy to your scope change management process.
Risk identification. This is where you run brainstorming sessions with representatives from different teams who collaboratively create a list of potential risks.
Risk analysis. Your risk analysis looks at each risk and assesses the potential impact it will have on your project. This step is also used to rank your risks in order of urgency and potential damage.
Risk response strategies. With your analysis in place, think about how you’ll deal with each risk. There will be some you can avoid, others where you can reduce the impact or probability, still more that you can transfer to third parties, and some you will have to accept.
Risk monitoring. During your project, you’ll have to keep an eye on whether these risks become a reality and monitor your team’s response to them.
Risk communication. Communication is everything in the scope change management, and keeping everybody in the know stretches to risks too!
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Of course, we understand that you can’t rely on elite risk management skills to solve all your problems. The reality is that you need to know how to handle scope changes in project management because circumstances will always conspire against you.
Iterative planning is a technique that agile tech teams have been incorporating into their workflows for years — and the trend is spreading across industries. The philosophy is centered on breaking your project down into smaller, more manageable parts and continuously assessing them, and adapting your scope accordingly.
In practice, teams schedule regular meetings that act as structured opportunities to re-evaluate their project’s scope and make any necessary adjustments. Tech teams traditionally set these refinement sessions at the end of a sprint, resolving problems from the past sprint and applying changes to the next.
In these meetings, each individual discusses their objectives and how they fit into the bigger picture. It is an opportunity for people at all levels to raise any concerns or issues, so as a manager, you need to create an environment where people feel free to talk. Based on the points raised, you choose what you need to adjust — if anything — to keep your overall project on track.
The beauty of iterative planning is that it turns your scope change management from a panicked reaction to a proactive strategy. Regular meetings allow you to identify potential issues before they arise, which stops them from snowballing and keeps the stakeholders engaged. With iteration, you can integrate scope changes smoothly rather than taking a significant hit to your project timeline and budget.
As we touched on in the previous point, communicating clearly and effectively with your stakeholders should be an important part of your scope change management process. It’s always better to bite the bullet early and communicate with your team or clients than to let things spiral out of control and deliver the bad news on deadline day.
From the outset, you should make it clear that the initial plan might change, but that you have strategies for how to handle scope changes in project management. This initial level-setting, and regular status updates throughout the project, are key to building trust between you, your team, and your clients.
To turn communication into a strength of your scope change management, you need to focus both on workplace culture and structured strategies:
Identify all stakeholders so you know who you’re talking to. In your database, you can segment by internal and external players to organize announcements efficiently.
Set expectations to form a communication policy that works for everybody. Your team may want the reassurance of daily standup meetings, while your clients could request written progress reports every week.
Establish rules for communication channels to ensure transparency and fluidity. We would always recommend communicating via a project management tool to avoid siloed conversations and buried email threads. And those face-to-face meetings? Make sure you’ve got a note-taker to keep a record.
Promote openness and honesty to avoid breaking trust. Be appreciative of and open to suggestions from everybody, and practice what you preach by being transparent with your clients.
Transparent communication affects all areas of your scope change management process. If you stick to the principles, the results will speak for themselves.
Communication is of course a two-way street. Clients may wish to change their plans, your superiors might suggest more efficient approaches, and your team could need to flag roadblocks.
But clearly, you can’t have a fully open-door policy with people firing suggestions at you at all times of the day. Effective scope change management means structuring change requests so you can analyze and implement them correctly.
As a project manager, you need to create a scope change management matrix to identify whether modifications are necessary or not. This cuts out the guesswork and helps you structure your decision-making.
Start with questions such as:
Is the change aligned with our strategic priorities?
Does it make sense based on our desired outcomes?
Is the change necessary, or is it already part of the scope?
How urgent is the change?
These will help you decide whether a change is necessary and where it should lie in your list of priorities. You may decide to implement emergency suggestions immediately. However, you can leave less urgent items to your next iteration meeting where you can fully explain what the scope changes are, why they are needed, and how you’re going to attack the issue.
A tricky change approval process isn’t just about getting the full details of a change. It’s also a deterrent. As a project manager, you can usually sense the difference between an essential change and a “nice-to-have”.
Putting a formal change approval process in place is often enough to stop stakeholders from throwing underdeveloped ideas into the ring. This means you can focus on the job at hand and avoid the awkward situation of telling your superiors you won’t be implementing their idea.
Automations have revolutionized business across the board, and they can seriously streamline your scope change management. They cut down on manual work and help you sail through your workflows with far less effort from you and your team. This means you can focus your energy on monitoring progress, planning ahead, and consulting with your stakeholders.
Artificial intelligence (AI) analytics tools can take on vast amounts of data, cut them down to size, and offer insights that will help you manage your project scope. For example, AI can predict sales volume at different points throughout the year and prepare accordingly to avoid any nasty surprises.
Task automation tools take care of the creation, assignment, and tracking of tasks. This helps you predict the impact changes will have on your project and potentially avoid them in the first place.
Dependencies hold a series of tasks together. If you adjust one step of the workflow, subsequent tasks will react in kind. This avoids confusion further down the line when tasks seem to have disappeared from someone’s to-do list.
Automated notifications will keep all of your stakeholders up-to-date about your changes. Assign all relevant people to a task card in your project management software and they’ll stay informed about the deadlines, instructions, and resources involved.
Document synchronization allows you to stick to one master file, safe in the knowledge that nobody is working on a previous version. Collaborative documents automatically sync via the cloud so your scope change management documentation is always consistent across devices and up-to-date.
Automated reporting tracks your team’s performance so you can accurately predict how long tasks take in the future. This makes the scope of your changes easy to predict so you can confidently report to all stakeholders. You can also track how well your changes have affected your overall project performance.
The final point on our list is another proactive practice that can help you identify potential issues and correct your course in advance.
When you’re knee-deep in resolving small issues, it can be easy to miss the bigger picture. But if you take your eye off the overall progress of your project for too long, your scope creep can turn into runaway deadlines and budgets. As a predictor, it’s an opportunity to identify where you can reclaim time lost to scope change.
Create a schedule. Without a structure, it’s easy to put your checkups on the back burner while you address immediate issues.
Define the parameters that you want to review. Typical parameters are schedule, budget, resources, risks, and performance.
Use a standardized workflow to avoid starting from square one for every checkup. Include a check for each of your parameters, follow your workflow to the T and avoid mistakes slipping through the net.
Implement automation in your checkups. It can feel like a chore to step back from the action, so use your trusty algorithms to make your checkups as productive as possible.
Communicate the process to your stakeholders. You’ll prepare them in advance for any bad news, and any celebratory news is always welcome.
Whether you’re new to the concept of scope change management or you came here for a refresher course, these six strategies will serve you well in your future projects.
But to turn your ideas into reality, you need technology that is up to the task.
Bitrix24 comes with everything you need for successful scope change management.
Comprehensive project management tools for pro-level planning
Automation and AI solutions to streamline your workflows
A full suite of communication tools to keep your stakeholders up to date
So if you need a reliable platform to launch winning projects, sign up for Bitrix24 today.
An easy example of a scope change request is a client asking for additional features to be added to a software product mid-project. As it wasn’t included in the initial plan, you’ll need to expand your scope by including extra tasks.
The five steps of scope management processes are:
Good scope change management can limit the potential for creep and even shorten your project timeline. However, failure to put a plan in place can cause you to delay pre-approved deadlines.