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How to Deal with a Change in Scope

Updated on January 8, 2016
Max Dalton profile image

Max holds a B.S. in Mass Communications from SIU and an M.A. in Communication from U of I and is pursuing an MBA from Webster University.


A scope change can feel like a death sentence if you're a project manager. Scope changes result when major changes are introduced after the project's content and schedule have already been agreed upon that affect the project's schedule, budget or both. By being honest with yourself and keeping the project's stakeholders informed, you can effectively handle a scope change and carry the project through to completion in a timely manner with impressive results.

Keep the project stakeholders from breathing down your neck by being up front and realistic about changes to a project's scope.
Keep the project stakeholders from breathing down your neck by being up front and realistic about changes to a project's scope. | Source

What Qualifies as a Scope Change?

Not everything qualifies as a change in the scope of a project. A scope change occurs when a new component is added to a project after the project's assets and a schedule are already agreed upon, and that project is already in development. For example, let's say you work in the Multimedia department of publishing company that specializes in publishing business textbooks and you're working with the Editorial department to oversee the development of a companion website for a textbook that you've agreed with Editorial will have 10 videos, 20 PowerPoint files, 20 PDFs and five interactive tests, and will be finished in two months. After one month, Editorial comes to you and says they also want you to have five Flash-based assets developed that should be included on the website as well. This leaves you with one month to find a developer for the Flash-based assets, come to an agreement on the cost, get the content to the developer, work through betas of the assets and have them posted to the website. This qualifies as a scope change on a number of levels because it includes major work that wasn't originally included, incurs additional costs, and likely affects the project's schedule.

Tell All of the Project Stakeholders

The first thing you need to do after determining that a scope change is necessary is inform all of the stakeholders that the scope of the project has changed. Summarize how the scope of the project has changed and how you think it will affect the project, specifically the project's schedule and budget, and any vendors that have been hired to work on the project. Encourage openness and honesty regarding concerns that anyone has about the project, and also encourage potential solutions to any problems that become apparent. It's best to get everyone face-to-face in the same room or on a conference call. Do not use e-mail as a forum for this kind of conversation; it has a tendency to be too open-ended, and it can be difficult to determine if a resolution has been reached and the conversation can drag on for days. Also, do not leave the room or hang up on the conference call until everyone has agreed with how to proceed. Inform everyone that you'll be in contact as the process continues.

Re-Evaluate the Existing Project Schedule

After informing the project's stakeholders that a scope change is necessary, adjust the project's schedule accordingly, whether or not you think the project can still finish on time. The worst thing you can do is leave the schedule as it is because you want to be the hero and keep the project on track. This often causes you to rush parts of the project and can result in a sloppy finished project that may not meet the demands of your client or may cost someone a lot of money and time to re-work. It's important to be realistic in adjusting your schedule. If you'd normally give yourself six weeks for a specific part of a project and you feel like a change in the project's scope makes it impossible for you to do the job adequately in less than 10 weeks, adjust the schedule to reflect a 10-week requirement. Also, if you don't adjust the schedule and the project winds up late, it's suddenly your fault and not the person who caused the scope change.

Look at How the Scope Change Affects the Project's Cost

There are a variety of ways a change in the scope of a project can affect the project's cost. Often, something big enough to result in a change in scope is often not cheap and often wasn't factored into the project's budget when the budget was being built. Put together a request for proposal to have the work done and then send those out to prospective vendors. Compare the bids you get with how much you have left in the budget to spend. If you have enough money left in the budget to cover the cost of the additional work, good for you, but this is often not the case. If you don't foresee having room in the budget, present your bids and remaining to the project owner to see if more money is available. A good project owner can find extra money for necessary work. However, if the project owner is certain that no more money is available, call a meeting with all of the project stakeholders to weigh your options. For example, see if some of the new additions to the project can be scaled back or done in a more cost-efficient manner. Also, see what a vendor has started doing with regard to developing your project. If there are some parts of your project a vendor hasn't started developing, see if those can be swapped out or scaled back so that some or all of the new additions can be added to the site in place of those assets.

Look at How the Scope Change Affects Vendors

If you're going to need to hire the work resulting from the scope change out to vendors, consider how much time it's going to take the vendor to do the work. Similar to the school of thought applied when you evaluated the schedule, don't rush the vendor and give them time to do the work adequately. Because vendors want to make you happy so that you continue using them, they can sometimes over-promise, and even the best vendors can crank out shoddy work when rushed. When speaking with the vendor during the proposal stage, encourage the vendor to be realistic about how fast they can turn around the work. Don't be afraid to hire another vendor to do the work if you feel like giving the work to the vendor hired to work on the existing project will put too much pressure on them.


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