Scope Management – Addressing Scope Changes with Management

I earlier wrote about scope management, maintaining that our job as project managers is not to stop all changes but to manage them for the good of the project. Some changes do make sense. I also know that in today’s projects there is often very little or no extra time or money to be gotten. But if we are presented with a change that makes sense, how do we get some extra time or money from the precious little that is available?

Assuming time and cost are the greatest constraints, I know management will try to, and often does, hold us to the original cost budget and time. You will only have a chance to succeed in getting additional resources if you follow the good practice of having contingency built in to the original plan to absorb normal changes, which is only realistic. If you either do not have contingency or did not put enough in, I have found that when I make a solid business case for a change to the defined parameters, I am given the approval to make the change more often than you might expect. (Along with approval come the associated necessary adjustments to various baselines, including cost and time.) Sometimes, other items are traded to make the change possible without impacting time.

In the end, management wants to look good and deliver success. They are normally reasonable and realistic about things, but they do what they do best — push the PM and team as hard as possible to deliver for as little as possible. That is their job. To be sure, some approach that effort in a healthier manner than others, but all management does it (or should).

I believe in setting expectations up front and creating as healthy an environment for the project as possible. I work with my stakeholders to help them all understand that I will manage change as best I can to ensure, as much as possible, that only the changes that make sense are made. I try to establish that trust up front and over time so that I do have some flexibility in actually managing this process instead of just taking orders. Too many PMs I have watched are order takers and not as proactive as they should be on their projects. Maybe they are beat down too much. But if you take a look around, haven’t you noticed that even in the most unhealthy environments, there are always a few PMs who are able to make progress with management and the customer? Those are the proactive ones who know how to speak management’s language.

A while back, I read a good article titled “Towards Sanity in Software Project Estimation: A Chat With Steve McConnell” at It really stuck with me. One of the points in the article is that there are different communication styles between the typical executive and the typical technical person (or project manager). Business executives are promoted for doing what they do best, which is the ability to be assertive. They do not fully understand the technical aspect of the project, and so they naturally probe and ask questions. While technical staff believe they are being assertive, most outsiders will say that they cave too quickly.

When it is important, stand up for what you know and need by presenting facts that management will understand. Don’t whine or speak in generalities. And try not to be an ‘early caver.’

What are your strategies for getting additional resources (time or money) when scope change is necessary?

From Vicki Wrona

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1 comment

  1. Reply

    Hi Vicki,

    A timely post.

    It seems no matter how tightly written one’s project scope statement is that project stakeholders will still try to get the scope increased. I’ve had to learn the hard way how to avoid scope creep and there still is no easy way to avoid it, other than as you state, learning how to manage your project teams and expectations whilst trying to build a little breathing space in your project contingency plan.


    Susan de Sousa