Scope Creep and the Holidays

Think of Christmas as one giant project and Santa as the ultimate project manager. No man has ever been so challenged to manage the stakeholders, gather requirements, and stick to a timeline. In the scope, schedule, and cost triangle, clearly cost is not a factor in his plans (according to the stakeholder requirements at least!).

Every year we now have a ritual of taking my daughter to see the Santa Claus who lives in my neighborhood. It is our way to help her hone in on THE LIST and make it easier for Santa and his elves to identify THE TOY that she REALLY wants. She’s at this great age where every ad on television makes her come running to tell me about some great stuffed toy/slipper combo that is FREE if we ACT NOW. Clearly the media moguls know how to talk persuasively to a four year old.

When she is in the midst of her excitement of the latest and greatest toy that she just HAS TO HAVE and changing her Christmas list requirements yet again, I am reminded of the countless stakeholders who suddenly come up with yet another requirement that has to be included in the project. The enthusiasm of a really good idea (or just great marketing) can overwhelm even the most practical, level-headed stakeholder and get them carried away with a BSO (bright shiny object). Typically, these ideas don’t seem like they’ll be much trouble, but they actually add months to the timeline and thousands to the budget.  

Managing the expectations of a four year old as a parent is tough. Santa is this heroic, toy-building, flying reindeer owning, friendly guy who manages to give every kid everything they want, everywhere in the world. Clearly stakeholder expectation management has to be a honed skill owned by parents everywhere. My personal choice to work with her on setting expectations is to point out what toys Santa knows would a) fit in our house b) not endanger herself or her family (Santa wants her around next year so he can return with more gifts), and c) hopefully help her learn something fun and new (Santa like smart girls as well). Those same management skills play out with my projects as well. Yes, the new idea is fun, marketable, and potentially a great differentiator. However, it can’t a) fit in our current schedule or budget (and the executives do like us to comply with both), b) endanger making it to market before the competition does altogether and c) won’t necessarily add enough to the product to make the additional project work worthwhile. Just like my daughter, these stakeholders have no concept that the project manager already has a LOT to do and enough requirements to manage. Unlike Santa, I don’t have elves assigned to my project — or parents who can help with 4 a.m. runs to the store for the last-minute, got-to-have-it-or-I’ll-die toy that hits the list.

In this article

Join the Conversation