Scope: Mastering the fuzzy constraint by Brad Bigelow

Scope: Mastering the fuzzy constraint by Brad Bigelow 

Speaker: Brad Bigelow

Chief of Programme Assurance

NATO C3 Agency - Brussels

Tuesday, 8 May - 16.00–17.15 - 1 hour, 15 minutes

Summary: A cost overrun or schedule delay is easy to identify but is “scope creep” always a bad thing? This session explores the complex nature of project scope, revealing the importance of multiple perspectives on scope—inside and outside the project—and addressing basic questions about the project: What? How? Why?Learning objectives

laforest-valerie.jpgReport by: 

Valérie Laforest, PMP

France Sud Chapter


Scope: Mastering the fuzzy constraint by Brad Bigelow


In this very well attended session, Brad Bigelow first stated that Scope is one of the most difficult aspect in Project planning... and he demonstrated why.

He first took the example of a session during this congress. Time is easy to figure out, for cost you can always divide by the number of attended sessions, but what, he asked, is the scope of a session?

To make a trade off, Overtime and Over budget are not difficult to figure out.

What about “Overscope”?

If we get back to the definition as in the PMBOK, Scope is Sum of the products, services and results to be delivered in a project.

This is more about perception -> What are the boundaries?

He compared scope to a fuzzy set: in a fuzzy set, there is a gradual change from what is in and what is out of the set. Thus, the project manager has to define where the boundaries are between what is in and what is out of scope. 

Defining these boundaries is important because they have an impact on cost and time.
The speaker broke down scope into 3 Key aspects: the output (deliverables, products), the necessary work, and the boundaries.

He noted that if we accept this break down of scope, project managers no longer have a a simple “iron triangle” anymore but a more complicated relationship between time, cost and these multiple aspects of scope. 

Even PMBOK recommends further breaking down products into a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS)  and work into a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). And you also have to create multiple boundaries.
Boundaries are related to internal and external factors. Many definte what you can't change within your own PM authority: Legal, regulatory constraints, interfaces taking into account all the interections with other systems.  Location could induce boundaries. Production methods and facilities. Procurement is very often a constraint. Standardisation most likely.

The danger of breaking down scope into its aspects is that by focusing on the details you can easily become lost.

To avoid such a trap, the speaker proposed some tools / guidelines to the audience.

First, Moscow analysis (MSCW) is a very useful tool: working with stakeholders to categorize scope in things they Must have, Should have, Could have, or Won't have.

Sometimes, scope is not the most important constraint: the case of Y2K projects illustrates that when the schedule is tight you're not going to be open to scope change.

We do have a Negative view of scope change, perceiving it as an unwanted deviation from plan. Scope change is often called “scope creep” because we have to redo the plan. But scope change is not always a bad thing, far from it. It is often much cheaper to adapt an existing project than to start up an entirely new one.

An adaptive approach would allow to stick closer to actual conditions: Work the plan, adapt it to reality and re-do the plan.

He used the Obeng matrix to show that not all projects are the same. If we know what to do and how to do it, probably we aren't working on a project, but a task. What Obeng calls “Lost in fog” illustrates the opposite: a project where we don’t know what to do and don’t know how to do it. As soon as it advances it becomes more complex. 

Rationale for change in a project should be expressed and recorded: is it because of whim, indecision—weak rationales—or is it because of an opportunity, change in strategy, external factors—strong rationales? Indecision is very common as we have to compensate because we didn't anticipated a problem. Innovative projects often don't stick to the plan, so that they are able to take advantage of opportunities.

Impact of duration: Time most likely includes a deformation of the initial conditions. Long-duration projects are much more likely to need to make changes to plans than short-term ones.
Project managers need to remember that their project is not the centre of the universe: it exists because of larger needs of an organization, and the project’s ability to adapt to external conditions can be a key factor of success.

As a closing advice, the speaker reminded the audience of the 3rd law of motion: rejecting the change has consequences. Don't lose sight of the big picture!!