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Managing a Poorly-Scoped Project

Mar 01 '18

Sometimes, even carefully-planned projects can get into trouble. Painful shake-ups can affect projects before development can even really begin, and unnecessary mistakes sometimes put the team under the gun. Regardless of how you ended up working on a project that was poorly scoped or is spiraling over budget, it’s time to fix it. Check out these steps you can take to re-route you project onto a successful path:

Step 1: Tackle Scope Change Head On

As the project manager, you have to walk a fine line between satisfying the client’s business needs and recognizing when the client’s requests won’t help you meet those needs. Even the smallest changes to project scope can start to add up, so be very sure that clients’ requests for changes are appropriate and crucial to achieving ultimate goals. If it is necessary to venture into territory that wasn’t defined in the contract, it’s not the end of world. Just calmly explain to the client that you agree the new work is important, and that you will get an estimate of the work involved so you can create an amendment or change order to the existing contract.

Step 2: Alert Leadership and the Client as Early as Possible

Refusing to acknowledge the pile of garbage on the floor does not make the room any less smelly, and the sooner you clean it up, the sooner everyone in the room can breathe easier. First, alert your company’s leadership to the issue. Explain briefly how the mistake happened, how you propose to fix the mistake, the tangible and intangible cost of the fix, and how you plan to prevent the same mistake from happening in the future. Once you have approval to move forward with the fix, schedule a meeting with the client. If it was your—or your team’s—mistake, own it and explain the solution. If the mistake was the client’s, don’t point fingers; instead propose a different approach that will help everyone avoid making the mistake again.

Step 3: Know Your Project Budget and Burn

Own your project. The project manager should know the project budget, burn on that budget, and be able to have a clear, knowledgeable discussion with company leadership and the client at a moment’s notice. If the budget begins to spiral, you should flag it immediately, because you are always watching your projects. Picture your projects as people attending a dinner party you are hosting. As the project manager, you know how to engage and feed the people in attendance. You get to know their personalities and quirks and, as the party progresses, you learn how to successfully navigate the evening to make sure everyone leaves as satisfied as possible. A good host, like a good project manager, understands that people sometimes eat faster or more than expected, and when to refill the plate or gently explain there is no more food. Be transparent if you can see that the remaining budget won’t cover the remaining work. . Remember the common goal—everyone leaving satisfied after a successful party—and collaborate to find a way to get there. If an increase in budget is necessary and possible, be confident in your estimates of what remains. If an increase is not possible, work to reset expectations of what can be accomplished.  

In the end, mistakes happen and issues come up during the life of most projects. When you are able to course-correct that mistake in a transparent and proactive way and get the project back on track, you are truly doing a great service to your company and your client. No matter how the project got there, remember to own your project, and always be the leader who can navigate the project to where it needs to be.

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