We’ve all dealt with the unpleasant dynamic of scope creep at some point in our careers. As leaders, our job is to manage scope effectively so our teams can get their work done without running themselves ragged.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin Eikenberry (author of From Bud to Boss) for over an hour on this topic. Today I’ll provide an excerpt of that conversation and at the end of the post I’ll provide you with a link for the actual audio file of our conversation.
So, here are a few thoughts on how leadership plays a critical role in controlling scope. It’s another excerpt from my conversation with Kevin (previously Kevin and I discussed a leader’s role in process improvement – you can read that post here).
Kevin Eikenberry: The thing I think is really important is this idea of giving people a clear scope and letting them know where they can play and where they can’t. This idea of a clear scope is so important. How have you seen leaders successfully deal with what I am sure we have all experienced, which is scope creep? How can we help teams work through that challenge?
Mike Figliuolo: I think there are two kinds of scope creep. There is the one where the team wants to expand the area on which they are going to have an impact. The second is where you have all those wonderful external parties, like senior executives and other stakeholders, trying to expand the scope of what your team works on. Let me focus on that first area.
I think it’s important to make sure that you tell the team “what we want you to focus on is the process from step A to step B.” Make sure they map that out, identify any process improvement opportunities within that, and that they do that before you give them additional scope. It’s a requirement to lay out what improvements we are going to make if we just touch this part of the process.
Satisfying that ends up being the first hurdle for them to expand that scope. Then I think it’s fairly easy to change how you think about scoping. So if they are saying “We want to go upstream with these changes” you can define their scope again, but not so much scope in terms of the process itself, but scope in terms of the type of work you will let them do.
The first way you might increase their scope is “define the entire expanded process map and show me where you think the opportunities are and how they are impacting us downstream.” Notice you haven’t let them change anything. You haven’t let them spend any money or change any resources or request resources. All you said is “here is the hurdle for expanding your scope: you have to show me the downstream process map first.”
Once they have shown you the process map, have them come back with improvement recommendations. That’s the next expansion of their scope. Again, this is all self-determined by the team and by their desire to expand the scope. Once they come back with recommendations, then you expand the scope again and say “all right, now I am going to let you do a pilot or a test” and you have kind of given them a little bit more latitude with a controlled expansion of scope.
In approaching scope this way, you are using a stage-gate to expand that scope, but maintaining a degree of control versus saying “oh, yeah, sure, go ahead upstream and change whatever you want.” That’s clearly a recipe for disaster. So think of scope in terms of scoping the processes they focus on, then scoping the type of work they can perform.
Kevin: I think that’s a good point. The only thing I would add is that as they add to that scope, it could very well include other people. Now we need to get people from another department involved and we need to get other managers involved.
When senior managers or other people get involved and say “hey, you are doing good stuff. Why don’t you look at this too?” that’s when we have to be careful in order to prevent scope creep. That stepwise approach you described is a very smart one for us to consider.
Mike: You are spot on with that because if that manager in an adjacent department has your people now improving his or her processes, they say “Ooh! Free resources!” and that’s the risk. Once you expand scope into the processes of another constituent group, you will face the challenge of those other managers and executives saying “why don’t you look at this, look at that, and look at that?”
It’s critical that you have a prioritized list of initiatives and areas you are going to look at and you have a very well-defined sense of “given the resource I currently have, how far down that list of initiatives can I go before I run out of resources?”
When you can articulate those constraints to that stakeholder who is asking “hey, can you look at these other ten things?” you can have the intelligent conversation that goes “yes, I can if…”
You might say “Yes, I can look at it if you give me two of your team members, or you give me X dollars for me to bring in external consultants or you give me additional time.” When you have this defined prioritized list, you can have that negotiation, but you can only do it successfully when you know what it’s going to take to get it done.
If you would like to listen to the entire interview, you can do so by CLICKING HERE. Kevin and I had a great conversation. I hope you’ll take the time to listen and learn how leadership is a critical factor in successfully managing scope.
– If you’re serious about improving your leadership skills, grab yourself a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can lead your people more effectively. CLICK HERE to get your copy.