Let Future Projects Pay Future Project Costs
Scope Management is a big part of project management success. A few
decades ago, I went around trying to make money giving Tom Peters
style presentations to big companies but charging around 1% of what
Tom charges. I was able to get a few nibbles. One presentation I gave
was called Don’s Rules of Thumb for Project Management Success. I
could probably still find the material but I do remember one of the
rules: Let Future Projects Pay Future Project Costs.
There is a lot of pressure when running a sizable project for various
stakeholders to come forward with scope change requests for things
they cannot currently get approved. There is often a fallacy they
propose that says that since you are there anyway, it would not cost
much to add this thing or dig this hole. The ideas often make sense
from any sort of payback calculation but in my experience more often
than not, unintended consequences show the extra work was basically a
mistake. I know a few project managers who were grilled for exceeding
the original budget even when they had all the proper paper work
completed to add the scope to their job. The original budget is often
fixed in the minds of the observers.
Scope Change Examples
Here are a few examples to illustrate this.
a) In one case, a Project Manager was doing some piping installation in a
new building. A stakeholder came along and said there was a potential
plan to change the use that would require installing some rather large
valves where the main pipes entered and exited the building. The Project Manager (PM)
spent a few $100,000 to extend the building to accommodate the
proposed future valves. The PM was fired a short time later. A few
years pass and the PM met the same stakeholder in a social setting.
The PM asked about the piping change. The stakeholder was a bit
annoyed and said that they had to spend a lot of money modifying the
piping outside the building to accommodate the new valves. The former
PM explained how there was room inside to complete the planned work,
but since he was not there, the extra work was done. In this case the
money was spent for the future work and was wasted.
b) In another case when I was the PM, another stakeholder wanted me to
spend a few million dollars to install some infrastructure to test the
facility after 5 years of use. Since 5 years is longer than I ever
worked anywhere, I decided to put in some connections to allow the
infrastructure to be connected in 5 years time and saved the few
million dollars. After I had been fired, I went back in 5 years just
to ask the stakeholder about the proposed infrastructure. He stated
that the advances in electronic equipment had been unforeseen and if
we had spent the millions, it would have been obsolete for what they
Of course, there will always be exceptions to a rule of thumb. But in
general, this one has served me well.
About the Author
Dr. Donald Kennedy, Ph.D., P.Eng., IntPE, CPEM, FASEM is a regular contributor to the ASEM Practice Periodical. He has celebrated a lengthy career in heavy industrial operations and construction.