What is an active IT project worth? One might say nothing – at least not until it’s complete, delivered and returning the expected benefits.
How do you know, then, when to keep going or abandon the effort, especially if costs start to inflate? It’s easy to succumb to the sunk cost fallacy – the idea that something is valuable just because you’ve invested in it. How do you resist letting the ghosts of dollars spent cloud your decision-making?
The answer may be simpler than you think: be vigilant about how you define your scope.
Define the scope, defend the value
IT project management is a delicate balance of estimation and execution. Initial project estimates are done with only some of the information about the final technical solution and informed by a high-level understanding of how it will be delivered.
Estimates of both the total project cost and the solution’s expected gains are based on a shared understanding of scope: what is needed to achieve the expected benefits. Which means that how you define and communicate scope at the start of a project is crucial.
When all stakeholders agree on the basic essentials needed to deliver the desired benefits (in other words, the minimum viable product), success is more likely. And investing time up front to scope a simple project view that clearly supports the value outlined in the business case will help you navigate delivery challenges down the road.
Remember, keep it simple. If you can’t articulate an overall scope of the project on one page, consider that your approach may be too complex. You want this initial view to be a quick reference guide for the delivery team, the compass that will provide their “true North” during delivery. Details are important, and you will need them – as the project progresses. But aligning everyone early behind a common understanding of the broad scope and how it delivers the desired value can prevent costly misunderstandings.
Realistically, this view may shift somewhat over the life of the project. But the scope you set upfront lays the project foundation and defines its basic purpose and structure. While details may be adjusted, everyone involved should know that future changes to any of the main project pillars are major – requiring serious investigation and senior-level approval.
A respect for the project scope will help keep everyone on track and avoid shifts in delivery approach resulting from ‘watercooler’ chat or outright whimsy. With a set scope, the project team is aligned at every level, and everyone understands that fundamentals don’t change without engaging a clear change-management process to validate the benefits.
Resist the creep
In an Agile world where developers sit side by side with users to accelerate delivery, it can be easy for the big picture to become blurry. Someone wants to make change here, someone else sees an opportunity to piggyback functionality there, and soon you find both scope and costs creeping up while project benefits shrink.
By tracking benefit delivery as it relates to project scope, you can create a clear line of sight between inflating costs and their impact on your bottom line. When you can see scope creep diminishing your return on investment (ROI), it’s time for a re-evaluation of how your solution will deliver the benefits the organization requires.
Just because something technically can be done, doesn’t mean it should. When your team is under pressure to make little change after little change, ask yourself if each new add-on is still supporting the project goals. Often, there are easier, cheaper ways to achieve desired benefits than just dumping everything and the kitchen sink into one project.
And if costs are inflating to a point where ROI is seriously diminished, it may be worth considering a completely different solution. Don’t be afraid to pivot when the numbers support it. It’s better to find out quickly that a technical solution isn’t optimal while you still have time to change course.
How cShell can help
Sometimes the clearest view of a project and its benefits is had from the outside. With extensive project-delivery expertise, our team can help you distill a clear, high-level scope of your next project using our tried-and-tested templates as a customizable guide.
We will help you establish an effective strategy for baseline project scoping with clear lines of sight to your financial plan, so you can gain more value from your project delivery.