Project Management Success – Scope, Time and Cost

Project Management Success depends on balancing the core project components of Scope, Cost and Time. This is often referred to as the Project Scope Triangle or the Project Quality Triangle. Scope refers the quantity and quality of what needs to be delivered in the project. Cost refers the financial cost of the project (material and resources) and time refers to the amount of time in which the complete project must be delivered.

A colleague of mine has a favourite saying – “Good, Cheap or Fast – pick any two”. Basically, this demonstrates the relationship between these project forces. If you want a project to deliver high quality, fast, then it will cost. If you want a project to be fast and cheap, then the scope will need to be compromised and if you want the project to deliver quality and be cheap then it will take time to do it. Knowing what the key drivers are of your project can help you make decisions when crunch time comes and something has to give.

Talking to your customer can help you determine which of these project factors are immovable and which are flexible. For example, a customer may have a deadline that is immovable and with current scope there is no way you can meet it. Knowing that the project timeline is the main driver of the project immediately gives you your two options – cut scope or increase resources.

Here are a few tips for managing scope, cost and time.

Managing Scope

Scope refers to the quality and quantity of project deliverables specific to a particular project. Scope, unfortunately, has a tendency to increase as a project progresses. This can be due to a number of factors. Often as the project progresses it becomes more clearly defined and we realize the actual requirements as opposed to the perceived requirements we based our estimation on. Sometimes people, both on the customer and vendor sides, can get caught in the trap of ‘wouldn’t it be good if it could do…..’. So we need to be constantly mindful of our scope and stick to it. Adding scope means increased cost in terms of project budget and possibly project time, so project managers need be on top of scope issues:

  • Ensure you have formal, written, agreement on the scope of the project – if the scope is ‘fuzzy’ you’ll get stuck in issues of what is in scope and what is out of scope. It helps when you can clearly see that a proposed item is a variation from what is document.
  • Recognize the scope creep – know your specification/requirements. Recognize a variation to the agreed document and highlight it as a project issue.
  • Assess the Impact and determine the options. Assess the time and cost impact of the increase in scope and present this to whomever you need in order to get a decision. Depending upon the level of autonomy the project manager has within the project you may be able to make decisions upon the outcome yourself. Otherwise present the options to the decision makers in a succinct manner to enable them to make an informed decision.
  • Revise the Plan – depending upon the outcome of your discussions you may need to: Remove other functions to accommodate, increase time, increase the resourcing (and associated costs), increase the material costs to accommodate. Whatever your outcome, document it and make sure everyone is clear of the impacts on the project. Revise your plan to reflect the changes.

Managing Cost and Time

The following tips relate to both cost and time:

  • Careful estimation – being able to estimate against clearly defined scope is the best way to go here, but we all know, that this is often not the reality. Fixed price, up front quoting can make this very difficult and we often have to work with what we have at the time. Use you and your team’s knowledge of how long a task takes, refer to past projects. Know that you will most likely underestimate, so don’t base everything on best case scenario, give yourself a little breathing room.
  • Contingency time planning – be mindful of applying an adequate time contingency. This contingency should be based upon the level of detail of scope you have to work with, your knowledge of your organization and it’s current level of resourcing, the size of the project and external factors that may impact upon the project, such as dependencies on other projects. Remember to factor in adequate review and approval times and keep in mind the more people involved in review and approval, the longer it takes.
  • Track your project – know when your project is heading outside of your acceptable parameters so that you can quickly take action. The Project Plan is your key planning, tracking and managing tool throughout the project so make sure you look at it regularly and update it to reflect what is actually occurring.

These are just a few tips for project management success. Good luck!

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