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Best Practices for Managing Project Scope Changes in Your PMO

Published by Karoline Holicky

July 15th, 2021

in Project Portfolio Management

Most organizations experience project scope changes. Scope changes are a natural and necessary part of any project portfolio, but if they aren’t managed properly, they can take over and cause chaos amongst your projects. Striking the balance between necessary changes and an out-of-control project portfolio can be difficult. While project scope changes will likely originate from your project managers, the Project Management Office (PMO) still plays a crucial role. As a PMO leader, you can help set your organization up for success in managing scope changes with a few best practices.

Start with a Strong Foundation

One of the reasons an organization can be plagued with unnecessary changes in project scope is that projects are not clearly defined in the beginning. As a PMO leader, you can establish standards that ensure initiatives in your pipeline and eventual projects come with a clear understanding of what the project will accomplish, the deliverables it will deliver and the budget and resources that it needs. When this information is clearly defined, it provides transparency about the project that builds a strong foundation that’s less susceptible to unnecessary changes in scope or scope creep.

Create Clear Expectations

Once you’ve created a strong project foundation by clearly defining requirements and outcomes, it’s important to share this information with decision-makers and stakeholders. This step is crucial because it sets expectations for upper management. When you don’t set these expectations, you can fall into the trap of scope changes because the project’s requirements or deliverables weren’t understood from the get-go. This is inefficient and costly, but an easy fix.

Outline Processes for Change Requests

Just as you set standards for new initiatives and projects, create standards around scope change requests too. Define what information should be provided by anyone looking to change a project’s scope (you can quickly accomplish this by creating a template). Also, consider the steps involved in evaluating change requests. Who reviews what information at what stage in the process? What information do they need to make an informed decision? When you create guidelines around this process, you prevent making rash decisions about changes in scope.

Know When to Change Scope

Scope changes can be a good thing. In an ideal world, the plans that we make would be executed perfectly within budget and on time. But the reality is that change is sometimes needed. If your organization’s needs change or if your customer’s needs change, you should adapt to accommodate these needs which might mean widening or narrowing the scope of a project. While we can accept that sometimes change is needed, determining exactly what that looks like is a little less black and white. To help your organization manage scope changes, we recommend putting in place some guidelines. For every proposed change in scope, your organization should ask and answer several questions:

  • What caused a change in scope to be needed?
  • What would happen if we didn’t change the scope?
  • What would happen if we did change the scope?

These questions seem basic but taking the time to answer them can help ensure scope changes are appropriate. The first question forces you to consider the environment a project is operating in. Since we don’t plan to have changes in scope, asking what force or influence is disrupting our plans will help us understand if we want to adapt to these forces or if we need to.

Scope Changes in the PMO

Asking what would happen if the scope wasn’t changed and what would happen if it did change establishes the stakes and the tradeoffs. Would deciding not to alter the scope of a project fail to meet a client’s needs or deliver a finished product that was already out of date or unneeded? Would changing the scope require additional resources and budget or affect other project dependencies? When organizations answer these questions, they can make sure they make informed decisions about scope changes and effectively manage changes, so they don’t take over your project portfolio.

Need Help Managing Project Change Requests?

Download our free templates for managing project changes, priorities and new initiatives.

Use a Lean Methodology

Organizations need a regular process and pathway for managing scope changes. We developed Lean Project Portfolio Management™ (Lean PPM™) to help organizations easily manage all aspects of their project portfolio including scope changes. Lean PPM™ has four continuously running stages that keep new ideas, projects and portfolios moving forward. When you use Lean PPM™, scope changes have a channel for development, review and approval. To learn more about how you can use Lean PPM™ to manage your scope changes and your entire portfolio, visit our Lean PPM™ resource page.

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