Home / Project Management Skills / Scope Creep, Unrealized Benefits, and Failed Projects…it’s your own fault!

Scope Creep, Unrealized Benefits, and Failed Projects…it’s your own fault!

waterfall-model-requirementsIt always amazes me that most people are aware of the usual suspects in project failure, yet we continue to pontificate over them year after year. When I speak with colleagues and potential clients, the terms scope creep and executive support are quickly brought up, among others.

In August, the Project Management Institute published “Requirements Management — A Core Competency for Project and Program Success” which found that when projects do not meet their objectives that “inaccurate requirements management is the primary cause of that outcome almost half of that time (47 percent).” This report goes on to quantify this in dollars but stating low-performing organizations, in this requirements space, cost roughly 10 cents for every dollar; while high-performing counterparts are much more efficient with a 1 percent waste.

At the risk of alienating potential clients, I have never been too reserved to share my opinions about the skills-gap that so many organizations and tech magazines like to report about. In short, technology continues to evolve at break-neck speeds but training & development investments, at most firms, are down.

Sure, you can find outliers that truly value human capital and view their people as investments but most have not adopted this broadly in their organization.

Unfortunately, five years after the economic fall-out of 2009 too many employees find themselves still doing the job of two and three people. Not only does this workload not allow for much training and development, but the concept of vacation is becoming a distant memory.

Inc. Magazine references that employees only use 51% of their vacation time and even when on vacation, 61% reported doing some work. In short, we are seeing companies squeeze every bit of productivity from their employees and requirements management doesn’t appear to fall within this productivity space.

As a matter of fact, the PMI report goes on to state that only 35% of organizations’ top management (36% of executives) view requirements as being fully valuable! Just as neglecting training & development creates a gap in the organization, poor requirements management creates a huge chasm on you project.

As a PMO Director it is your responsibility to strategically plan for the maturity of requirements management. As a Project Manager, you may be the last chance to ensuring a project is positioned for success.

So now what?

Equip Yourself

Whether you are the PMO Director or a newly minted Project Manager, take time to read the PMI report mentioned above. This idea of investing in time, people, and processes will most definitely require a level of evangelism. Convincing people that talking about requirements is productive and value-added will require that you can back up your claims. Learn the stats and studies to help illustrate your points and build credibility. Explaining that only 1 in 5 organizations report high maturity, only 49% of organizations have the appropriate resources to conduct requirements management, and that 5.1% of every $1 is wasted due to poor requirements ($51k of every $1M USD) can really help you make the business case and gain the buy-in needed to get this right.

Secure the Right People

One of the most misunderstand roles, besides a Project Manager, in a project driven organization is the Business Analyst. I helped an organization completely redesign their Salesforce platform, implement a new sales funnel, introduce SLA’s between Marketing and Sales, as well as implement a global lead generation firm…globally….in under 9 months! Because I had an awesome Business Analyst on the team. My experience completely supports the PMI report that states that organizations which value and secure the appropriate resources, for effective requirements management, typically realize 20% more success as it relates to being on-time, within budget, and meeting the established baseline. Considering that mature, appropriately staffed projects can save $51k for every $1M, a strong business analyst should be an easy business case to make.

*If you are the PM and don’t control project resources, you can control the resources that you engage. During requirements gathering, you must consider who is impacted…even in the smallest way. Take time to talk with every department, your customers, business partners, etc.

Culture…drive awareness and buy-in

I have already mentioned that productivity and the bottom-line are what drives business. Not because executives are cold-hearted Scrooges, rather because of the measurable characteristics of that bottom-line. Considering many PMOs fall on the side of operations, it is certainly a challenge to convince executives that they need to delay $x of revenue so you can do proper requirements management. Smartphones have made the software update a natural part of one’s day and the start-up craze has entire companies launching in phases. Even Microsoft is releasing multiple Operating Systems within months vs years…decades! Our society has become accepting of versioning and that doesn’t help your cause here. I encourage you to stand tall and stand strong…an organization that recognizes the value of requirements management experiences almost 25% more project success. The message can’t be a bullet point in your kick-off meeting or some excuse during your post-mortem. Requirements management must be built into the DNA of an organization, just like integrity, innovation, etc.

Stick to the basics like the 5 Why’s

Much of this takes time and occurs at the management layer, but there are some tactical things that Project Managers can start doing right after reading this…remember to ask Who? What? When? Where? And Why?

  • Who is this product or service for? Who is affected by this project…Positively or negatively? Directly or indirectly?
  • What is it? What is it not? What systems are touched? What is the competition doing? What happens if we do not do this? What business goal does this support?
  • When is this starting? When is it targeted to launch?
  • Where is this available? Where are the resources?
  • Why are we doing this? Why now?

Regardless of how you tackle requirements management on your projects, don’t forget that it takes time and discipline. Many are going to be anxious to ‘get on with it’ but you must take the leadership reigns and position your project for success. Abraham Lincoln said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”

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About Robert Kelly

Robert Kelly
Robert Kelly is a Managing Partner at KPS, a project management consultancy. Robert is also the Co-Founder of #PMChat, a global community of project managers and business leaders that discuss best practices and lessons learned via Twitter.


  1. Avatar

    Great post Robert. All the time reading it I was wondering who authored it. I get to the bottom and, duh. Should of known. Great to see recognized PMs promoting the value of business analysis for great projects. You may also be interested in this article I ran across a couple of days ago – http://www.agileconnection.com/article/dear-customer-truth-about-it-projects

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Avatar

    That is great;
    Abraham Lincoln said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”

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