How to Say No to Project Scope Creep
Scope creep hasn’t been getting as much attention as in past years, perhaps due to more mature development processes, such as agile methods. Inevitably, though, some customers will want just one more thing and just one more other thing. So, the ability to say no will always be in style.
Saying no requires both processes that support no-saying and the inner strength to say the words. In his StickyMinds article, “How to Deal with Out-of-control Requirements,” Darren Levy suggests that instead of a flat-out no, say “not yet.” Doing this, he says, promotes the concept of phasing in new features in subsequent phases, allowing you to release components instead of delaying the project and releasing everything all at once. And, when you help customers understand the associated costs in resources and time, as well as the impact of a delay, they might think twice.
Levy also advises having the customer sign off on both requirements and scope changes. Signing off confers a sense of accountability that might otherwise be lacking and discourages requests for changes.
Christopher Butler views managing scope creep as a leadership responsibility. Leadership, he says, involves helping customers navigate decisions on the basis of a core goal, such as attracting prospects or growing their business. The opposite of leadership is order taking, which ensures that the scope will creep and keep creeping.
Butler points out that leading rather than taking orders:
... requires being critical. Not critical in the sense of making value judgments (e.g., "that's a dumb idea"), but in the sense of deconstructing ideas in order to justify them. We've got to get comfortable with challenging our clients' requests by asking: Why? What is it for? How will it work? Whom does it benefit? What does it cost? We can do this gently and kindly, by the way.
Still, despite all the formal measures you might establish, not everyone has the inner strength to say no.
As Susan Mazza points out in a post aptly titled “How to Say No and Mean It,” this may especially be the case if the request is from a superior and is actually a demand in disguise. One of Mazza’s suggestions is that if you can’t authentically say yes, you should say no, because that is the honest answer—and then stay in the conversation to help the person making the request figure out a way to get what he or she needs. She acknowledges that, sometimes, of course, you can choose to say no and then accept whatever the consequences may be.
However you go about saying no, preparing is key. Levy recommends that you always have a proactive stance ready to call into action. Being prepared and proactive, he emphasizes, can ensure that you won’t be caught off guard when you find the project scope changing.