Category Archives: Scope

Scope Project Management Techniques

Your Project Will Change

You led your team through a very thorough requirements gathering process. There was brainstorming and walk-throughs of the product functionality. Multiple groups contributed and reviewed the results. Additional analysis and review went into deciding which of the requirements would really make it into the scope. There was plenty of intelligent debate. And now finally, the project scope document has been signed.

Everything has been agreed upon and there will be no changes. Right? Wrong! Your project will change. You might begin to think, “What does she know? She wasn’t there. She did not see all of the work that went into agreeing upon our project scope.” You are right. I have not been following you. Still, your project will change.

What you have done is helped to ensure that the changes that occur either stem from unforeseeable circumstances or are truly useful enhancements or result from changes in the organization or political climate. Your project will change.

Even with the best planning possible, random things can occur. Previously stable business partner can go out of business and cause you to seek out new suppliers. A certain type of material may not hold up to testing. A new regulation may be imposed on your industry. A product may not function as designed. Testing might reveal a flaw. Sometimes unforeseen events bring about change.

As the project moves along, your team members will develop a better understanding of the work that is being performed. Your customers will develop a better understanding of what they really need. New ideas will evolve. You are not going to tell all parties to stop thinking, to stop coming up with new ways to make your product or service even better. You want the good ideas to keep flowing. If a change to the project is valuable enough, then a change request should be approved and the change should be incorporated. Your project will change.

To your surprise, your project sponsor who seemed happy and stable in her position announces that she has accepted a position outside your organization. Her replacement supports your project, but has different ideas about the project objectives and about what you and your team should really be creating.

Say it with me now, “My project will change.”

And it is going to be all right. The amazing work you did with your requirements and your scope document was well worth the effort. By spending time gathering requirements and agreeing upon scope, you have created a good baseline for the changes that will come. You and your team will recognize change. You will be able to have intelligent conversations about what these changes mean to your project.

Let the changes come, you are ready for them.

Rolling Wave Planning and Progressive Elaboration

Hi Josh,

I am reviewing the PM PrepCast for the second time. I am scheduled to take the exam [soon].

Right now I have an issue discerning the difference between Rolling Wave Planning and Progressive Elaboration. Not that this issue by itself is pass/fail but every question answered correctly helps. Can you provide a some definitions that might be able to clear this up? The PMBOK guide definitions are not helping.

An excellent question!

Rolling Wave Planning

Rolling wave planning is a type of progressive elaboration. So if I put it in a list with other examples:

Progressive Elaboration (examples)

  • Rolling wave planning (usually this term is used in a waterfall project environment)
  • Sprint planning (Agile)
  • Kanban task decomposition (start with larger deliverables or feature sets, decompose into smaller pieces as they exit the backlog and go into the active value stream)
  • Prototyping

Progressive Elaboration

Progressive Elaboration just means you keep things months out at a high level and don’t try to guess what the details will be yet. Scope is broadly defined, specific tasks are probably not yet defined, and estimates are ROM (Rough Order of Magnitude).

As you get closer in time, you go through a re-planning effort to break down that vague, high-level plan down into specific sub-deliverables, tasks, and updated estimates that you can actually go and have your teams execute on.

Planning Packages

In my organization, we use a concept called planning packages when work is too far out in the future and too undefined. There are ROM estimates attached to these planning packages and we know in general what they are about. We can even define the deliverables associated with a planning package, although when we get closer those deliverables may be implemented differently than what was initially guessed at.

Will you leave a comment below with questions or to chip in your own $0.02 ?

What Is A WBS?

Great question from Bill today about what a WBS is and how it’s used in planning project scope:

Hello Josh

Please clarify something for me. I am only into chapter 7 of WBS Coach so if it is explained later please forgive me.

From what I have read so far it seems that the WBS is something different from the schedule. Is that a point you are making or am I understanding it wrong? I thought the schedule was based/ built on the WBS.


You are correct Bill

The WBS is distinct from the schedule.

Specifically, you want to only focus on deliverables when creating the WBS, irrespective of time in my opinion (I still shy away from recommending phase-based deliverables in general, but recognize with some programs that may be the structure used) . ?I also recommend not using staff roles to structure your work breakdown structure.

Then you break those deliverables down into tasks, and the tasks are when then end up on your schedule. Most of the time, your schedule ends up being structured at least in part by the WBS structure, but not always and not completely.

In the PRINCE2 world, they call my version of a WBS a Product Breakdown Structure (PBS). And when I’m talking about task decomposition in a Basis of Estimate (BOE), they do the same thing with what they call a WBS. We’re doing the same things really, but the terminology can make it confusing if you are trying to translate across the pond.

This is why I advise to never even open a scheduling tool until you have first

  1. identified and decomposed all project deliverables on a PBS/WBS
  2. identified the tasks and resources required to create the deliverables

Want to learn more? Check out this free report by clicking the image below:

Small Projects: How To Rock Them

Feeling like your small projects aren’t giving you the experience you need? ?I know where you’re coming from.

It’s how “accidental” project managers like us start out. ?Small businesses, small projects, small teams. I’ve worked in environments like this in the past, and currently?volunteer for several non-profits where this is the case. ?My activities with pmStudent fit into this category as well, smaller “mini-projects” involving just a few people or sometimes just myself.

In an environment like this, good PM can still be applied but it must be tailored to fit.

Waterfall processes with a fancy charter and project plan all the way just aren’t going to be worth the overhead involved for a week-long project. You don’t have much room for a lot of formality or overhead.

Rock Your PM Skillz Anyway

Create a checklist or excel file which will essentially be your project plan. ?This is what I did many years ago when I was working in an MIS department, and many of the projects were 1 week to 4 weeks in duration. ?I had an excel spreadsheet set up as a “1 page project plan” that also served as a status report for my stakeholders.
Tailor it to your environment, and adapt it in a continuous manner to improve it as you go.

I wrote a post just a bit ago called?Good Project Management is Common Sense that you may find useful as a starting point.

  • I start with the why,
  • then figure out the what,
  • then figure out how it will be done and who?s going to do it.
  • When comes out as a result of these things
  • and then there?s a process of iteration where we update our draft plans in light of reality including funding

One-Page Project Management

You could literally start with a template that just has fields for:

  • why (this is your charter)
  • what (scope statement, pbs/wbs/task breakdown in list format)
  • how (project plan)
  • who (resource plan)
  • a really simple schedule

The One Page Project Manager is a concept and resource very similar to what I’ve used in the past on small projects. ?Check it out!

Kanban is a paradigm I am finding extremely versatile and valuable in terms of managing work flow, so I highly recommend you look into that as well for use on small projects. ?I’m putting something together at? to share my experiences with Kanban and I’ve just learned about? which looks like an excellent new resource from some of the top people in Lean-Kanban.

If you want to gain some more knowledge about the concepts and practices on larger-scale projects (perhaps so you can scale them down to your needs) I do offer in-depth training at? as well.

For some, sticking with small projects is going to be what they want to do. ?For others, the additional challenges that come with larger projects (more stakeholders, team members, and communication channels to manage) are really what managing projects is all about.

Small, large, or anywhere in between….you can still rock.

Your Customers Don’t Care

I was in a local cafe the other day working on a Kanban training course I’ll be making available sometime soon.

I grabbed the usual coffee for fuel and then a sugar avalanche of a toffee bar caught my eye. And I bought it. Because I have no impulse control whatsoever.

I chewed the first wonderful bite, eyes closed, prepared for the caloric coma. Continue reading

Project Charter: How Important Is It?

Note: This article is by Randy Tangco, PMP, CSM.

The steering committee made a decision. They need to create a project because there is a business need to be resolved. Assign the project manager, assign the resources, and start working. Hmmm? Does this sound familiar to you?

What is the first document you need to have after the selection of a project? The project charter, of course! Every project management practitioner knows that the project charter is an important document to any project as it is an indication of your authority to start a project and use company resources as the assigned project manager. However, majority of the organizations do not recognize this and value its importance or sometimes misuse the project charter for another purpose.

Take great pride and care in your project charter because this is where you sow the good seed. It will eventually take care of you. Buy a high-quality leather-bound portfolio the kind graphic artists use to highlight their best work. In this portfolio, you keep an original example of a very important project document, the project charter. Why? The leather-bound portfolio demonstrates to everyone the value that you place in this document. The PMBOK Guide, describes a project charter mainly in terms of what it can do for the project. Just as important, you should consider what this document can do for you. If your employer allows you to keep this document, take your leather-bound portfolio to your job interviews. It will demonstrate to your future employer that a charter is a high priority.

The project charter is an excellent tool to overcome personal adversity, even cultural gaps, and misunderstandings in projects. Many organizations have recognized that project management is a key competency that is needed to help meet the business strategy. However, they seldom see the value of a project charter as part of the project management initiative. Let?s take a look at an example of how the project charter was not used correctly.

Project Selection and Chartering

Let us take a look at a company. This company created a project charter template that is supposed to contain the project purpose, background, business case, scope, SDLC deliverables, milestones schedule, initial cost estimate, high-level risks, project management plan and cost-benefit information. All of this information will have to be written by the project manager on his own; guessing some of the data needed to complete the charter because there is no input from the company people that is requesting the project. This is a challenging and frustrating activity.

First, the business case should have already been written by the business sponsor and should have been an input of the project selection and approval process. In this case the project manager will have to write this on his own. Another problem that I see is the milestone schedule. I believe this is one data you should not have in the charter especially when you have not formed your project team and has no idea on the scope of work. Unfortunately you will frequently be pushed to include a milestone schedule.

Looking at the content of this charter, the review and approval cycle takes about a month depending on the availability of the reviewers and approvers. The aggravating factor here is that the time you spent building the charter is also being built-in to the time you have for the project duration. By simply looking at this at a high-level, you may already known that your project will be challenging.

How A Good Charter Could Improve Projects

The basic purpose of the charter is to authorize a project manager to start an approved project and use resources to accomplish the goals of the project. Alex Brown, the CEO of Real-Life Project, Inc., once said that a project charter can be a simple email from the CEO to the PM. Intriguing, isn?t it?

A project charter can become very important after a project has started as well. Josh Nankivel, PMP, a trainer and founder of pmStudent, said that ?A project charter should also serve as an executive overview of your project, one that any new executive can reference to evaluate it. A good project charter can help save you from unnecessary scrutiny or having your project shut down because some executive didn’t see the business value in it from their perspective.

Josh also states, “I have worked with several project managers who ran into funding issues because a particular director or executive who said they would fund a project from their budget didn’t come through. The project charter should clearly state who is responsible for funding, and they need to sign it, too!

A good charter should be clear and concise. It should contain information about the purpose of the project, the benefits and objectives, a measurable set of success criteria, the name of the project sponsor, the list of stakeholders, and the product description and deliverables. With this, the chartering process will be much shorter and the project manager and the team can move forward with the more important parts of the project.

Final Analysis

Implementing a good chartering process may cause resistance, especially from personnel who use their position to manipulate the leadership or for those who think that the chartering process they created for the organization is the best. However, everything is always open to improvement and to change. Opponents of the change may try to subvert your ideas for improvement but stick to it and walk the talk.

Write YOUR Own Powerful Project Charter

You see the value of a well crafted project charter. If you would like to see some samples and improve your own charter, consider the pmStudent Project Charter Course. Visit and write even better project charters right away!

Author: Randy Tangco is a business-driven project management practitioner. He has been an advocate of the best practices of project management in both the agile and traditional domain. He has been in the IT business for many years and has handled positions in various capacity including system and application support and management, computer operations support management, infrastructure deployment and management, technical leadership, business support manager, and project manager while working with international banks in the Middle East. He continues to promote the use of project management outside of the IT industry.

He is a certified scrum master (CSM) and a certified project management professional (PMP) and currently working on his IPMA level C certification.

Work Breakdown Structure Training From Dick Billows

In line with my previous post about supporting other project management trainers who do good work, I bring you Dick Billows.

This video on the Work Breakdown Structure shows that his approach is in line with my philosophy.? It is in line with the training I provide through WBS Coach and pmStudent e-Learning.? I haven’t experienced his training first-hand, but based on this video I can tell the information you would get from Dick is going to be quality.

So watch this short video from Dick and check out his links below the video if you are interested in training.? Regardless of whether you choose my training or Dick’s, or anyone else’s, be sure you are getting trained by someone who knows what they are talking about and presents the training to you in a way that works for you.

Scheduling as Premature Elaboration: You?re Doing It Wrong

Scheduling is what project management is all about, right?

Among the plethora of project management tools available, what aspect is most widely promoted?

Jumping right into MS Project or any other scheduling tool is a mistake.

Projects like this are built on very unstable footing, and it’s likely they will fall apart in some way.

It’s just not safe.

If you haven’t fully developed a good Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)/PBS, requirements, and Basis of Estimates (BOE) before you start scheduling (and subsequently estimating costs and setting a budget), you’ve done it wrong.

So please, don’t open up a scheduling tool the moment you start a new project.? For me, there is a general order of operations to acheive project planning which is built on a sturdy foundation.? I don’t care if it’s waterfall, agile, whatever.? There are pieces between steps that go back and forth a bit before moving forward, but in general:

  1. Why – (business case, charter)
  2. What – (charter, WBS, requirements, use cases/user stories)
  3. How/Who – (ConOps, Trade Studies, Design, Basis of Estimates)
  4. When – (schedule, prioritized backlog)
  5. Iterate – (progressive elaboration, sprint cycle)

[All wrapped inside a Project Management Plan/Approach, based on proven system engineering/industry practices,? and supported by risk and configuration management.]

Note that MS Project or other scheduling tools don’t enter the picture until Step #4.? I have never heard a convincing argument as to why anyone would think of scheduling anything until you had a good grasp on the foundational prerequisites I list in steps 1-3 above.

So what do you think?? Does my take on this topic match up with your own, or are you mad at me now because I’m talking about you?? Either way, please leave a comment and let’s discuss what you think.

New Project Managers: How To Break It Down Into Manageable Parts

New project managers send me this question a lot, and I think some people struggle with this because they jump right to task definition with a leap directly over figuring out what to deliver first.

When you start a new project and need to break down the work into manageable pieces, how do you go about it and what are the things to watch out for?

In this video, I discuss the mindset I use when facilitating my teams through breaking down our work. ?If you want to learn more about my Work Breakdown Structure course, you find out more here.