Nonprofit Network Blog

Project Management and Staying Within Scope

Thursday, March 04, 2021 9:46 AM | Tracey Wilson (Administrator)



Laura Fuller
Capacity Builder

Project Management and Staying Within Scope!



Scope is important.  Not just the mouthwash, either. 

Scope creep is one of the most dreaded, terrifying red flags for any project manager.  That’s why one of the first things a project manager should do is make sure to nail down project scope at the very beginning and get clear agreement from all of their critical stakeholders. The Project Management Institute defines Scope as ‘the extent of what a project will produce (product scope) and the work needed to produce it (project scope).’  Basically, the “What” and the “How” of a project. 

There are lots of things that cause scope creep.  Sometimes it comes from the best of intentions.  Life is change, and we have seen a LOT of changes in the last year!  COVID has been a nightmare for project managers as we’ve had to pivot on both the "What's" AND the "How's" in our various projects.  And I would be willing to put forth that everyone reading this blog is a project manager, whether it’s part of your official job title and duties or not. 

In fact, as I started writing this, I began thinking about how all of us working in the nonprofit sector are part of projects.  Our organizations are led by our Missions, which should be part of what determines our Scope.

I’m pretty sure we all know on some level that scope creep is bad.  But why is it bad? The answers are remarkably similar for both a project and a nonprofit. 

Scope creep almost always has a cost to it. Sometimes that cost is money, time, or other scarce and precious resources. If the initial project was to plan a workshop, and part way through planning the topic changes, sure some things will still be the same. But some things won’t. You might have to find a new presenter or redo the brochures.  Scope creep for an organization might mean hiring or retraining staff to be able to perform the new functions needed. Previously, I worked for an organization that was focused on ending childhood hunger. They decided to go after a grant from the EPA for Environmental Education. When they got it, they realized they had to hire someone who could teach about the environment, since at the time they only had nutrition specialists. They ended up spending more on new staff and training than the grant was worth. And they aren’t alone. Over the years, I’ve observed that one of the most pervasive causes of scope creep for nonprofits is chasing grant dollars.

Another cause of scope creep is insufficient buy-in and communication with key stakeholders. On a project, that might be the direct supervisor of the person you need to commandeer to set up the website. For an organization, this can be funders, board members, staff, or the community you serve. Having a clear understanding of mission can help you define your scope. Honest communication about ideas, changes, and opportunities with these stakeholders allows you to discuss the impacts that opportunities have to your scope. 

Asking, “Is this in scope for us? And if not, “Is it worth changing our scope?” are a great place to start. If key stakeholders agree to the change, it isn’t scope creep, it’s an authorized change. But this kind of communication doesn’t happen for all boards or on all projects, and that’s a problem.

If you’re struggling with scope creep, especially now during COVID, I invite you to join us for the Project Management Basics workshop on March 11th at 10 AM. We’ll be discussing this and other key aspects of keeping your projects and your organizations moving along even in these changing times.

All of our upcoming workshops can always be found on our website HERE

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