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Project Managing Schedule, Scope, and Cost
By Rob Redmond

Economics is a fuzzy social science. Make adjustments to a national economy, and you may get unexpected results. Raise taxes, cut spending, raise spending, cut taxes – these activities are tied together and affect one another. If you raise taxes and cut spending, people are asked to pay more taxes while many people lose their jobs. This causes taxes to raise even more, lowering spending. If you cut taxes, then people have more spending money. Raise government spending, and you lower unemployment, causing wages to increase, causing prices to go up. Economies are not either good or bad.

Economies are either in or out of balance. Economics is a balancing act like accounting.

So is project management.

Schedule, scope, and cost are tied together in such a way that no one can be adjusted without consequences to the other two areas:

Schedule

  • Projects that last too long cost more money. People must be paid to be around waiting for the project to complete. They will book their time to the project and spend its budget, bleeding the project sponsor’s budget to death as it drags out. It’s better to pick up the pace and deliver more quickly. Scope may be defined more carefully with a slower pace, lowering the cost of defects but raising the cost of specification.
  • Projects that go too fast, however, overheat. Working around the clock requires adding more people to the project. Costs begin to rise due to collisions from people hurrying, and the lack of time allowed to put thought into scoping the project carefully also causes defects to increase, thus increasing costs.

Scope

  • Carefully defining specifications over an extended period can reduce the return on investment by delaying product launch and project completion. This loss of ROI is not an increase in cost specifically, but it does lead to lowered revenue to offset costs, and this leads to relativistic increases in cost.
  • Defining scope to too great of a degree leads to tying the hands of architects, designers, artists, and other thought workers. The creative people who are generally asked to fulfill the needs of the project will have handed to them such a book of rules that they are forced to deliver technical layouts which are complex and ultimately far below their potential. It is always a good idea to leave some slack in the scope. It needs defining just enough to protect against scope-creep, but not so much that unskilled non-creatives are burying the potential of the project. This increases the opportunity cost of the project upon delivery.
  • Poorly managed scope leads to scheduling nightmares. As the project progresses and scope continually changes, the end disappears over a horizon that extends beyond human detection. Good PM’s protect delivery against overly creative attempts to reel in more and more people who need to be made happy and more and more ideas that need to be implemented.

Controlling costs on a project is a function of hitting the sweet spot on scheduling so that people doing work are tasked with just enough work to be busy but not so much that additional people are added to help out. Cost is also a function of controlling and managing scope on the project such that work is defined with limits, but those limits do not create internal walls which bind the hands of those who could actually reduce costs with creative solutions.

Turn any dial too far, and the other indicators blink yellow then red.

Rob Redmond studied sociology, psychology, and political science as an undergraduate before entering the workforce. Returning to school, Redmond earned an MBA from Georgia State University in June of 2000. Rob is currently employed as a manager of IT of a large technology company. Rob runs the struggling manager blog where he posts about his experience in both management and project management.

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