This paper was originally presented in 1987 at the PMI Northwest Regional Symposium, Portland, Oregon. It is copyright to Walter Wawruck© 1987-2006.
Published here November 2006.

PART 1 | Literature Search for Management of Project Scope
Disparity in Treatment of Scope - Compared to Cost and Schedule
Possible Reasons for Neglecting Project Scope Management
The WBS is a Scope Breakdown Structure
 Application and Use of the WBS | PART 3

Disparity in Treatment of Scope - Compared to Cost and Schedule

The findings reported in the previous section indicate that achieving the scope is the perceived primary measure of effective project team performance. The failure to manage scope is seen to be a major reason why projects fail. However, the tools and techniques of the profession neglect scope management in favor of schedule and cost reporting. The reasons for this disparity are now examined. The following explanations are offered for the neglect of scope management:

  • The concept is inadequately or erroneously defined
  • Scope is not easily quantified
  • Scope management problems are manifested as other kinds of problems
  • Scope is regarded as a technical issue, not a management concern.

Inadequate or erroneous definitions of the concept of scope take two forms. Either they divert management attention onto the time and cost objectives, or they confound ends with means by equating scope with work effort. In the 1986 report on the PMBOK, scope is defined to include work content and resources; scope reporting is defined to include cost and schedule status and the integrated cost/schedule performance baseline.[42] Given such a sweeping definition, it is no wonder that Woolshlager's committee combines legitimate propositions regarding the management of scope with descriptions of techniques, reports, and controls for activity planning, schedule compliance, and budget adherence.

The committee acknowledges both the need to document project requirements and parameters as a basis for future design decisions, for accomplishing verification measures, and for evaluating design changes,[43] and the need to subsequently report on "technical performance status". This latter management function is explained with the cryptic phrase: "as effecting (sic) quality".[44] This resort to obtuse generalization, in the writer's view, stems largely from the failure to define the proper concern of scope management clearly as achieving an end product that conforms to the client's requirements of function, capacity, or performance capability.

Scope control has been neglected as a management topic because it cannot be readily quantified in the same way as can schedule and cost. It is difficult to summarize the degree to which the anticipated results of a project conform to or deviate from the agreed requirements, unless one presents all the complex information that underlies the assessment. There is no convenient single indicator of performance when it comes to scope.

In his examination of the micro characteristics of an activity, Webster observes that scope (technical performance) is a multi-dimensional variable, and that there are mutual inconsistencies among the dimensions. For example, a requirement for high reliability conflicts with low production cost in the development of a product for manufacture.[45] Webster comments on the frustration of measuring consistency with and enforcing compliance to scope criteria in practice.[46]

Many authors attempt to quantify scope by transforming it into measures of time or cost for purposes of assessing and reporting progress in achieving the objective. Typically, such quantification takes two forms: milestone events with associated target dates and earned value expressed in monetary units.

  • In the first method, the events that mark the issuance of either designs or physical components of the end product are treated as key points in the life of the project for purposes of monitoring. A milestone target date is assigned to each successive event as the configuration of the output evolves from a concept to a set of tangible or verifiable deliverables. The degree to which the target timetable is achieved is then used as an indicator of performance.
  • In the second method, a monetary value is assigned to the intermediate deliverables associated with each milestone. These values are then used in the construction of an integrated cost/schedule baseline against which all variances in time and in resource consumption can be expressed in a single unit of measurement.
  • A third method uses physical quantities or estimated physical proportions as a proxy for scope. During implementation, physical measures of the quantity of the expected results actually achieved at a point in time can be compared to a target production schedule.

At best, these transforming or proxy measuring techniques may provide gross evidence of the failure to satisfy the scope objective. At worst, they may inadvertently encourage team members to sacrifice the scope objective in favor of staying on schedule, within budget, and on production targets. These indirect methods presume that mechanisms are in place to verify that designs or end product components do comply with the owner's requirements, and that the failure to comply will be seen as cost or schedule variances.

However, the causes of the variance, the existence or absence of a problem, and alternative courses of remedial action cannot be deduced from the reports. The indirect measurement techniques are scarcely helpful to the project manager or the sponsor in monitoring the adequacy of scope management. Attempts to measure scope accomplishment in units of time or cost may, in part, explain the tendency to misdiagnose problems in scope management, discussed next.

Literature Search for Management of Project Scope  Literature Search for Management of Project Scope

42. Woolshlager, L.C. Scope Management. Project Management Journal August 1986, XVII, pp32-41
43. Ibid, p37
44. Ibid, p41
45. Webster, F.M., Jr. Micro Characteristics of an Activity and its Performance. Proceedings of the 1979 Seminar Symposium Drexel Hill, PA: The Project Management Institute, 1979, p360
46. Ibid, p365
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