Fighting “SCOPE CREEP” – 5 Things You Need to Know When the Parameters of Your Project Change

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Sherif Asham, Director of Video at Covenant Church, wished to undergo a digital camera and production switcher upgrade as the first step towards his vision of better video images. The project that ensued, however, went far beyond a simple equipment upgrade. In fact, the final project evolved into a total conversion from analog to digital. Following is a case study on “scope creep” – that inevitable tendency to increase the size of the project – and the strategies to address the issues created by the burgeoning project and deliver a quality system within a very short amount of time.

With Easter Sunday just weeks away, Covenant Church, a 10,000-member suburban Dallas church, decided the time was right to upgrade their analog facility to digital to improve the video quality in the sanctuary and the signals sent to its satellite churches and around the world. Covenant had recently improved the quality of their sound with a new state-of-the-art sound system; now it was time to follow suit with an upgrade to their video system.

Covenant’s ambitious goal was to complete the analog to digital conversion in time to digitally record the Easter Sunday service.

During the initial stages of the Covenant project, the scope of work, timeline, products and crew changed. These changes reiterated the importance of the three fundamental elements of any integration project: proper planning, effective communication and ongoing coordination. These elements exist in all projects, but they become especially important when “scope creep” enters the project.

To better envision how planning, communication, and coordination impacted the Covenant project, it helps to first understand the six basic components involved in all integration projects: scope of work, engineering design, product selection, timeline, project management, and crews. Each component interrelates with the others, so changes in one area can have profound implications elsewhere.

The Scope of Work Statement outlines the parameters of the project and clearly defines what, exactly, will be done. It also itemizes the responsibilities of all parties involved and what activities may need to be completed before others can begin. The Scope of Work Statement usually dovetails into the timeline in such a way as to increase the understanding of not only what will occur, but who will do it and when it will be done.

The engineering design process starts with the end result in mind, and then adopts a progressive set of increasingly detailed views of how to achieve that goal. As each step is completed, it becomes more problematic to make changes as the work that has already been completed must be reversed and performed again. Typically, approvals are received at key points of the project to minimize inefficiencies.

Because most professional video installations utilize products from multiple vendors, product selection is an important part of any project. Typically during the engineering design process, major product selections are narrowed down to a series of “either/or” decisions. Once the major pieces of equipment are selected, the design process becomes much more detailed. Changing products or design specifications after this point can be time consuming and costly.

The timeline denotes activities occurring across time and the interdependencies between activities. It provides a clear visual image to help the client track project progress. Typically, a timeline is represented in the form of a Gannt Chart. (A Gantt Chart, named for Henry Laurence Gantt, consists of a table of project task information and a bar chart that graphically displays project schedule, depicting progress in relation to time and often used in planning and tracking a project.)(

This is the glue that holds everything together. Solid project management requires effective communication between the client and the integrator, as well as between the project manager and the rest of the project team. If “scope creep” sets in, reassess your project management team to ensure it is still capable of managing the project.

Selection of a crew is based on the size and complexity of the project. Having the right crew for the project is essential. If the project parameters change, the project manager should review the crew to ensure it is still qualified to complete the work.

Now that you have a better understanding of the various elements of a typical integration project, we’ll return to the Covenant project.

Burst a Denver-based systems integrator, received the contract for the Covenant project in mid March of 2005. With Easter just weeks away, Asham visited Burst for a comprehensive one-day planning session during which the six elements detailed above were discussed. The session revealed that in addition to an incredibly tight timeline, the original camera and switcher upgrade would need to be augmented if Covenant wanted to attain its goal in a timely, cost effective and sustainable way. Scott Barella, VP of Engineering at Burst, worked through several design, equipment selection, timeline and project management alternatives.

Working through these issues usually takes weeks; in this instance, it was done in a matter of hours. Here is what Covenant Church and Burst learned during the process.

Lesson #1: Allow Adequate Time for Planning
Because of the short timeframe, Burst and Covenant worked through the project details in a single day. The scope of the project dictates how much preplanning time should be allocated. With the Covenant project, it would have been advantageous for the initial planning meeting to have taken place at least 60 days prior to the actual meeting with Asham. Building in a time buffer gives the project time to gel and decisions to solidify and evolve. While the Covenant design was successful and the system performs as expected, the abridged planning time could have been problematic.

Lesson #2: If the Project Changes, Ensure the Project Management Team is Still Right for the Project
If the scope of the project changes, make sure that the project management team in place is still qualified to do the work. In the case of the Covenant project, the project manager initially contracted to complete the work was not qualified after the project parameters changed. Crew changes were also necessary to keep the project on track.

Lesson #3: Establish an Effective Communication Plan
Because each change may impact other parts of the project, it is essential to establish a communication plan for the early planning, mid planning and active stages of the job. When projects have a tight deadline, there are many opportunities to shortcut the approved channels of communication. This can create problems. Identify the strategies you’ll use when fast decisions are needed. Make sure your communication process is in place before your project begins.

Lesson #4: Coordination
Covenant Church, Burst, the manufacturers (and there were many) and third- party labor all need to work together to meet the deadline. In order to manage these groups and their roles in the project, meticulous planning and coordination were essential. Though the compressed timeline impacted planning and coordination, the project was not adversely affected – most likely because of the smaller size of the entities involved. As projects grow, proper planning and coordination become more challenging.

Lesson 5: Document everything
Properly documenting everything, from meeting minutes to warranty statements to cable labels, provides a better finished product. During the planning and active phases of a project, precise documentation allows all participants to review what has occurred, make decisions from an informed point of view and proceed with confidence. Upon project completion, documentation provides a structure which is useful for troubleshooting and additional growth. In quick-turn projects, where proper documentation is most important, it is often neglected.

Covenant Church did indeed record their Easter Sunday service in digital, and Easter services were an overwhelming success. After meeting the Easter goal, Burst continued its work with Covenant, expanding the digital system and installing the analog system removed from the church into the Neotropolis Teen Center, the congregation’s youth center, located in a separate building near the church.

The lessons reinforced during the Covenant project were solid reminders that there is no room for shortcutting the process, and, when deadlines are tight, there is no substitute for experience.

Despite the incredibly tight timeframe, the Covenant system performs as expected and provides Covenant with the means to send high quality images to remote Covenant church locations and the web.