Project Scoping: 6 Steps To Getting The Most Accurate Approach

April 16, 2014 Charlie Cowan

project scoping

The process of scoping a cloud technology project can be a complex one.  In this post I’d like to provide some insight into what that process often looks like and some guidance to help you plan to get a more effective result at the end. But before we start we should all remember that in this scoping process, everyone involved should be striving for the same goal – for you to be successful.

If the initial estimate is wrong then trouble is likely just around the corner:

  • Too high and your project can become uneconomical or remove potential partners from consideration, even if one of them would have been the best fit for your success
  • Too low and you risk uncovering more complexity later on in the project, leading to a series change orders

Neither of these is a good situation – so, how can you avoid them?

The Triangle

The first step is to understand what determines the overall investment in a project and how to hone in on an accurate estimate.

The above triangle image explains the factors at work in the project scoping process.  Cost is ultimately driven by three factors:

  • Scope: How much do you want to build?

  • Timeline: How long is it going to take to build?

  • Resources: How many (and what types of) people are going to be required to build it?

Any estimate can be moulded and evolved by playing with these three dimensions.

The Process

You will probably contact a professional services partner when you have an inkling of a problem that you need solving.  If you have an existing relationship with a partner you might contact them earlier in the process, if you are adding other partners to the list for balance you might contact them later on in the process.

Whichever way you decide, the more time the partner has the better the estimate they will be able to provide you.

An ideal process to follow is:

1. Initial discovery meeting

Typically this is anything from 60 minutes on the phone to a full day face to face.  Your implementation partner  needs to soak up all of that experience, the pain, the business drivers, the politics, the people, the risks, the competing projects and understand the “Why?” of your project.  Only by understanding the “Why?” can they start to transform the base requirements into a prioritised project plan.

2. Initial scope playback

This should be a 1-2 hour meeting where the partner plays back what they heard in the first meeting, “This is your problem, this is the priority, this is the scope that needs to be delivered in phase 1 in this timeline.”

This is your opportunity to blow up the scope (and we encourage it!) “Actually no – that isn’t critical, but you’ve left out X which is essential for a minimum viable product.”

3. Scope review and validation

This again can be a 1-2 hour meeting, but should be shorter. It should be a validation of the refined scope from the second meeting and the outcome should be “If you guys deliver this scope then we have the product we are looking for – now go estimate what that will take to deliver”

4. Level of effort creation

Now the partner can get to work  to determine how this project can be delivered to ensure you are successful. They should work on the other two sides of the triangle – timeline and resources – and come up with a couple of approaches.  Perhaps looking at different phasing to give you different timelines and different resourcing plans to leverage such as  crowdsourcing or offshore development.

5. Proposal playback

It’s the big day!  In this meeting the partner should recap the process they have been through so far, and walk you through the Levels of Effort and explaining the benefits or compromises of each.  The key here is that you have choices, there are multiple ways of approaching your challenge and still being successful.  It is a collaborative and iterative process and more often than not a blend of the proposals is the outcome.

6. Iterate fast!

Over the coming days (sometimes weeks) the level of effort will go through a number of revisions as, like a ball of clay, you collaborate with your partner to mould the project team and timeline into a vision that works for your team,  your current commitments and competing projects.  Once complete you can move onto paperwork and getting the project underway.

A couple of points I would wrap up with:

Timeline: This should be quite an extended process. With at least four meetings and time to process information this could easily take 2-3 weeks depending on your team’s availability.  It is a significant investment, especially when you are dealing with multiple partners!  This investment is critical though – an accurate estimate with a methodology you can explain helps you to build credibility internally as you seek sponsorship and budget for your project.

It should be clear to see that short cutting any of these processes hampers both of a partners abilities to get to that right estimate as quickly as possible.

RFP Processes:  Many organisations have to establish an RFP process for governance purposes, bear this post in mind as you embark on them.  If you publish an RFP and do not give your partners the access to collaborate with your team,  or if you don’t help them understand the “Why?” and allow them to iterate through the process, then you are cutting out vital steps that can lead to over-estimates or worse under-estimates and the road to change orders.

I hope this post provides some insight to the scoping process and helps you as you start work on your next project with your professional services partners.

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