Why Scope your Project?
When asked to tackle a project, one of the worst things any project manager can do is to rush-in immediately to start tackling it. The worst thing the person requesting or sponsoring the project can do is to insist that they do so. Why? The following case story perhaps illustrates this best.
The committee sponsoring the project was fairly clear what they wanted - a new induction system for new staff. However, they had only a general idea about the work involved in designing and introducing one - this is to be expected as they were simply not in a position to know that. Despite that, they felt that it should not be too difficult and that four months was a reasonable timescale.
They appointed Joe as project manager. When Joe looked into the project in more detail, the whole project started to look unreal. Without more resources the timescales were impossible and there were also some serious risks. Getting cooperation from others would be difficult in some areas.
The difficulty was that it was really now too late. Having accepted the project, Joe was rather unwilling to go back to the committee to raise these problems. He didn't think that they would be very happy about that and it might appear as if he was being difficult. But then if he didn't do that, then the committee would continue to believe that the project would still happen as they requested and expect it to be finished on time.
Organisations where people work as project managers on a regular basis know this situation only too well and try to avoid it with a more formal approach to starting projects. In particular, before a project is completely live the project manager has the opportunity to scope it - to look into the project and draw up a project plan.
Does that work? Generally yes. It obviously doesn't avoid all difficulties but it does mean that both those sponsoring the project and those carrying it out start with a common understanding of what the project is to deliver, what the difficulties and risks are, and how it will be tackled. In our example, Joe would have been able to go back to the Project Sponsor and try to negotiate resources and support from them.