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Are you managing project scope – or is it managing you?

Contractors by their nature and occupation have a need to be in control. Nearly every project includes a struggle to maintain control of costs, safety and quality.

 
To put it a different way, what you’re trying to manage on every job is its scope. When you can keep the project confined to its contractual parameters, the job will likely turn out fine. Unfortunately, the scope often has a funny way of expanding its reach, pushing you aside and taking over a job. The results usually aren’t very positive.
 

3 parts to the story

Every contractor needs to stay on top of his or her scope management procedures to prevent the job from getting out of hand. These are active and ongoing steps to monitor a project and to keep the job within reasonable limits. They should ensure that, if the scope does significantly expand, you get paid for it. Think of scope management as three parts of a story:

  1. The beginning. During the planning phase, you need to comprehensively define the scope you’ll undertake and be sure it’s clearly stated in the contract. For example, if the plans show 25 windows in a building, the contract should say that you’ll install any extra windows at a specified additional cost.

    This is where experience and keeping historical job data can be really beneficial. If you’ve worked on a similar project and the scope seems untenable, raise this issue with the owner and give yourself a chance to settle on reasonable guidelines for the project.

  2. The middle. As the job gets started, your scope management efforts should involve applying a systematic, consistent approach to managing the work. Financially speaking, this means continually evaluating what you’re doing to ensure it’ s within the parameters -and price-of the contract. 

    Train your project managers to submit regular reports to you regarding job costs to determine whether overruns are imminent. Today’s mobile technology can make doing so much more efficient. Integrate job costing into your accounting system or simply download an app that enables easier field reporting.

  3. The end. Scope management is perhaps the most important at completion. When that punch list materializes, it’s all too easy to get dragged into an endless series of extra tasks.

    One savvy scope management rule of thumb: Identify the people responsible for closing out the job up front. Doing so will prevent new faces from joining the project at the last minute, which could slash profitability as these individuals eat up valuable time getting up to speed.

    Also, make sure your punch list is truly universal. Today’s cloud-based technology should allow everyone on the job – from the general contractor to subcontractors to inspectors and engineers – to look at the same document and update it in real time.

Additional thoughts

When many contractors first discover scope management, they immediately clamp down on even the slightest aberration to a contract. Sometimes they’re too rigid in their approach, which could rub an owner the wrong way or cause them to miss out on a profitable change order.
 
This brings to mind an important catch about scope management: It’s not so much about limiting the amount of work you perform on a project as it is about assessing opportunities and making the most of them.
 
When a prospective job revision arises, immediately call a meeting with the project manager and any other necessary parties. If it’s a nonessential change, determine whether, though potentially profitable, it drives you too far out of the scope of the contract. If it’s an essential revision, decide whether it’s far enough outside the scope to warrant additional negotiation. Having a formalized and effective change order process is essential.
 

On the lookout

Being in control is a badge of honor in the construction business. Don’t leave your scope management procedures to chance. Put them in writing, discuss them with your project managers and advisors, and always be on the lookout for ways to improve them. •