The Essential Nature of Construction Project Scope Management

Posted by MDA Projects on Friday, August 01, 2014 with 10 comments
How many times have you experienced or heard of construction project time and cost overruns or entire construction project failures? These can be attributed to a number of factors, but one of the leading reasons is the lack of a scope management plan (SMP).

Scope management begins with scope definition, which refers to the client’s brief, essentially the client’s objectives or the desired end product. Once the scope definition of the project (or the client’s objectives) is down in writing, scope management planning can begin. Without a clear scope definition, proper scope management is virtually impossible.

The scope management plan

The SMP is developed during the pre-construction conceptual phase and refined in the development phase. Scope must be developed to a point where a programme and a budget can be fixed to it. In other words, it clearly outlines the extent of the project, available budget, and times frames where three fundamentals must be agreed and signed off by the client:

• Extent defined by drawings and specifications
• A budget based on the drawings
• A programme to identify the project time frame

The agreed scope framework forms the construction project baseline against which all design, cost and programme objectives are measured.

Determining and incorporating reasonable scope changes

The scope management plan is critical to determine how recognisable scope changes will be identified and classified in relation to the signed off base documentation. It also determines whether or not the changes can be incorporated into the project scope and the process according to which this will occur. Without proper project scope management there is a very real risk of unforeseen cost escalations and overall programme implications, which could render the project unfeasible.

Streamlining a construction project into manageable components

Scope definition and clarification flows from the scope management plan and serves to improve cost accuracy and resource estimates by providing more insight into the project objectives. This is, in essence, a circular process as cost, design and programme are constantly reviewed against base documentation and there must be agreement reached, between those concerned for the changes, as defined by the scope management plan.

Scope definition develops into the project work breakdown structure (WBS) and defines the design elements, outputs required, the different construction work packages, and project resourcing required. Work packages include and outline how the project will be procured and measured financially, and typically include: civil works, structural, architectural, mechanical, electrical and electronic components among others. Scope definition is critical to clarifying and explaining the construction project approach and how it will meet client needs.

The importance of scope verification or approval

This is the stage where the project as a whole or the various construction elements are accepted or rejected. On the surface, scope verification or sign off is fairly straightforward. However, it involves a meticulous review of the various elements of the construction work and the client’s acceptance or rejection thereof. Various on site inspections (sample sign offs) are carried out to measure, examine, test and confirm that the results meet the set baseline requirements.

The inevitability of changing your scope

In almost any successful project management undertaking, some change in scope must be anticipated. To this end, the scope management plan should include a clearly defined scope change control system to allow for cost, time and quality implications. Scope can change in various ways such as the addition or expansion of work packages, re-specification of product elements or changes to project performance requirements, among others. Scope change can only be agreed if the impact on cost, time schedules, quality measurement and possibly overall project objectives are fully understood and adjusted to fit within the parameters of the SMP.

Partnering with the right project management team

Project completion and sign off should bring together all the essential elements and close out the scope management plan. A review of successes and challenges should be initiated and discussed with the client at project close out to feed back into standard processes for refinement and adjustment where required.

Effective scope control is a specialist project management function. It requires extensive project management experience, maturity and deft communication to ensure that everyone involved in the construction project understands the scope of it and agrees on how goals will be met. If managed professionally, scope control significantly increases the chances of successfully achieving the original project objectives.