Get Rid Of The Monster In The Closet – How To Work With Your Team To Define Project Scope

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Do you have a run-on project that feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel? It is the ‘monster in the closet’.  There is something in the dark that really needs a better look, but it’s much easier to keep the doors closed. Hoping it might go away?

The first step to bring the projects  back on track is simply to face the monster.  Take the time you need to step back and do an assessment to itemize the outstanding scope items by talking to your team. Once you open the door, you will find that there really is no monster in the closet, just piles of things that need to be addressed.

I worked on a project that was planned for 5 months with check points and milestones at the end of each month. I joined the project at the beginning of the 5th milestone.  Although a high level scope was defined for each milestone delivery, only cursory requirements were met. What was delivered was sufficient for the demo but not  functional.

On the 4th milestone, there was a great deal of anxiety among the stakeholders and project team members. They started to question if the project would ever end. No one could pinpoint exactly how much was left for the solution to be functional. The amount of work in front of them felt daunting. With less than a month remaining in the schedule, there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

My priority upon joining the project was to get clarity on the project objectives and scope. Since no one really had the complete picture, I started by surveying the team members and asking the following questions:


  1. Do you have all the requirements you need to work on this feature?
  2. Have you started working on this feature?
  3. Has this feature been delivered and tested in any of the previous milestones?
  4. Has the feature been signed off by the stakeholder?


With each team member providing the answers to different pieces of the project, it gave me enough information to start putting together the overall picture.  Based on the responses to the questions, I compiled a colour coded grid with the following:


  • Requirements: Red – no requirements, Yellow – partial, Green – complete
  • Work on the feature: Red – not started, Yellow – partial, Green – complete
  • Delivery: Red – not delivered, Yellow – delivered but not tested, Green- delivered and tested
  • Sign-off: Red – not signed off, Green – signed off


By the time this grid was completed, it became very apparent that 60% of the requirements had not been finalized and 25% of the team members had no requirements defined. The majority of the work was partially done, but almost nothing had been truly completed. Conclusion: they had spent a lot of their time working on incomplete or changing requirements!

With that information, I was able to prioritize the outstanding tasks and put together a delivery plan. From here, the team was able to pull together and deliver the project in two months.

If you feel that you have a project that will never end, ask if you have a good handle on the scope. Take the time to list the scope and work with your team.  You will find it a rewarding exercise and it will bring a newfound clarity to the project as a whole – getting rid of any monsters in the closet!


Have you had a similar project experience? What approaches have worked for you to bring scope to light?  Please share your stories in the comment box.


Author: Joy Lin, Catapult ERP

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