Combating Scope Creep In Exploratory Work: The Minimum Viable Deliverable

Mitigating Scope Creep with Minimum Viable Deliverables

Scope creep refers to the uncontrolled expansion in the scope of a project over time, resulting in deliverables that go beyond the originally agreed upon requirements. This tends to happen frequently in exploratory work where the objectives, methods, and outcomes are not clearly defined upfront. Uncontrolled scope creep can lead to budget overruns, missed deadlines, and poor quality deliverables. An effective way to combat this issue is by using the concept of Minimum Viable Deliverables (MVDs).

Defining the Problem: Uncontrolled Growth of Project Scope

The very nature of exploratory work means the exact path cannot be charted out fully ahead of time. While some degree of adjustments is expected, if left unchecked, requests for more analysis, additional features, or scope expansions can quickly accumulate, leading to scope creep.

Causes of scope creep in exploratory work

Scope creep tends to happen due to a variety of reasons:

  • Poorly defined or too broadly scoped project charter and deliverables
  • Lack of proper change control processes to handle new requests
  • Discovery of new information that leads to questions and tangents
  • Adding “nice-to-have” elements without assessing priority or need
  • Lack of proper governance and decision frameworks to determine what should be in or out of scope

Consequences for budgets, timelines, quality

Uncontrolled scope creep can significantly derail projects despite starting off well scoped originally. Typical consequences include:

  • Cost overruns from additional unplanned effort
  • Missed interim deadlines requiring timeline extensions
  • Lower quality outputs with excessive scope packed in short durations
  • Key project goals and decisions getting lost in expansive analysis
  • Significant waste from analysis that does not tie back to overall goals

Introducing Minimum Viable Deliverables

The concept of Minimum Viable Products (MVP) offers an excellent framework to combat scope creep. MVP refers to releasing an early version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers, so as to gather feedback and validate ideas through real world usage. Applying this notion to exploratory project deliverables provides an effective technique to avoid scope creep.

What is an MVP product?

A Minimum Viable Product is a development approach where a product with sufficient features is released early to end users to validate the core value and get feedback for future development. Key characteristics of MVP include:

  • Identifying the key customer needs
  • Having enough features to address that core need
  • Removal of any unnecessary attributes beyond validating the need
  • Developing a reproducible and scalable offering
  • Focusing on learning rather than isolated product features

Applying the MVP concept to project deliverables

The notion of releasing an early version of key functionality can indeed by applied to project deliverables as well. An exploratory project can be broken down into Minimum Viable Deliverables by:

  • Outlining the key questions needing answers
  • Defining deliverables sufficient to yield those answers
  • Removing all superfluous items that do not tie back directly to answer those questions
  • Adding rigor and governance around expansion requests

Scoping deliverables to critical information needs

The core premise behind MVP deliverables is to restrict deliverables only to the level needed to get answers for the most pressing information needs. This requires distinguishing between exploratory analysis that is nice-to-have versus analysis that is critical to make data-driven decisions. Questions focusing on the feasibility, viability, validation and areas with high uncertainty are prime candidates for inclusion.

Creating Focused Deliverable Definitions

Coming up with the right level of deliverables specification is key to reaping the benefits of the MVP philosophy for exploratory work. Deliverables have to be defined not just at an abstract level but at the level of specifics of what analysis, outputs, recommendations can maximize learning.

Identifying key questions and decision points

Rather than undefined exploration, the core analysis that ties back clearly to key questions and decision points should constitute the deliverables. Few techniques that help outline meaningful questions include:

  • Leveraging techniques like the 5 Whys method to identify core goals
  • Distinguishing key feasibility and validation tests for concept solidity
  • Focusing on points with biggest execution uncertainty and risk
  • Prioritizing analysis relating goals with long term horizons

Defining objectives and acceptance criteria

Along with questions, each MVP deliverable must outline measurable objectives that clarify purpose unambiguously including:

  • Specific goals and outcomes covered
  • Metrics that will indicate success or failure
  • Criteria for approval and acceptance
  • Implications on go or no-go decision points

Leaving room for learning and discovery

Despite best efforts to outline key questions, the complex nature of exploratory work makes new learning inevitable. The MVP model provides room to adjust based on discoveries mid-flight. Techniques like iterative development cycles, regular check-ins, updated planning can help balance focus with agility. With each cycle, new learnings can be translated to updates in priorities across various workstreams.

Managing Stakeholder Expectations

Stakeholder management is vital in restricting scope creep especially by sponsors and project owners who control resources but can lack insights into bottlenecks. Explaining the MVP-based scoping approach and quick iteration cycles allows faster buy-in across the board.

Communicating the MVP deliverable approach

Striving for the optimal level of scope requires communicating some key tenets of the MVP philosophy to stakeholders:

  • Embracing a mindset of uncertainty and discovery given exploratory terrain
  • Separating speculation from evidence-based analysis
  • Using MVP scoping to maximize learning at lowest resource needs
  • Adding features only based on validated requirements

Getting buy-in from project owners and sponsors

Direct project sponsors, owners tend to wield significant influence but often lack understanding of on-ground constraints. Obtaining their support is key for the MVP model to curb scope creep. Tactics like the following facilitate securing buy-in:

  • Co-creating project charters leaving no room for mismatched expectations
  • Emphasizing tradeoffs, priority conflicts that necessitate scoping
  • Demonstrating rapid learning cycles facilitated by narrow focus
  • Showcasing how delays and cost overruns result from scope creep

Handling requests for expanded scope

Despite best efforts stakeholders will inevitably make requests that threaten to expand scope boundaries. Addressing expansion requests by analyzing implications on time, resources, costs and priorities allows balanced decisions aligned to goals and constraints.

Adjusting Deliverables as Understanding Evolves

True agility requires not just expert scoping but willingness to refine specifications based on evolving understanding. But this needs to be a deliberate process anchored firmly to goals.

Reviewing learnings and adjusting deliverable contents

Regular reviews of interim learning and output solicited from users using techniques like sprint reviews and retrospectives allows identifying what refining is needed in the contents to better meet outcomes. Course corrections may span prioritization changes, content addition/removal, modifying dimensions like level of detail to better achieve validation needs.

Avoiding scope creep with deliberate change control

While changes due to learning are necessary, solid change control processes are vital to prevent scope creep through endless unchecked additions. Some governance aspects include:

  • Analysis of impacts to cost, schedule, resources before approving change
  • Securing appropriate funding and budget expansions
  • Updating plans and charters to reflect changes
  • Notifying and getting signoffs from all impacted stakeholders
  • Maintaining an audit trail tracking expansion reasons

Expanding scope only when justified

Rigorous prioritization ensures scope expansions take place only for high-value items truly justified after considering importance vs urgency, size vs complexity and assessing opportunity costs by precluding other items. Essentially do the homework comprehensively before widening that scope boundary!

Conclusion: MVP Deliverables Enable Controlled Exploration

Uncertainty is the only certainty with exploratory work. Trying to obsessively define deliverables upfront is not just impractical but counterproductive if it precludes nimbleness. The MVP model for project deliverables successfully balances the critical tension between focus and flexibility. Circling back from emergent learnings while retaining the core of what matters most is key to strike project gold!

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