How to hit a moving target in your project

One of the key issues for all projects is scope. Scope is the target, the objective that you want to achieve in your project. What you are aiming at. Creepy or not, scope is a moving target in research and development projects. That move is called figuratively scope creep. Sometimes the scope is not creeping but running. Ambiguity and unclarity about the project outcomes can also be a source of inspiration for the team that is boldly heading towards new frontiers. That is where creativity can really bloom.

As professionals, how do we plan and prepare to hit the moving targets in our projects? Should we use a carrot or a stick? Or just run with it? In practice you do your homework, plan the task, think hard and try to fix what does not work. And don’t fix what already works! The question is how to manage the scope when you do not know what it exactly is you should be aiming at? In turbulent times all projects are in crisis mode. And being in a hurry, especially when writing commercial bids or funding proposals, does not help at all.

Creativity in scoping

The good thing is that you can’t mess it up if you don’t really know what you are exactly aiming at. It is the creative iterative process that reveals the essential scope as we move along.

Seriously speaking, there is a way of planning for the unexpected. The flexibility of the project design must allow for iterations and variations in getting to the point. And pivoting, changing direction, adjusting when necessary. Change management is all about communicating the underlying assumptions, validating with real experiments and then focusing the work based on that reality.

Making changes to the plan should be part of the plan and the underlying assumptions must be managed properly in the project or company board meetings. Assumptions are estimates of what the future is going to be and as it reveals itself. We just have to adjust to reality as we move along. Even traditional project management textbooks say that no project plan has ever survived the first day of execution.

Aim from a to Z

What does this mean in practice? In the beginning the goals can be named A. When working on the problem it might focus to A+1. After finalizing the design we realize that actually we wanted X. And after the project is close to it’s end, we really know that we should have been doing Z since the beginning.

The development goal is to go through the alphabets in design sprints. And to have all possibilities and opportunities covered in the research and development plan. This way we can end up from letters to sensible and meaningful words and eventually form a narrative about the result as a storyline.

Storylines in retrospective

Every project has a story to tell and that is possible only as a retrospective. But by managing change you can tell a story in the plan, realize the plan with a twist of reality and end up with concrete results that resonate with the learning journey that you have taken. But also with what was the aim, and scope of work in the first place.

We could also say that if a project plan does not change at all it has been a theoretical desk study with little connection to reality. No project is an island.

A project is called a project because it is set up to make change happen. It is a temporary organization for moving from A to Z and creating a story while doing so.

One cannot easily predict the needed changes in advance, but by starting deliberate actions to see the target moving right from the beginning you will get results. To hit a moving target in projects you must have the right assumptions and readiness to learn when change of direction is needed.