Today's Engineer    Spring 1998              page 14

Project Scope Creep

Bringing engineering and marketing together

by Larry Gibson

The premiere issue of Today's Engineer included a case study on project scope creep and the problems encountered between marketing and engineering groups.

The case study described a stretch-target project in the 8th month -- crunch time. Tony B., the marketing representative, asks Mike S., the project manager, to include some new functions into the product. Mike S. has already concluded that the project is behind schedule and raises the issues of cost and delays in product launch.

Mike S. and Mark E., division marketing manager, meet to resolve the issue. Their decision is to take the problem to Mary K., the division general manager. Mary K. listens without indicating a bias toward either engineering or marketing, and instructs the group to meet in 3 days for a full project review. Up until this time Mary K. had thought that the project was on schedule. Mike S. and Mark E. leave, realizing they should have resolved the problem-now all the details must come out on the table.

It's project review time. Mary K. outlines the conduct of the meeting: all issues are to be discussed openly; it's too late to play games.

14 Today's Engineer SPRING 1998

Mary K., the division general manager in this case, really has her work cut out for her. Her big divisional project is in trouble. She has just learned that it's probably behind schedule and Marketing's request for new features threatens further schedule delays and budget overruns.

The members of her new "collocated interdisciplinary team" can't agree on what to do about the request; they deeply mistrust each other; they don't seem to have any facts about the new features. The team has now, in effect, agreed to dump the new feature issue into her lap.

Unusual? No, it sounds all too real.

Where's the teamwork?

There's precious little evidence of teamwork on this project. Marketing and Engineering each spend their time blaming the other for the problems rather than working together to solve them. Engineering thinks Marketing's new features are "...unsubstantiated bells and whistles that add to product complexity and cost without adding value ... just another example of Marketing not having done its homework."

Marketing thinks Engineering's request for "justification of the new features is unreasonable ... once again playing the game by the rules without any concern for the customers' needs... Engineering always says no, whenever new features are requested."

This level of mistrust might be expected since neither side has shared any facts which might explain its position. Engineering hasn't told Marketing about the problems they face in adding the new features. They haven't said how much it will cost or how long it will take to solve them. They haven't told Marketing that they are probably 3 to 4 weeks late already.

For its part, Marketing hasn't bothered to explain why they think they need the new features. They haven't talked about which customers might be gained or lost because of them. They haven't said how much additional volume or share will be gained by adding the features or how much will be lost by not adding them.

Worse, one wonders if either Engineering or Marketing actually has any of these facts. Even with 3 days notice, neither side wants to present its evidence in Mary K.'s project review. Engineering seems mostly concerned with how they will look if their case is "interpreted as reluctance to accommodate Marketing." And Marketing has decided they simply don't need to present documented evidence. It sounds like both sides are avoiding the facts.

No wonder there has been no negotiated decision within the so-called team. Neither side trusts the other; neither side has shared - or even has - the facts to support its position; Mike S. can only insist, and Mark E. can only insist. Neither one has any alternative to asking the boss to rule.

But it is real!

The basic argument, of course, is classic. In most organizations, it's always Marketing's fault according to Engineering or Manufacturing; it's always Engineering's or Manufacturing's fault according to Marketing. Without facts, but well-schooled in the ancient arguments, each side continues to play the same old game over and over again.

Two relatively minor incidents are especially realistic. In the midst of the argument, Engineering suddenly realizes that the project is already at least 3 to 4 weeks behind schedule. That's the way these things happen in the real world unless formal check points have been built into the project schedule. No one decides to delay anything. It just happens.

It isn't even noticed until a major slippage has already occurred.

Notice that the general manager was unaware of any slippage until the new-feature argument was brought to her. This is not unusual. Traditionally, middle managers are trained to bring solutions - not problems - to the atten- tion of the boss. As in this case, it takes time for the project manager to realize there is a problem. Then it takes time for the project manager to try to solve the problem. Only later, after the project manager has seen the problem, tried to solve it, and failed, does the boss learn about it. By then, there may no longer be a good solution.

What now?

Mary K. has directed the right questions to the right functions. It's Marketing's responsibility to know how the presence or absence of the new features will affect sales. It's Engineering's job to know how much time and money it will cost to provide the new features. It's up to the controller to estimate the net financial impact of the alternative decisions.

Several different meeting outcomes should be considered:

1. The right decision about the new fea- tures could become obvious if we assume that each function provides valid answers to Mary K.'s questions.

2. Of course, the decision may not be clear, even if each function does answer its questions. In this case, Mary K. might direct the team to reassemble, work through the data together, and present a joint recom- mendation.

3. However, it seems unlikely that either Marketing or Engineering will answer the questions. Mary K. could then tell Engineering to provide Marketing with approximate answers within a week, and charge Marketing with the responsibility for a recommendation based on these answers.

For the future...

Mary K. has a lot of work to do. She should insist that Marketing and Engineering routinely develop the facts necessary for rational decision-making -not because she might call a meeting, but because they need the information. It's one of their job responsibilities.

She should make it clear that Marketing and Engineering are expected to work together as a team, sharing information, and arriving at joint decisions. Mary K. should be fully available to coach and to advise but not to simply arbitrate their disputes.

And, Mary K. should insist on tighter initial product specifications from Marketing, a project schedule with built- in check points from Engineering, and routine project status reports. I realize this gives Mary K. a very full agenda. However, it's her division, and it's in bad shape. In my experience-organizations are always reformed from the top down. e

Larry Gibson, retired marketing research director for General Mills, is a senior associate of Eric Marder Associates, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and active as a consultant, teacher, and author.


15 Todays Engineer SPRING 1998