Super Power #4 – Scope Negotiation

So you are kicking butt on your first project and have completed about half the original scope, plus 25% more because of constant adjustments and additions. That is fantastic and it is what agile is all about for the end user – constant inspection and adaptation that results in better software. Unfortunately, this means that, even if you properly sized everything and executed beautifully, you are 25% off your target budget and timeline!

The 'line in the sand' conversation.

But don’t worry, you as a product owner super hero have your trusty utility belt containing a “line-in-the-sand-conversation”. And it goes something like this:

UNBREAKABLE PO: Stakeholders! I am excited to report we have completed over half of the original project scope! On top of that, we have made many adjustments and additions with your help that have resulted in a project far superior to the one we originally envisioned together.

STAKEHOLDER: That’s great! So at the beginning you said you could deliver everything by July. We’re still on track for that, right?

UPO: Hmm…no, but thankfully we have been regularly reviewing the priority with you every two weeks so those features that will not be in the application are definitely the lowest priority features. Let’s review that list now to make sure we still have it right. I have drawn a line under the last story we will be able to complete. Everything below will have to be part of the next version [or release].

STAKEHOLDER: Looks good but can we just try to squeeze in those three things right under the line?

UPO: Yes dear stakeholder, you can absolutely have those three new features before the end of the project…what would you like to tradeoff so we can make that happen for you?

STAKEHOLDER: They don’t fit huh? Well how do I know how much we need to tradeoff?

UPO: No problem. We have put a rough size estimate next to each story…we call those points. Don’t worry about what the numbers mean, you just need to trade off about the same number of points for the stories you want us to include.

STAKEHOLDER: Alright, let’s get started. How about this 3 point guy right here, that’s not critical…

…AND IT BEGINS…

This is a simple but magical technique, one I have used a number of times with different stakeholder groups and it seems to bring out the rational side in everyone. If you clearly lay out the rules like this, they tend to play by them. Crazy right?

The first time I did this I expected a big conflict but after a tiny bit of exasperation, my stakeholder/sponsor began trading. Obviously, waiting until halfway isn’t ideal so if you are tracking the project burndown and notice things getting off-course by more than a day or so, think about having this conversation. I like to give it a little time as velocity sometimes picks up as a project progresses and the team gets comfortable with what they are doing.

Let me know if you do something different or how this works for you once you try it.

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