Rein in Scope Creep and Create a Successful Project


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Scope creep: when leaders allow uncontrolled changes, add-ons, and embellishments in a project’s goals, deliverables, features, and/or requirements.

When did I first learn the dangers of scope creep?

It was in a project where scope creep was all but eliminated—in advance.

A life insurance company was embarking on a system-wide computer software conversion. It was one of the smartest organization changes I ever saw.

This company’s leaders approached their conversion with caution. They knew many horror stories about how mismanaged IT conversions had destroyed major insurance companies. They learned it was critical to organize all their relationships and resources involved before ever starting their project.

The top leaders kept this project’s scope on a tight rein. They decided—before its start and almost two years before their conversion went live—to set up a unique leadership structure. This structure was to manage the entire software development and roll-out. Their structure incorporated the many roles needed to run their daily insurance company operations while folding in the responsibilities and duties of their IT conversion.

Elements of the Project Leadership Structure

Before the project started, they negotiated across all levels of their company hierarchy, as well as with the corporate headquarters and IT group. They knew their company leaders and the IT professionals did not see eye-to-eye on the implementation details. They negotiated until all agreed on the project goals, requirements, relationships, and project plan arrangements. They planned how everyone would communicate. They set up conflict management protocols.

They made sure the project members surfaced their interpersonal and inter-group conflicts. Where possible, the staff resolved potential conflicts. Where they were not resolved, they at least managed them via the redesign of their project’s work process.

The Rollout

Two years later the insurance company project came in on time and on budget. It achieved its project goals. The new software was tested beside the old software for 12 months. When the switch to a new IT system went live, it was only after the professional staff was certain they had not lost or distorted any data in the transition.

The company’s top leaders did not give the go ahead to this project based upon whether it could benefit the company. They already knew only a successful implementation would make it a good and necessary business idea. For example, this innovative new software package would make their customer data base more valuable. Policyholder databases are a tangible asset in a life insurance company.

When the leaders were certain there would be a timely and complete implementation they gave their go ahead. They knew good ideas become assets only after they are functional.

Questions for Reflection:

What do you think are some elements of leadership structure that made this life insurance project successful?

In relation to scope creep, what actions have you seen that let you know in advance someone is pulling a project off course?

Watch for the follow-up article on Scope Creep: Good Ideas are not Assets

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Can Leaders Structure Decisions to Avoid Shakespeare’s Irrevocable Choices?

Chuck Wilcox, a Shakespearean actor and teacher for over 40 years, helps us understand how William Shakespeare’s plays shed light on fatal leader blind spots.

Watch his video to understand what is Chuck saying about Shakespeare’s tragic leaders.

Irrevocable decisions lead to tragic failures. What is an irrevocable choice?

Like a present day leader who fires the wrong person, Macbeth kills King Duncan and many others who were unfortunate enough to get in his way. But then he cannot reverse this choice later when he realizes the trauma of those murders is driving him mad.

The Earl of Gloucester was an old Lord in King Lear’s court. Blind to the high respect given him by his legitimate son Gloucester realizes his leader blind spot only after others take his own sight, along with his political office, through the hateful schemes of his illegitimate other son. His irrevocable choice begins with fathering an illegitimate son out-of-wedlock. Later he banishes his good son and puts a price on his head. Finally, he promises to leave all of his earthly property to his bad son.

King Lear’s irrevocable choice, sometimes called Lear’s folly, is his decision to disinherit the only one of his children who loved him–his youngest daughter. She loved him but did not heap false praise on him. On the other hand, his oldest daughter flattered him, but actually hated him as he stood in the way of her desire for the pleasures of wealth. His youngest daughter spoke her mind, saying what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear, and he punished her for it.

How often has a leader made the mistake of killing off loyal followers who speak a truth the powerful leader does not want to hear?

BP’s Tragic Decision

BP leaders seem to have made an irrevocable choice. In the aftermath of a disastrous crude oil leak at their Deep Water Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, they agreed to pay all claims for damages and business interruptions. The insurance claims contract BP signed left them exposed to many fraudulent claims, so-called “false positives.” Consequently, the cost of their claims settlements spiraled out of sight. But thus far, no court will declare their choice an invalid contract. BP is now embroiled in quite complex litigation to slow down the claims payment process and cut their financial costs. The stockholders were not happy before, and many of them are still not happy now.

Is BP to Suffer With Their Irrevocable Choice?

Despite BP’s good intentions to make amends for a horrible oil spill, they have not been able to stop the unwanted consequences of their decisions. Even after being warned by an in-house claims administrator, BP’s leaders’ approved a wide-open contract. They did not engineer their decisions to put limits on any unexpected consequences. For example, during the first three years of claims payments, they paid many false claims with little provision for claimants to prove legitimate loss before they could receive a settlement. The upshot is the cost of their losses skyrocketed.

How to Engineer Your Choices for Later Revision: Learning from Could-a, Would-a, and Should-a

BP could have engineered their contract to allow for later revision and to reduce fraud. They could have incorporated contract terms placing more burdens for legitimate proof on those who file claims. They could have limited what they would pay for the claims of the Deep Water Horizon disaster. They could have limited the amount of time that they would pay claims.

Leaders in all types of organizations can engineer their decisions and agreements. With such a safeguard in place, they can change them later, if need be. For example, change-order processes are a routine provision in construction, software design, and computer conversion contracts. Leaders in other industries and projects could adapt this practice for their own organizations.

  1. Leaders start by contracting with their people for a project, product introduction, and new work process. In this way, the leader can represent the changing needs of their customers in a new initiative.
  2. They set up a change order process for anyone who wishes to add or drop work from their project contract’s original terms. The recognized need for unanticipated design changes, for substitutions, to cope with unforeseen conditions, and so on; all can trigger a change order
  3. If agreed to, the change order alters the original contract resources, dollar amounts, schedules, and/or completion date. In this way, the leaders do not lose track of costs, or the amount they are investing in a new initiative. They can disapprove of a change before it becomes part of the project contract.
  4. Granted, some change orders can drive up total project costs. But what use is a new building, new software, or IT project outcome built to meet the original specifications but at the end will not satisfy the needs of its customers and users? And who is able to foresee all the benefits and features they want to realize from a new project before they start it?
  5. Open, above-board, and inclusive change order conversations allow all involved parties to manage their costs, even if it is only to reduce others’ unexpected pain and suffering.

This change order perspective is useful for re-engineering decisions in almost all projects in almost any industry. It is a practice for leaders who want to do what is best and most effective when working through changing conditions and unforeseen obstacles to manage an uncertain future.

In addition, leaders can learn a lot by revisiting and updating their decisions as they discover more about the actual results, compared to the intended results. Revisiting and revising a project’s specifications, goals, and completion requirements is a means for leaders to carry out their decisions so they are able to adapt to new conditions as they occur.

Question for Reflection

  • What choices have you made in your life that left you feeling trapped and reduced your ability to innovate; to change your choice later on?
  • How have you or your leaders engineered decisions so they will be open to revision as you better understand the consequences?
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Leaders First – Now A Goodreads Giveaway

Twenty copies of Leaders First, an award-winning guide to leader development, are available as giveaways in the USA. Sign in now. Only three weeks are left to win your AUTOGRAPHED COPY. To sign up, click on the book link widget on the right hand column of this page.

Never signed up for a Goodreads Giveaway?

As a student of leadership, organization development, and as a reader, you will love Goodreads. First you sign up to join Goodreads. Next you enroll to win a free copy of Leaders First.

Goodreads staff will pick 20 people out of all those who enroll to win free copies. Next, soon after September 12th, Goodreads will tell me who won free copies  of my hardcover book. I will autograph the 20 books and send them off to the winners.

Have you ever wondered what organizing factors the best leaders use to keep everyone involved and contributing?

Leaders First shows six basic steps leaders take to bring everyone’s attention and energy up front to center their strategic vision.

Don’t have a strategic vision?

This is one of the most valuable leader development activities you can engage in.

See excerpts of Leaders First… at

Questions or comments in the meantime? Leave a message below and I will promptly respond.




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Inbound vs. Exiting Women CEO’s

Are there enough inbound women leaders to replace those who are leaving? Where do most of them come from, inside or outside their organizations?

This great infographic is a must see for board  members interested in leader development and setting up the best top leadership succession for today’s companies.

It’s a great summary of what the data show about elevating insiders compared to hiring in CEOs from the outside. But first, answer this question: what are the origins of the CEOs who generate the higher rate of returns? Inside the company or outside in the open market? You’ll find the answer when you click here on the “higher rates of returns.” Or, go to,

As always, your comments are welcome.


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Some Leaders Cannot Admit Their Blind Spots

“If you were blind, you would have no [error]; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your [error] remains.”  John 9:41, New American Standard

 When do leaders cause the most damage to their organizations and to those who trust them?

When these leaders ignore the feedback of others and try to go it alone; when they do not listen to understand the concerns of their colleagues and followers. For example, even after a criminal conviction by juries of their peers, some leaders do not get it. They go it alone, blinded by a dust storm of their own making.

One leader in particular is in the news. He continues to blame others for his errors. He is on record blaming his “employees,” his boss, and the “feds” instead of accepting responsibility for his choices. He remains in his own blinding dust storm, still unrepentant after being convicted in federal court of 19 counts of insider trading. Recently released on probation, he served only a few years in prison. Meanwhile, many employees and shareholders who lost large portions of their retirement investments due to this CEO’s blow-back are left to suffer for as many as 20+ years.

Does Presence In A Top Position Create Leader Blind Spots?

It is difficult to capture in a few words what creates and maintains top leaders’ blind spots. One overview comes from the research of the Hay group. They report evidence to suggest leaders’ blind spots grow as they move into the top positions in their organizations. Given the increased isolation and “rarified” atmospheres many executives face at the top levels, it becomes more difficult for top leaders to accept and understand data and facts that are in conflict with their own levels of self-awareness.

How Can Top Leaders Compensate for Their Blind spots?

Top leaders are setting themselves up for failure when they try to go it alone. They can compensate for their lack of vision by designing and working within an up-to-date and well-tailored structure of leadership.

Structure of leadership—those arrangements senior managers put in place to organize themselves, establish productive working relationships with other leaders, and set up the decision-making processes that will assure the reliable delivery of their organizations’ critical outcomes.

From the Preface of Leaders First: Six Bold Steps to Sustain Breakthroughs in Construction, at

Assumption: An effective structure of leadership creates the relationships, collaboration, and the knowledge-sharing top leaders need to work together.

In a well-designed leadership structure top leaders are better able to stay in touch with the…

  • Realities of their markets.
  • Needs of their followers.
  • Desires of their customers.

#Leaders discover their blind spots by seeing through the eyes of their colleagues.

No single leader is as perceptive as a seasoned group of capable leaders, organized to complement one another’s delivery of those survival outcomes for which they are individually accountable. Even while carrying personal accountability, these leaders are working together. While working together, they expand each other’s self-awareness to help manage their blind spots.

Questions for reflection:

How up-to-date is your leadership structure? Does it draw leaders together or drive them apart?

What steps have you taken to organize your own supportive group of leaders who can give you reality checks on your decisions and actions?  

As a leader, are you open to feedback from others about your decisions and actions? How would your colleagues answer this question? How close is their answer to your own perception?


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2nd Illogical Belief Dooms Leaders to Not Know When They Are About to Fail

See Leaders First at

‘Potential’ Knowledge Cloud by Anthony Beck

Leaders make many complex decisions. They okay construction plans, structure mergers, and reorganize their operations. They introduce new products, convert to new technology, and choose when to expand into new territories.

These choices often call for knowledge beyond what any human has. Still many leaders do not know to design a testing ground into their leadership structure that involves competent others in their decision-making process. They do not know to use leader development simulations to check the potential fallout from their decisions. They do not know to negotiate for the up-front commitments of the implementers who will have to make their decisions come true.

 The 2nd Illogical Belief Defined

Leaders get themselves into the grip of the 2nd Illogical Belief when:

  • They assume they know all they need to know about what could go wrong.
  • They believe they can make a final decision, in isolation, and set an irrevocable course of action without knowing its consequences for others and for themselves.

With the longer term effects of leaders’ decisions beyond their current know-how and comprehension, just the act of making a choice can start them along a potential path to failure.

 Why Leaders Are Destined to Fail

Are all new-born decisions so fragile they must depend on others to make them come true?

Yes, if leaders want to smooth the path to success with the least risk of failure.

In his distinguished and well researched book, The Logic of Failure, Dietrich Dörner uses simulations and historical accounts to show why the flaws in all humans, including leaders, will cause them to fall short of their well-intentioned goals. His research found people and leaders in particular:

  • Only process new information in small bits, have limited memory capacity, and can forget, neglect, or discount complex and costly details.
  • Have limited perspectives because they think too slowly for the situations they are trying to steer. They have difficulty forecasting how events will unfold during their implementation process and devote too little time to ferreting out the second and third order consequences.
  • Make choices and form plans about emerging needs and opportunities even though these are beyond their full comprehension. To compensate, at times they try to force fit solutions familiar to them, and not create processes which best fit their situation and strategic vision.

 How Can Leaders Reduce Their Errors and Make More Decisions Come True?

  • First, they can design a structure of leadership so involved, knowledgeable colleagues will keep them informed of emerging obstacles and barriers. This includes negotiating for the up-front commitment of those expected to carry out a decision. Pay special attention to the warnings, questions and unexpected challenges these colleagues point out. Listen when implementers point out what tradeoffs must occur to for a decision to come true.
  • They can test their logic with customers in focus groups or in role-plays to learn what reactions to expect when the news of their decision goes public. This practice gives much more information about the second the third order consequences.
  • They can break the decision into its steps, then make a series of step-by-step decisions and learn from their results after each step. That is, they make a small decision, track what happens, and then make a next decision based on what they learned from the earlier one. They engage others in conversations about the meaning of these results. They work with colleagues and implementers to reconsider and alter their course of action so it best fits the circumstances revealed along the path of its implementation.

 What Can You Do Now?

  • Share this article with someone whose leadership you would like to support and develop.
  • Add your own ideas, your unique experiences, and comments below.
    • Answer this question: What other steps can you take to compensate for a lack of knowledge when under pressure to make your decision?
  • Start a conversation at your staff meeting on what steps you can take to reduce the errors of the 2nd Illogical Belief. Here are some questions to start.
    • When have you made decisions that failed because you thought you knew all you needed to know?
    • When have you included others and improved a decision you wanted to make?
    • How do you know who to include in an upfront search for possible reactions and consequences?
  • Contrast this belief to the 1st Illogical Belief, The Super Human Complex and see how in combination the two can lead to disastrous results.

Note: My thanks go to Randall Ford who first showed me how the lack of knowledge, although obvious, is an often overlooked human trait leading us all to stumble from time to time.




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2014: Bring Your Spirit to Leadership

First a confession: I failed to make my goals in 2013. Am I a failure? Well, maybe not.


Labyrinth of Failure

According to the principles of lean leadership, finding and owning mistakes is cause for celebration. If my number of mistakes in 2013 is any measure of success, it was a great year.

Note in the above sentence I said “mistakes” and not “failures.” Our personal flaws lead us to make mistakes but we only fail when we don’t fail safe—when our mistakes cause irrevocable harm or cost from which we or others may not recover. For example, what an incredible responsibility construction engineers, contractors, architects, and other builders shoulder to assure their structures, if they ever fail, will always fail safe.

Even if making mistakes is a sign of success, I still don’t feel like celebrating.

  1. My revenues fell short of my goals, not to mention my needs and desires.
  2. In terms of creative ideas throughout the year, several great one’s emerged but only a few were implemented.
  3. Finally, my blog writing suffered for I did not meet the frequency of postings recommended by professionals.

Does anyone think that falling short of all these goal areas made 2013 a success?

What Makes a Year of Failure a Success?

I’m happy to see 2014. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. But I have to ask, in falling short of my goals in 2013, how best do I move forward to make more positive progress in the New Year?

In the words of Carol Hunter and Tim Rouse, long time advocates for leaders who take the time to reflect on their circumstances, reflection brings a person’s true spirit to her/his leadership. So I’ve done a little soul-searching. I have listed the bad news from 2013 above. The good news for 2014 is below.

  1. My loved ones are well and speaking to one another, as well as to me.
  2. I feel optimistic about 2014. Given the downers of last year, some might say my optimism is out of touch with reality. Instead, in 2014 I’ll be strategically optimistic and pessimistic in order to make the most appropriate responses to every opportunity.
  3. 2014 looks like it could be a bonus year for increasing revenues. Maybe I could earn one.
  4. My wife and I have enough to eat and a dry and comfortable shelter to weather the winter. We belong to a rich faith community. We have lifelong friends. We have our health and failing that we have some great health insurance.

“The first wealth is health.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

From these reflections I’ll settle on three areas of focus for 2014. The first implies I have to survive mistakes to benefit from them.

#In 2014, to benefit from failure, learn how to fail safe.

The second reminds me I have to go through the pain of admitting, owning, and reconciling myself to mistakes to learn how to avoid them in the future—at least to recognize when I am backsliding–“Oh boy, here I go again.”

#Own the pain of failure to move beyond it.

The third resolution encourages me to devote quality time, even prayerful time, to the regular process of reflecting about mistakes to bring a true spirit to bear on leadership.

#Reflect on mistakes to grow from them.

My best New Year wishes to all.

#May all your mistakes be stepping-stones to success.

Upcoming Discussion: The Second Illogical Belief

The first illogical belief was on the superhuman complex. If you think an awareness of that nightmare is not enough to make leaders review their decisions and actions, the second illogical belief is even more insidious. Leaders who set themselves up to fail by way of a “know-it-all” belief system often provoke the rest of us to err through our own know-it-all responses. Interaction such as this can foster much chaos—like an angry mob with torches on a night-time witch hunt. Well, maybe just an angry mob with clubs and flashlights, but you get the idea.

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