McKinsey Quarterly publishes The path to successful new products in which the authors highlight three critical success factors: keep it focused, nurture a strong project culture, talk to the customer. In this post I focus on the first one, which is an all-time classic, probably because it is also an all-time frustration that in spite of much “keep it focused” talk, project teams so often end up losing focus at some point.
A simple but effective tool to establish the focus and create an anchor to hold onto when scope creep raises its ugly head is the TOR – Terms Of Reference. It sounds template-junkie and bureaucratic but it can be made simple and even poetic. A guide to write TOR is Kipling’s:
I keep six honest serving-men / (They taught me all I knew); / Their names are What and Why and When / And How and Where and Who. / I send them over land and sea, / I send them east and west; / But after they have worked for me, / I give them all a rest.
The six honest serving men provide the structure of the TOR:
Why is the purpose of the project
What specifies the deliverables
Where maps the space defined by what’s in-scope and what’s out-of-scope (even if logically what is not in scope should be out of scope, it is usually a good idea to make both the in-scope and out-of-scope explicit)
Who are the people (sponsor, project lead and team, customers, stakeholders, etc.)
How articulates the process or methodology that will be followed, including resources ($ and other)
When spells out the timeline for the deliverables, the milestones, the gate reviews.
Once written, the TOR is widely communicated to stakeholders (I send them over land and sea / I send them east and west), so that the project team can refer to it and fend off scope creep (But after they have worked for me / I give them all a rest).
Sounds all very obvious, but how many times have you seen projects start with no clear scope, no specified deliverables, or even no shared purpose?