As gas prices rocket upward I am reminded of a small personal project I undertook a few years ago that holds lessons for many larger troubled projects in both the public and private spheres. It all started innocently enough when my wife asked me if I could mow the lawn one Saturday afternoon. Since the bulk of our land is xeriscaped (a fancy word for native bushes and trees pretty much run wild) this is not a huge deal so I acquiesced.
After hauling the lawnmower out of the shed I of course found it needed gas. When I picked up the gas can it was (of course) empty. Now, I knew I had left it full just a couple of weeks before so there was only one way this could have happened, my brother-in-law (hereafter known as Bill).
Bill is a contractor and has free rein to borrow anything, anytime as long as he lets me know if he will have it for long. When I called him he confessed that he had taken my gas for his truck on Friday because all the neighborhood gas stations were out. He said he would be right over and we would go find someone who was selling the precious commodity. We ended up in a line that stretched out into the road while having flashbacks to the oil crisis of the 1970s. An hour later we gave up, bought a six pack and went back to my house. When our supervisors (wives) showed up a while later and found us viewing (instead of mowing) the lawn, they were less than pleased.
Scope drift is the lesser known, but just as insidious cousin of scope creep. Many projects are initiated with poor identification of their objectives, stakeholders, or constraints. The team is assembled and mandated to do something, even if that something is not clearly needed or possible. Without a clear path the team will drift into whatever takes their fancy and often leave the initiating stakeholders aghast at what they have started. Teams will be idling on the porch while the opportunity cost rolls along as inevitably as the numbers on a gas pump.
A project started badly will almost always end badly. Many large government projects in particular rush into execution, violating the rationale for effective definition and planning. Starting projects wthout a clear understanding of purpose and ignoring best practices in initiating is only buying trouble later.