Why Scope Should Matter To CIOs

CIOs can change the way that they work if they can define "scope"
CIOs can change the way that they work if they can define “scope” Image Credit: Adrian Wallett

As the person with the CIO job, you are called on to accomplish a great number of things. It can be all too easy for things to get out of hand as more and more things pile up. In order to stay on top of all that you have to do, you are going to have to take the time to make sure that you know what you need to be doing and what the outcomes should look like. In order to accomplish this, you are first going to have to be able to understand the scope of what you are trying to do.

It’s All About Scope

Every CIO wants to do great work, but not many of us understand what it takes to do great work. It’s just one reason why, while good ideas are a dime a dozen, CIOs and companies that can execute on good ideas are few and far between. Amazon is one of those companies: Over the decades, the “Everything Store” has built a great track record of being able to execute on great ideas. One reason why they have been able to do this is because their CEO, Jeff Bezos has taught employees to “define the scope.” It turns out that scope matters. When talking about managing projects, “scope” is used to describe the details of what’s involved in a job, along with the amount of time and effort it takes to complete it. Whether working on a complex project or a small set of tasks, it’s extremely important for a CIO to define the scope.

Doing so, requires first recognizing what a “good” result looks like. The next step is for you to understand and have realistic expectations for how much work it will take to achieve that result. It turns out that this is important because many jobs are harder, more involved, or take more time to complete than most people imagine. Unrealistic beliefs on scope, things that are often hidden and undiscussed, can kill high standards. If a CIO wants to achieve high standards themselves or as part of a team, they need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be.

At Amazon, scope is a key part of everything that they do. An example of this has to do with when it comes to presenting new ideas. For new ideas, Amazon employees don’t use PowerPoint. Instead, they will write narratively structured memos, which can reach as many as six pages. Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos varies widely based on the writer’s skills. Some are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting that will be held to discuss them for high-quality discussion. However, sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum. When a memo isn’t great it’s not usually the writer’s inability to recognize the high standard. Instead, it’s a wrong expectation on scope. The writer believed that they can write a well-crafted memo in one or two days, or even a few hours. In reality it takes a week or more.

How To Use Scope

CIOs need to understand that you can improve results through the simple act of teaching scope. What this means is that in the terms of Amazon that a great memo probably should take a week or more. There are other reasons it’s important for a CIO to define the scope of a job. Let’s face it, the novelty of working on something new fades pretty quickly. So many of us have started on the path of success, only to give up before reaping what we sowed simply because we simply didn’t understand what was necessary to achieve the result we’d been hoping for. By defining the scope of what you are working on, you can help give yourself the motivation you need to keep going. You can do this because you can easily track what you’ve done, and see how far you have to go.

CIOs know that every company and every project has a set of unwritten tasks that everyone assumes will just get done, even if no one knows who’s going to do them. We also know that those tasks usually don’t get done. Defining the scope of what we are working on helps make those tasks clear, so that someone makes sure they’re completed. Many jobs are harder, more involved, or take more time to complete than most CIOs imagine. It’s more likely that a team actually achieves great results if everyone involved understands just how much time and effort are going to be needed. We all know that “scope creep” is another project management term that describes how a job’s requirements tend to increase over time. An example of this is if you’re responsible for building a new product, you know how quickly the list of requested features for that new product can grow. Yes, you can add those features to the list, but if it’s out of the originally defined scope for the product, it’s going to cost: It will either take more time or raise the budget of the project. If you define the scope then this helps those in charge keep from getting bogged down by additional requests, and keep things moving forward.

It’s so easy to for a CIO to take on too much, thinking there’s a way to fit everything in. We all think that time will magically appear or that a job will somehow get done by itself but it won’t. In contrast, when you properly define your scope, you reduce stress and help life go more smoothly. So, the next time you find yourself frustrated with the way a job is going, take a step back – and take a page out of Jeff Bezos’s playbook and define the scope. It is not as easy as it looks; however, it’s definitely achievable. You just need to know where you’re going and, of course, what you’re getting yourself into.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs understand that the things that they are working on can quickly get out of hand. All too often we’ll be looking at a project and we’ll think that we know what it is going to take in order to get it done. However, once we start it we quickly learn that there is a lot more to it than we realized. What’s happening here is that we are not realizing the scope of what we are taking on. We’ve got to find a way to get our hands around this thing.

Over at Amazon, their CEO Jeff Bezos has taught his people to understand the scope of the projects that they are starting. CIOs need to understand what “good” looks like and what it will take to accomplish a project. At Amazon PowerPoint is not used to present new ideas, memos are. CIOs need to learn how to define scope. If you can define the scope for a project, then you can ensure that things get done. If we can start to properly define our scope, we can reduce our stress and get more done.

Our goal as CIOs is to get more done. We need to be able to complete the projects that we start. This means that we need to understand what each project is going to require. We have to get good at determining the scope of each project. If we can spend some time improving how we go about doing this, then we can boost our successes and those of our teams.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What is the best way to determine the scope of a project?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

On top of all of the IT related tasks that a CIO is responsible for, we are also charged with making sure that the rest of the business is able to run smoothly. This means that finding ways to incorporate IT into the different parts of the business that need it is one of our responsibilities. The recent pandemic has caused many different parts of the business to come under a great deal of stress. This has revealed weaknesses that the company is now looking to the CIO to find a way to fix. One of the most important areas of the business that was stressed during the pandemic was the company’s supply chain. Now CIOs are going to have to fix this problem.