What to do when executives add scope to project already behind schedule?

We're late on a project, and one of the executives keeps going straight to team members asking them to add new features or change something we had already finished. They usually don't mind, but it's making everything run late. What do I do to stop this?
The good news in your problem is that you know what's going on. The bad news is that it is corrosive and detrimental to what you are trying to achieve, and you know that it will further delay what has become late already. The best approach to address this problem is to take it on head-on. First, you need to meet with the executive in question, to learn their motivation for making these requested changes and show what the impact of these requests are having on the current project schedule.

The project scope is one of the foundations upon which the project is based. Changes in scope require approval by the project sponsor, because they will usually cause changes in schedule and deliverables, and may require additional or different resources. Will the value of the added functionality benefit the business more than the further delay projected by the progress to date? The question that needs to be discussed and answered is the true importance of the requested changes. Are they critical to the customer for the success of the product? Then they need to be considered as a scope change, handled via a systematic approach for reviewing and approving changes, but only with the ramifications for the entire project fully understood. If the requests are not critical after all, they still should be captured for consideration in a future project.

Meeting and discussing the situation with the executive can lead to two different outcomes: You may need to proceed with a project scope change request, for which the process is defined and approval by the project sponsor is required! See our Change Control Form and included process suggestions. On the other hand, if this change should not occur, you still need to manage the team to keep them focused on the approved scope. If this change has already been made by team members based on the executive's direct requests, and has already taken the project off the rails, you'll have to work out and execute a recovery plan with the team. Together you'll need to determine how to get the project back on track to meet its original goals, despite the fact that this change request has already taken parts of the project off down another path.

Hopefully your meeting also serves to show the impact this executive's intrusion can have on overall project success every time it happens. If the executive ignores the potential impacts and keeps requesting changes, then you need to escalate the issue to your project sponsor for support. Read our article Getting a Grip on the Anti-Project Team to learn more about stakeholder management to help with this kind of problem.

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