Once upon a time, a company was hired to do some landscaping. There was a large yard, and when meeting with the customer the only user story given was, “Make this backyard look pretty!”
OK, easy enough. The landscaping company had done these hundreds of times before. They had the experience to make yards pretty. They laid sod, planted bushes, sculpted flower beds, made little walking paths, the whole bit. The landscapers were skilled and knowledgeable and knew how to make a “really pretty” yard.
So right around the time that the project was in full swing, the customer appeared one day and added a new requirement, “I want to be able to land my helicopter in the middle of the yard.”
OK, that’s…a new requirement, and significantly changes the scope. The landscaping company had never done a helicopter landing pad before. It raised a lot of issues right away for the landscaping company to think about.
What could the landscaping company do? There are several options for you, as a manager, to take when something like this happens.
Firstly, the landscaping company obviously wants to delight their customer, so they could…
Option 1) Just Build the Helicopter Pad
How hard could this be, right? They have a skilled and talented workforce so they can probably deliver on this helicopter pad. All it is is pouring some concrete and painting. The staff could definitely figure it out. And after all, revenue is revenue.
On the other hand, this would significantly stray from the company’s core competencies. The company has the experience to know how to “look around corners”. For example, did you know that certain kinds of fertilizers would make some plants flourish, but kill others, so you have to plan what kinds of plants are near each other in flowerbeds?
But does the landscaping company have the ability to “look around the corner” for something it has no experience with, like helicopter pads? For example, if there’s a helicopter pad, what kinds of colors and patterns help make the landings easy and safe for pilots? How close can trees and bushes be to the pad? Does the pad need one of those windsock flags nearby, to help the pilot make safe landings? Since the landscaping company had never done this before, they didn’t have the ability to answer these questions.
So another option, to still get the revenue but manage the issue of experience, is…
Option 2) Find a Partner to Do the Helicopter Pad
The landscaping staff might have the bare minimum ability to make a helicopter pad, but are they skilled and experienced enough to do it well? The landscaping company makes sure they have staff with the right skills for landscaping. But, are there new skills required for the staff to be able to pour concrete and paint the pad? The staff is smart and skilled, and could certainly be trained and learn how to do these tasks, but are these tasks really aligned with being a landscaper? Does the staff even want to do this work? After all, they were hired to be landscapers, not concrete pourers and painters.
Finding a partner would enable the landscaper to bring in people with the right skills and experience.
But, does the company want to set the precedent of working on tasks outside of their specialization? Would this lead to other customers wanting the company to build parking lots, sewer systems, and windmills?
So a third option is…
Option 3) Decline
This was way out of scope of the contract to make a “pretty yard”…..or was it? Was this task even covered in the contract? The statement of work the landscaping company signed with the customer was to deliver a pretty yard, not a helicopter pad. The tasks could probably be covered, if the SOW had been written generically enough, but this was a significant change to the scope and effort. This work was not part of the original estimate, so this would add significant cost and schedule risk to the project.
But, if you go this route, you run the risk of not delighting your customer. And that’s a pretty significant risk to take.
Any of these options are valid, but be aware that the option you choose will lead your organization to a potential destination: A specialized expert that can deliver best-in-class for a specific capability, or a generalized one-stop-shop that can help customers meet all of their needs.