I Built a New Home with No Scope Creep

Scope creep in IT projects is no different than scope creep in home buildingWe signed the final contract and shook hands. My builder looked at us and said, “You’ll be in your new home in six months – unless you go crazy with change requests.”

“We have no desire to change anything,” I assured him.

“We’ll see. My bet is that you’ll hit 100 change requests by the time we’re finished. I’ve never had a custom build with fewer.”

“I’ll take that bet,” I said. “I work as an IT Project Manager and I understand the change request game. You won’t have more than ten from us.”

He smiled.

Flash back 45 days. We had just moved to Albuquerque where I had accepted a position as Director of Systems Integration with a new company. Homes were in short supply, so we decided to build a new home. We found a great lot in the far Northeast Heights. Our real estate agent recommended a local builder with a stellar reputation.

After signing a letter of intent, we sat down with the builder’s architect to describe what we had in mind. With red pen on a yellow legal pad, we sketched out a drawing of what we wanted our new house to look like.

He took our rudimentary diagram and began marking it up as he asked questions. He added a few sketches of his own, recommending where to place windows for maximum sunlight exposure, where to add skylights, an upgrade to 2×6 outside walls for extra insulation, the best position for a curved staircase to the second story, a privacy deck off the master bedroom, and several other touches that would increase our enjoyment of the home.

Back to us. We requested that he add a walk-in shower separate from the master suite bathtub, French doors into the master bedroom, curved archways throughout the house, molded corners, a large light fixture suspended 12 feet down from the front entrance ceiling, Spanish roofing tile, nine-foot ceilings rather than eight, and many other very specific requirements.

He got to work. We went to Hawaii.

When we got back from our vacation, the builder presented us with the architectural drawings. We reviewed every item from our requirements list against the blueprints. We made a couple of adjustments and signed off on the drawings. He presented us with the final contract. That is when he uttered the words that I opened this article with, “You’ll be in your new home in six months – unless you go crazy with change requests.”

Why did he say that? Why do we make similar statements when we begin a new IT project? Because we – like my builder – understand human nature. We understand that clients change their minds, have new ideas, change players, develop sticker shock – any number of reasons that result in changing scope.

Without proper processes in place to handle these change requests, our projects take on significant scope creep. With well-defined processes we can manage the people aspects of project delivery that result in these changes in scope.

So, what happened with your house, you ask?

Well, as the builder predicted, there were several change requests.

Six, to be exact.

The major change request came from the builder himself. We had sketched a basement with an outside egress. The builder noted that his crew had little experience in building basements. Basements were rare in Albuquerque. Would we accept a large addition to the west side of the house that could serve as the children’s playroom? He would “eat” any additional cost.

The next three changes came as the result of errors on his crew’s part. Move the patio doors to the middle of the room as shown on the drawings. Move the circular staircase back three feet as shown on the drawings. Move the air conditioning unit down from the roof onto the second story patio as shown in the drawings.

The remaining two were our requests to upgrade the lighting package and change the entrance to the laundry room.

Truly, our willingness to accept the builder’s recommendations for homes architected for the high desert, my experience in specifying requirements, and my daily walkthroughs of the house as it was being built, helped us manage the construction to the original agreement.

We moved in in six months.


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