Scope Creep - Why Mayors Demings and Dyer 'Housing For All' Project is Failing Miserably

Demings Dyer1By Lawrence A Robinson
Scope creep is a term commonly used in project management to indicate the addition of unauthorized scope.

The tendency of projects to keep increasing in size and complexity "scope creep" is a threat whenever a bias toward optimism leads people to think that adding a bit more won't be too difficult or expensive. But in the public sector, with its large number of stakeholders pushing different agendas, the threat becomes much sharper.

Let's discuss for example, Mayor Jerry Demings and Mayor Buddy Dyer's 'Housing For All' fiasco.

Mayors Demings and Dyer fashioned a task force to define the cause of why there are so many homeless people and to develop a solution to solve the problem. The task force was challenged to build on the findings of a previous group. Added together, the time spent in planning and analyzing became so expensive, that the original scope was de-prioritized and replaced with a bad idea. By aiming to address the needs of political stakeholders, rather than the solving the homeless issue, the process ultimately falls into a state of ongoing failure.

How does this happen?

One simple possible answer: Whatever techniques they are using aren't working. Maybe the explanation is that we're psychologically challenged -- that is, we, as humans, have a limited ability to detect the scope creep, or to acknowledge that it's happening. If that's the case, a reasonable place to search for mechanisms to explain its prevalence is the growing body of knowledge about cognitive biases.

Related: Mayor Jerry Demings 'Housing For All' 10 Year Task Force Failure

A cognitive bias is the tendency to make systematic errors of judgment based on thought-related factors rather than evidence. In the Task Force final report, it was disclosed that there is not a housing shortage, but rather a lack of income shortage.

The planning fallacy is the tendency of the dreamers, i.e., The Task Force, to pay too little attention to distributional evidence and too much to singular evidence, even when the singular evidence is overwhelmingly obvious. Is this why they decided to build more houses when the evidence shows that increasing family household income is the solution?

Since elected officials are responsible to meet the goals of government, self-serving bias leads to emphasis on residents who are managed, rather than the officials themselves. Elected officials tend to control the people more effectively than they control government.

Community leaders can deter the scope creep by understanding the original purpose of the project and then holding the officials accountable when they go off course. We can enhance the accuracy and fulfillment of projects by basing them not on singular data alone, but instead on historical data. And we can require political leaders who elect not to exploit distributional evidence in developing their plan to explain why they made that choice.

Related: Chaco Canyon Consulting - Scope Creep and the Planning Fallacy