Terminology changes with the wind, but the main concepts stay the same. Project management sounded foreign and complicated, and it can be, but there are really only five elements or factors to manipulate in a project: time, money, people, quality, and scope (Laureate, 2010) and it becomes clear that everyone participates in some type of project, whether as the manager or the managed. To illustrate my point, in order to analyze scope creep this week I thought it would be interesting to apply the concept towards a project the vast majority of people experience, at least once… getting married.
Most would agree that getting married is indeed a project of some magnitude, which is why there are dozens of books, magazines and planners dedicated to helping the bride and groom (PM) obtain a winning outcome (spectacular, awe inspiring wedding of her/his dreams). There are many stakeholders involved in a wedding: the bride, groom, bride’s family, groom’s family, bridesmaids, groomsmen, pastor or priest, caterers, musicians and/or entertainers, and facility personnel to name some of the more obvious. There is also likely to be some financier paying for the event, as well as other outside resources such as bridal shop personnel, extended family and on and on.
Clearly, getting married is one project that would benefit from strategic project management. For instance, scheduling, budgeting, and resource allocation are all integral to keeping the project on course. There needs to be some type of project plan. Unfortunately, the various stakeholders usually have very different visions of the focus and ultimate outcomes for the project than the bride and/or groom (PMs). In addition, there are tremendously important and complex deadlines to be constantly monitored while planning the wedding. The dress has to be ordered almost a year in advance in order to get the right size and arrange alterations. Often bridesmaid’s dresses need quite a bit of lead time as well. Musicians and/or entertainers have to be interviewed and/or auditioned. Facilities need to be visited and approved. Caterers need to be investigated and flowers need to be selected and ordered. There are deposits that need to be made and the financier needs to be consulted regarding budget constraints. Basically, getting married has all the earmarkings of a terrific project in need of some management. It is also a project that can easily fall victim to scope creep.
The bride and groom may have purchased some of those nifty planners, books and/or magazines and are attempting to manage the foray on their own or may have some parental guidance to rely on; however, more often than not, scope creep slowly slips in when nobody is looking. Scope creep in weddings is typically the result of the many, many invested stakeholders. Emotions ride high during wedding planning, evidenced by a number of romantic comedy movies regarding that very theme.
For instance, the bride and groom desire a small, understated outdoor wedding. The financier (bride or groom’s parents) are traditional and push for added guests in the form of Aunt Mildy or Uncle Marco. Then, there is the issue of so and so being allergic to pollen, so wouldn’t it be best to have the wedding indoors? The next thing you know the quiet, small outdoor wedding becomes the indoor zoo wedding highlighted on America’s Funniest Videos. I digress.
Another example has to do with the emotions of the bride in selecting the “perfect” dress. In fact, I was actually told that when I found the right dress I would “know.” And I did, twice. I guess the first dress was a false alarm. The second dress was the one after all. That, unfortunately, cost me a pretty penny. I forgot to read that tiny fine print about cancelations. Then, there was the issue that the “perfect” dress was actually $x number of dollars more than originally budgeted. But, it is the PERFECT dress! You cannot sacrifice the perfect dress because that would ruin the wedding. And, once you have the perfect dress you have to have the perfect shoes, the perfect stockings, and the perfect tiara (yes, tiara. I have the wedding pictures to prove it). The next thing you know your entire clothing budget has flown right out the window and you are swimming in red ink. Monitoring the budget should definitely have taken higher priority!
Upselling is the name of the game when you are getting married and every single vendor knows it. Most of these vendors make their living off of brides and grooms. It is a one shot deal. Either the couple will stay married forever, or, if they divorce and remarry they would still hire someone else lest they jinx the new wedding with bad karma). The vendors push those emotional buttons until the bride is in tears and the groom is adamant that everything be done to make her wishes come true so that she will be happy (or at least leave him alone until the wedding is over). Sometimes one or more of the stakeholders lose sight of the actual outcome which is not the wedding, but the marriage. My husband reminded me of that more than once during our year of seemingly endless planning.
Clearly wedding planners are professional project managers and they need to be. That would be my first word of advice to any couple getting married. If hiring a professional planner (PM) is out of the question, then I would suggest enrolling in a project management course before the wedding and use the wedding as their course project. Should neither of those be possible, then it would be best for the couple to take a stab at minimizing scope creep utilizing some of the guidelines suggested in our resources. For instance, before making any changes to the budget, seriously evaluate the pros and cons to the outcome and not just the wedding, but the financial outcome as well. “Identify and evaluate alternative changes that might accomplish the same ends with greater benefits and/or fewer disadvantages” (Portny et al., 2008, p. 347). Another prime tip is to “communicate accepted changes to all concerned parties” (p. 347). This is very important. The groom’s family paid for my wedding and because of that and the fact that they were very traditional, my husband was the only son, … I pretty much let them make many of the BIG decisions, such as final say on the facility and menu. I had final say on the clothing. I thought I would have final say on the wedding cake, but I was wrong. At some point that was decided by the future in-laws as well and everyone forgot to tell the bride. Boy was I upset. (Remember, emotions run high during these things). I can still remember my then fiancé and now husband of 11 years talking me down when I lost my mind over the cake decision.
Another important aspect of project management that also caps scope creep is the concept of getting everything in writing. This includes the budget, project plan, anticipated schedule, contracts and proposals with vendors, deposits in addition to any requested changes (Portny, et al., 2008). Again, one of the reasons to hire a professional wedding planner (PM) is because they are objective! They know what can be negotiated and what cannot. They know when a vendor is blowing smoke and when they are not. They have experience on their side. Further, these PMs are well aware of the risk factors associated with wedding planning. As my husband is a wedding DJ on the side, I have been privy to more than one relationship that cracked up just prior to the wedding day. In most of the cases, it was the wedding planning that took its toll. On the other hand, if a couple can survive the realities of planning the wedding, then maybe they have a better chance at their next big project together… children?
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2010). Practitioner voices: Resource challenges [Video]. Available from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com.
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.