The 4 X 2 Rule: Projects on Steroids


By Joe Moore

A common rule of thumb used by leaders, and much admired by consultants, is the “4 by 2” rule. The rule means that, in our experience, projects take four times as long and cost twice as much as the project plan says or vice versa – and that’s the successful projects.

Projects without borders – sans frontiers! Projects on steroids.

Steroids on a project do not help.

In tougher financial environments, you may hear rabid calls to “do more with less”. Maybe – you have been tasked with “doing more with less”.

Projects too often get too big to succeed. The real key to success in project leadership is doing less with less.

Achieving less with less highlights clarity.

Much of the heavy lifting of clarity is at the start of the project.

Defining what your organisation expects from a project is rarely a consensus exercise with your project team. Waiting for everyone on a project team to agree rationally and emotionally a strategic decision is a recipe for delay, frustration and failure – or at least a mediocre result.

Defining the expectations is a story telling exercise and you are the storyteller. Your task here is to remove the ambiguity and the assumptions people may have about the organisation’s expectations.

So – you get to define the expectations and provide the team with the opportunities to talk them through – so that they can raise their assumptions, ask their questions and help each other be crystal clear about what is expected.

Conversations about expectations can be about topics like who will use the results of the project, who is going to benefit from what we will develop and create as a project team, how will these people use what we develop, what problems are we going to solve for them?

Our next place to achieve clarity is in the purpose of the project.

Again, this is not a consensus exercise for the project team. You will want to briefly describe the purpose of the project. Get your explanation down to three sentences or less. The longer your explanation of the project’s purpose – the more likely your explanation is unclear.

When you have the purpose clear and brief – you will have the answer to the question – at least for this project team – “what are we here for?”

To help others easily understand the project purpose – our suggestion is to describe the project purpose that same way every time you talk about it. Every time you describe the project’s purpose using different words – you run the risk that the purpose is not transparent – not easily understood. You can easily confuse others who are relying on you to provide clarity.

Let’s look at the next element of clarity.

Deciding and then letting people know the purpose – scope of the project – is half the communication task. The second half is deciding and letting people know what is not in the scope of the project.

Scope creep is usually incrementally embellishing what a project will deliver with no companion adjustment in money, expertise and resources.

At the start of the project, you can control scope creep by making sure everyone understands what’s in and what’s outside the scope of the project. Then as others have suggestions outside that scope – you are able to direct them back to the agreed scope. And continually tell the story during the project about what the project is accomplishing.

Another way project scope can be embellished is where you have perfectionists on the project team. Sometimes team members add more to the project than what was required.

Again, the answer to questions about avoiding project scope starts with clarity about what is not included in the project – up front.

Consider the projects in which you are involved:
•What are the impasses/opportunities in any of those projects to achieve less with less?
•Projects hooked on steroids – what conventions do you need to assess or challenge as you consider your projects?

About Joe:  Joe Moore is the founder and principal of Kimber Moore & Associates. Joe and his team are highly skilled in helping leaders and staff deal with uncertainty, change, complexity and conflicts. You can read more of Joe’s posts and contact him here

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

1 Response

  1. Hi Joe,

    Nobody questions the “clarity” factor. The problem is, what’s in the project scope and what’s out of the project scope is not very clear from the get-go. This is the main cause of scope creep in project management.

    As for the 4×2 rule, I don’t think it’s quite accurate. I think this is on the extreme end.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

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