World Cups, white cats, and why scoping is a team game

The recent World Cup in Brazil may have gone off with far fewer organisational hitches than predicted, but the aftermath may still prove pretty uncomfortable for the host nation.

They’ve got to balance the books for a month long event that brought in $3 billion in tourism, but cost an almost unfathomable $14 billion; a figure that seems even more ridiculous when you consider that 16% of Brazilians (around 31 million people) live on less than $1.25 per day.*

If we put aside the morals and ethics of spending so much money on a sporting event, the question has to be how did the budget become so astronomically high.

FIFA - the client from hell

The main reason is FIFA. Football’s world governing body make extraordinary demands of the nation hosting the World Cup. Laws must be rewritten, taxes abolished, federal infrastructure upgraded, security run on a military scale, and new, completely unnecessary, stadiums built.**

They run roughshod over their hosts, leaving behind a mammoth overspend while pocketing a neat $4 billion in tax-free revenue for themselves, from broadcasters, sponsors, hospitality and licensing deals.

In short, FIFA are the client from hell.

Scoping shouldn't be a battle

While no digital agency (UX, advertising or otherwise) will have dealt with a client demanding laws be rewritten, we’ve all had to cope with escalating demands and budgets squeezed bone dry.

In response, and often pre-emptively, both agencies and clients can approach a project’s scoping phase combatively. They employ small armies of project managers to make sure scope is set in stone and rigidly adhered to. Design changes become battles, build changes become wars.

Or at least, this used to be the case.

Increasingly agencies and clients both realise that projects need to be run collaboratively and, where possible, flexibly. They understand that there needs to be a sense of dual ownership, with the scoping phase in particular, requiring preconditions of trust and goodwill.

Why you should invest in scoping

For the past few months, we’ve been working on a particularly complex website and mobile app for a public transport company. With multiple live data feeds from third party APIs and a labyrinthian set of possible user journeys, it was immediately apparent that a detailed scoping phase was crucial.

The client had initially asked us for a fixed price for the entire project, based on a rough budget they provided. We explained that the project’s complexity necessitated a detailed scoping phase, simply to arrive at a budget. They said, ‘Ok, what’s the budget for scoping?’. We said, ‘30% of the initial budget’. They said, ‘Ok’.

Now obviously the conversation was a bit more involved than this, but the key was we both understood that scoping was both of our responsibility, and to both of our benefit.

It’s in no-one’s interest to get the scope of a project wrong, and it’s worth investing in scoping to get the project right. If the scope of a project is too ambitious we either have to work our people too hard, break the schedule or lose money. Whichever way, the project loses the interest of the people working on it and the quality of the work dips. Ultimately the whole project can fail, with the client ending up with nothing to show for their outlay.

If a realistic scope is set then people see the project as achievable, enthusiasm is maintained, the quality of the work remains high and the project is completed successfully.

How dual ownership prevents nasty surprises

Our client entered our project understanding all of this, which is why our requested scoping budget was approved with minimal fuss.

So into scoping we went. We came out the other side with task models, experience maps, a thorough understanding of what was required to deliver the product, and a final estimate... which was three times higher than the initial budget.

If we’d run the scoping phase in isolation this could easily have been a massive shock to our client and a real obstacle to not just the project, but to our ongoing working relationship. However, because this project’s scoping was conducted under dual ownership, the client fully understood why the budget had tripled. As a result, they were able to present a clear business case to their board, the project got the go ahead, and we’re now working on the design.

How will the next World Cup be scoped?

Clearly the World Cup was not scoped under dual ownership. The arrangement between FIFA and the Brazilian government seems to have been more of a “Jump”, “How high?” affair.

On the face of it, this has worked fine. Billions watched the event, it all ran smoothly, and the money rolled in. However, as FIFA recline in their Swiss lair, stroking white cats, Brazil are faced with a project deficit four times that of their GDP.***

Will the project managers of the next World Cup do anything differently? Will they say no to the ever more outlandish demands of this registered charity of billionaire football overlords? It’s unlikely. At some point though, FIFA will run out of countries prepared to bankrupt themselves for the privilege of hosting the world’s best kickers of balls.

Perhaps then, they’ll realise that there’s another way of working. A way our client embraced: of shared responsibility and shared benefit.

A way that invokes the spirit, understanding and collaboration of the great Brazilian World Cup teams of the past.



* - Brazil is spending billions on the World Cup but how are the country's poor managing

** - How FIFA is changing Brazil's constitution for the World Cup/3020589.article

*** - World GDP ranking 2014