16 March 2011

Scope Creep

My friend Michele (who I know from elementary school in Hawaii but now lives in Massachusetts) is a project manager, and she recently described a phenomenon known among project managers as "scope creep" -- for instance (and totally hypothetically), plans to paint the house and put on a new roof gradually turn into an addition and all new interior finishes. Something similar is going on at the Green House.

Remember how we hired a landscape designer to put together a plan, and then we got a bid from her for the actual work, and other bids for the fence, driveway (plus front walkway and back patio), and sprinkler system? And remember how we decided against having the landscape designer implement the plan, instead choosing to do some of the grunt work on the front end ourselves before calling in a different landscaper with whom we will be better able to work on a piecemeal basis? And maybe I haven't mentioned this, but we've also decided to handle the front walkway, back patio, and fence ourselves over time.

So the most recent plan involved hiring out the driveway (which is in the works), irrigation, and the process of tilling the dirt/removing weeds/bringing in good soil and compost/tilling some more/grading/installing sod. But when the new landscaper we were going to meet with wasn't able to come on Monday, we saw an opportunity to get just a little more done before we start writing checks, and the scope of our part of the project started creeping again.

We hadn't accomplished as much over the weekend as we had hoped, and we needed a few more work days before we would be where we wanted to turn the yard over to a landscaper for the next phase, so it worked out pretty well that our appointment was pushed back a week. (Except, of course, that it means another weekend of hard labor for us.) Between evenings and the weekend, we can probably get in another 30 hours or so this week, which should be enough time to finish raking up the last of the mulch, spread the ground drywall (good for breaking up the clay soil), spread the dirt pile along the back of the house to improve the grading, cut down and dispose of the rest of the scraggly trees in the back corner, and maybe even start some tilling and weed removal.

Ah, tilling -- the essence of the scope creep. More on that soon. But as of now, we're thinking that next week's meeting with the new landscaper will only address removal of one big tree stump and a few smaller stumps and perhaps a general discussion of what would be involved in spreading the new soil and installing sod when we get to that point.

Steve and I have somewhat different perspectives on the landscaping, especially when it comes to our time versus our money. Steve, seeing it as a question of what our time is worth, has always been more inclined to pay someone to do more of the work, but he's coming around to wanting to do more of it ourselves. My perspective comes from knowing that we were originally planning to buy an old house in the neighborhood and fix it up ourselves. Since we built new, we didn't get to (or have to) do any of the tiling, painting, demo-ing, etc. that we would have done in an old house, so I see this as our equivalent sweat equity effort, and I'm happy to do what we can to save ourselves the cost (and frustration) of hiring everything out. Steve prefers doing what we call "special projects" -- things that tend to lead to visible results in a shorter period of time, and especially if there's some kind of engineering angle (hence his thrill at our recent fence removal). Spreading dirt isn't really his thing, but he's been a rock star nevertheless -- and even initiated the last round of scope creep.

In addition to the cost savings, we're looking forward to the opportunity to make ad hoc changes to the plan as inspiration strikes us. We see the landscaping plan as offering a default option if we can't think of anything we like better, but mostly it was just the kick in the pants we needed to get started. We've started browsing for plants, fountains, hardscape options, and more and are finding lots of fun ways to really make the landscape our own.