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Kitchen Sink Syndrome & What You Can Do About It

Do not fear the next time a project’s scope extends beyond the original plan! Learn about kitchen sink syndrome and how you can prevent it.

By Brier Cook  •   October 3, 2022  •   7 min read

Picture this: You’ve spent the last week planning out the next steps for an upcoming project at work. As the project manager, you’re responsible for organizing, delegating action items, keeping everyone accountable, and ensuring the project is on time, on budget, and within scope. 

You send along your well-defined requirements to your teammates and think your work is done for now. Suddenly, the senior leadership team calls and tells you they want to change the project’s scope entirely. Yikes! 

Let’s take a look at kitchen sink syndrome (KSS), what causes it, and what you can do to prevent scope creep no matter what your role is within the company. 

What is kitchen sink syndrome (KSS)?

We’ve all heard the term “everything but the kitchen sink.” When applied to business, kitchen sink syndrome refers to a work project that has extended beyond the scope that was originally agreed upon. 

One moment, you’ve delegated a reasonable task; the next, you’re given nine new subtasks to complete… three of which require you to develop new skills. If you’ve even been asked to do additional work after the implementation phase has been completed, you may have been dealing with a serious case of KSS. 

KSS occurs when a senior manager or project owner wants to squeeze all possible details into a single project or product, rather than filtering out some of the unnecessary “nice-to-have” features.

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What causes KSS?

1 Poor communication skills

Poor communication makes everything more challenging. If there isn’t regular open and clear communication, the individuals working on a task may become confused and resentful. Strive to communicate with your team throughout the process to prevent scope creep. 

2 Unclear project goals

If objectives are unclear, KSS may be near! Each time you take on a new task or project, ask the delegator to establish expectations. Ask what milestones you should aim to achieve as part of the process. If the person delegating can’t tell you, ask to help them develop some reasonable goals so you run into fewer challenges along the way. 

3 Lack of project management 

KSS often occurs when you’re working with a disorganized or inexperienced project manager. If the person delegating the tasks doesn’t develop a realistic project idea or refuses to monitor progress, manage the budget, solve problems, or evaluate project performance, your team could end up in a pickle. 

4 Misalignment between management and the rest of the team

Sometimes, leadership teams expect their employees to make miracles happen. If management has different expectations than they’ve communicated to their staff, KSS may be the aftermath. There needs to be a streamlined process for information to make its way from the senior staff doing the planning to the team members executing the work. 

5 Unclear purpose

If there isn’t an obvious mission and vision, things could get messy. Each project should serve one single purpose. If you can’t explain the reason for the project in a sentence or less, don’t delegate it as one task. 

6 Lack of transparency  

A lack of transparency will only result in future distrust. If you’re delegating a project to your teammates, communicate with them throughout the process. It’s okay if aspects of a task change occasionally, but it’s not good when employees aren’t given advanced notice!

Why should you avoid kitchen sink syndrome?

If you don’t avoid KSS, it may impact the effectiveness of your team or company. Scope creep will rob employees of their time and cost the organization more money. It also adds risk to most projects. KSS will have a significant effect on a team’s motivation and a project’s timeline when complex changes are introduced too late in the game. 

How to prevent scope creep

1 Foster effective communication with clients

If you’re a team leader or project manager who is responsible for a major client project, strive to maintain open communication from the start. All employees want to make their customers happy, but a client’s satisfaction should never come at the expense of a healthy relationship with your team. Strive to effectively communicate your team’s capabilities the next time you sit down to discuss a major project with your client. Don’t make promises you and your team won’t be able to keep.

2 Use productivity software tools 

When it’s time to delegate pieces of a major project, use tools that will optimize your team’s productivity. You and your colleagues can build great meeting habits, which will translate into getting more done in a shorter period of time. Use Fellow to create collaborative agendas, take notes in real-time during your meetings, keep track of work interactions, and centralize action items from different meetings in one personal to-do list.

3 Document everything

When in doubt, write it down! Take notes during your initial client meetings, your project kickoff meeting with your team, and any subsequent group gatherings and one-on-ones where you discuss tasks pertaining to the project. Having regular updates will allow you to quickly learn how much time it takes for your team to complete different items. When each piece of a project is properly documented, you’ll gain peace of mind and know when it is and isn’t appropriate to assign extra work. 

4 Create a clear project plan

Use a project plan to define the execution and control stages of each project. This plan should include resource management and communication and risk management considerations and should address the scope, budget, and schedule in a detailed manner. The plan should also include a clear objective, a list of action items, and any key milestones. The project plan should be circulated to all team members well in advance so involved employees have adequate time to review it and ask follow-up questions. 

5 Maintain effective change management 

Change management is a systematic approach you can use as a manager or leader to control the human side of change. It’s easier to implement organizational change and motivate employees to work hard when they already have your trust and support. To maintain change management throughout a project’s lifecycle, be clear about the challenge you’re trying to solve with employees, actively listen to your teammates throughout the process, seek feedback often, and communicate clearly before, during, and after the project.

6 Learn to say no

Saying no is hard. The next time you’re nervous about having a difficult conversation, ask yourself, “Would I rather say no now or disappoint this person later?”. If your boss has big ideas for a new product that your team will build, but you know it won’t have the payoff they believe it will, let them know. Explain why you don’t feel like what they’re asking you and your team to execute is reasonable or plays to your and your colleague’s strengths. Remember, you’re saying no to a request, not rejecting a person. 

7 Aim for quality over quantity

You can assign a hundred tasks and force your team to create dozens of new product features for your client, but at some point, the quality of your team’s work will dwindle. A smaller amount of high-quality work will always beat a high quantity of low-quality work. Giving your teammates space rather than forcing them to rush through every process will ensure great results are produced for the company.

8 Ensure there are requirements gathering

Requirements gathering is the collecting of all things necessary to run a project successfully. The decisions you make at the requirements gathering stage will later impact your team’s ability to complete the project within scope. During this time, ask yourself and your teammate’s questions like: Who needs to be involved in this project? What risks are we expected to face and how do we plan to mitigate them? What is our available budget? What targets are we aiming to meet?

Parting advice 

Imagine this scenario: You’re preparing the details for your company’s next greatest project. Your senior leadership is now well versed in KSS and want to avoid it at all costs! They do so by establishing expectations from the get-go, communicating with you and your team throughout the process, giving regular feedback, and saying no to unattainable client demands. They’ve even implemented a tool called Fellow that helps your team move the project forward at a faster pace than originally projected. Success! 

Don’t let the kitchen sink syndrome prevent your team from achieving its goals. Momentum will always rise if you keep your team motivated to succeed!

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