Internal vs. External Projects

External projects that are being run for larger customers are usually well-planned, well-thought-out, and well-funded. That’s certainly not an all-inclusive statement and things do happen, but the large, external projects usually have some significant planning into them prior to starting the project – even if their lack of well-documented requirements makes you think otherwise.

From my experiences, internal projects are never as stable as projects run for external customers. The can start and stop on a dime. They can be started prematurely only to find out there really isn’t any funding available. Personnel changes can kill a project immediately. And overall organizational changes can significantly impact a project’s goals, mission, and priority in the organization.

Let’s look closer at what happens when management changes the scope of your project and ways to best strategize and aggressively act.


The Project Begins

So, your project was assigned, you’ve met with the internal business project sponsor and documented the project request along with high-level requirements. You’ve scoped the project in terms of timeframe, required technology, resource needs, and budget. You’ve presented this to management, received the ‘ok’ to move forward and you’ve presented a high-level proposal of budget and timeframe to the project sponsor and he’s accepted it.


Project scope


Time for the Change

Now it’s ‘go’ time. The project starts…and then it happens. Something happens…an overall direction change or an internal business unit change or whatever, but now you’re being informed that your project is changing direction. What started out - as happened to me - as a simple intranet website attached to a database that allowed internal personnel to check on the status of aeroplane parts in for repair is now going to be – in midstream – an internet site that allows your organization’s customers to check on their own status’ and submit requests and interact with support personnel in your organization.

It’s all possible. What makes it difficult from a project management-standpoint is the following:

  1. Budget is already set
  2. Project personnel are already onboard
  3. Timeline and expectations are already set
  4. Work has been performed that may have to be re-worked


Challenges for the Project Manager

Planning and aggressive action will need to be taken in order to ensure the best chance for success in terms of final outcome, least impact to budget and timeline, and resource addition and retention.

It can be frustrating for resources to be part of a project that seems to lack direction or seems to be floundering. The PM must work with his team to re-define the new project scope in terms of requirements, resource skill set, budget and timeline. One risk at this point is losing key resources back to their departments (assuming shared or borrowed resources) as a new, longer project timeline may mean that the current resources won’t have the availability to complete the project and must be replaced. As the PM, it is critical to identify this potential and mitigate that issue/risk quickly to ensure that you do have the proper resources for the newly scoped remaining portion of the project.

Since this is obviously a major scope change, the new budget and timeframe will need to be presented to the business project sponsor to obtain sign off and ensure that there is the necessary funding available to proceed.


External project



A major internal project scope change can take the project manager from working on an ordinary project for an internal business unit to working on a highly visible project that has now become a very important part of your organization’s business goals and brings quick recognition to you. This can be good or bad depending on the outcome – your fast response and aggressive planning at the point of scope change will likely mean the difference between success and failure.