“Could you please make this one small change…?”
“I think it might be a good idea also to incorporate….”
Before you know it, you’ve made 10 “small changes” in a project with only four requirements. You’re way beyond the project timeline, and the budget is blinking red.
Scope creep can be a project manager’s worst nightmare, causing budget, time overruns, and even project failure. Every project manager should master the ability to control and avoid scope creep.
In this article, we help you identify scope creep and offer tips on managing it for improved project performance and success.
Scope Creep Defined
First things first, what does a project scope mean? Scope defines work requirements and deliverables of a project agreed upon by the project manager and the client/user before the project commences.
Scope creep is what happens when uncontrolled changes are made to the project scope causing the project work to extend or “creep” above what was initially agreed. Changes are pretty standard in any project, but it’s the uncontrolled changes that don’t follow set procedures like change requests that delay the project and cause scope creep.
These uncontrolled changes affect the project schedule, budget, costs, and resource allocation. Sometimes, the project team is expected to complete additional tasks, deliverables, and milestones with the same resources and within the same time as the original scope. This can easily lead to team burnout.
Scope creep is one of the most common project management risks, with almost 50% of all projects experiencing scope creep. Only 57% of projects are completed within budget, and only 51% are finished on schedule.
One of the most significant effects of scope creep is budget overruns. A recent study by Deltek found that nearly 40% of agencies exceed their budgets due to scope creep.
Every project manager should expect that scope creep will happen and watch closely for the signs so they can manage it.
What Causes Scope Creep?
There are several reasons why scope creep can occur:
1. Poorly defined project scope
A project with unclear requirements is almost always at risk of scope creep. So it’s important that project managers understand the requirements at the very outset, to guarantee that the final deliverables match the client’s vision. Once you know the scope, define it for all team members and stakeholders at the start. Then set precise requirements and a strict schedule for all team members to follow.
2. Lack of proper project management practices
Another factor that may cause scope creep is the lack of a centralized project management process. Mistakes are bound to happen in a project where teams do everything haphazardly. This is where project management methodologies can help provide direction. Adopting and strictly adhering to a set method like Agile or Waterfall, for example, will help keep the project focused on the set scope without straying or changing unexpectedly.
3. Poor communication between project stakeholders
Poor communication and delayed updates can cause a project to deviate from its original goals. When clients don’t respond quickly to the project team’s emails or phone calls, the team may be forced to make unauthorized changes. Sometimes things may even come to a standstill if projects can’t move forward without proper approvals.
As the project manager, ensure that you communicate with all project stakeholders regularly before and during a project to ensure everyone stays on the same page and the project keeps moving according to plan.
4. Lack of uniformity in the client’s requirements
Sometimes, the project team and the client may not have similar expectations, or the client’s expectations may change mid-project. This is guaranteed to affect the project scope. To avoid this, hold a kick-off meeting with the client before the project starts to establish expected results. Ensure that you document the expectations agreed upon. Should the client suggest changes to the project’s scope while it’s in progress, clearly explain the effects of that request.
5. Late user feedback
Feedback is always welcome and helps teams deliver projects according to clients’ expectations. However, if clients are not involved in the early stages of project development or if user feedback is collected late, it may be hard to notice mistakes early and you may have to redo the work causing the project to delay.
6. Addition of unrequested features
The allure of adding additional features to impress the clients can be tempting. While there’s nothing wrong with adding one or two requirements if they make the project better, extra work may be unrealistic when the project needs to be completed in a very short period as it may lead to unwarranted delays.
Managing Scope Creep
Change is inevitable—in life and in projects. It’s to be expected and doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Here are a few ways you can significantly reduce unauthorized changes to a project’s requirements and avoid scope creep:
1. Document the project requirements
The best way to avoid scope creep is to document your project requirements. Once you’ve clearly defined the project requirements and the client agrees, record them in a requirements management plan. The project plan should capture all the information needed to manage the project requirements, including how you’ll track them and the process of changing them. Share that document with everyone involved in the project.
2. Put a change control processes into place
Once you have your requirements document in place, create a change control process that people must follow when they want to change something. This way, only authorized changes will be accepted.
A simple control process can involve suggesting a change via a change request. The change is then reviewed, approved, or rejected. If it’s approved, then it’s incorporated into the project plan.
3. Have a project schedule
Use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to create a detailed task list for all the work needed to meet project requirements. The project schedule helps prioritize critical tasks and track timelines to ensure the team completes the project within the set timeline. You can easily create a project schedule using a Gantt chart.
4. Charge for additional features
To discourage your clients from making unnecessary change requests that delay projects, charge them for additional features. If you don’t want to charge extra, take out something for every new feature added. Doing this will ensure that the time and resources you spend on a particular project remain constant.
5. Learn when to say no
As the project manager, always stand up to stakeholders and reject unnecessary change requests. Explain to them the effects every change would have on the entire project. If changes are necessary but too many, ask for an extension of the deadline.
6. Use project management software
Keeping your projects moving along as planned and ensuring you have a handle on everything can be challenging. However, there are a host of project management tools that can significantly enhance the performance of your team. Project management software gives you a platform to define and share project goals and objectives clearly and thoroughly. You can easily create and monitor your project schedule and make necessary changes immediately to stop scope creep on its tracks.
Examples of Scope Creep in Project Management
Example #1: New feature requests
A project manager was tasked with delivering a new time tracking software within six months. After a few weeks into the planning phase, the client wanted new features added to the product. The project manager included the new requirements in the project scope.
A little while later, the client added even more requests. The project manager wasn’t given more resources to execute this extra work added to the scope. As the project neared the six-month deadline, a couple of deliverables were yet to be delivered, and the client was upset about the delay. The reality was that the baselined project plan was too ambitious for the project team to complete the additional work on schedule.
Example #2: Unclear client expectations
Your client is planning to launch a new water bottle next month. You have meticulously planned the product launch from start to finish. You deliver a prototype based on project brief but the client reviews and has new, previously not-discussed suggestions. They want a different design for the water bottle. This means going back to the drawing board and coming up with a new prototype because it’s impossible to refine the one already created. In this case, your scope has completely changed and you need more time and money to deliver the new design.
How Mission Control Can Help You Curb Scope Creep
Managing scope creep requires controlling many moving pieces of a project and making them come together. Mission Control is a powerful project management software that organizes projects and teams to keep you on schedule.
With our software, you can easily create, store and share your requirements management plan in one place. Don’t want teams to add changes without your approval? Use the Kanban feature on the software to implement Work In Progress (WIP) limits to track each change request. Limits ensure that changes don’t negatively impact the larger project.
Your Mission Control dashboard allows important stakeholders to keep track of the project’s progress—improving communication and stakeholder engagement.
Request a demo to see how Mission Control can help your organization control scope creep and increase its projects’ success!