Five Tactics for Preventing Project Scope Creep
A great way to explain project scope creep and its impact on project managers are through
discussing the act of cooking food. Let's say that you are preparing dinner for your family
or friends. You have decided to fulfill a special request they made for dinner that evening.
You know what they want, you've heard their expectations, and now it's time to work on the
dish. You head to the grocery store to buy the freshest ingredients and then travel home to
start preparing the meal.
So, you are halfway through cooking the meal and are about to begin adding the final ingredients
to only get a call from your friend or family member saying that they would like something else
instead. The change seems small, but it has an impact on the entire dish. Now, you have to go
back to the store or figure out a way to change the dish to include the changes.
This is what it can feel like when you have to deal with project scope creep. Any change—no
matter how small—can affect the entirety of the project. Ultimately, the health of a project
can depend on how much scope creep is allowed. The Project Management Institute (PMI) found
that "avoiding scope creep or uncontrolled changes to a project's scope" is a
top driver of success.
According to the research they did, the PMI's report also found that within 12 months of the
study, 52 percent of the projects completed experienced uncontrolled changes to the project's
scope. This number was almost 10 percent higher when the same research was done five years earlier.
Avoiding project scope creep can be easier said than done. However, what practical steps can
you begin to take today to avoid these issues? Read up on these tips to see how you can
implement them in your project teams.
Understand The Problems—and Complexities
It can be hard to understand why avoiding scope creep is important if you don't think through
all the consequences. Scope creep can lead to a variety of problems. If you have to alter the
deliverables of a project, then there will be more labor, more time, and more costs associated
with the project.
It's important to see how these factors impact your team as a whole and how it also affects
your company as a whole, including operations, budgets, and the bottom-line. The more you see
how scope negatively impacts your team and your company, the easier it will be to create
boundaries to overcome it. Additionally, it's also important to not underestimate the project
difficulties that can lead to scope creep. An article from Villanova University pointed out
that underestimating the challenges involved with your project can lay the foundation for
scope creep to occur as it makes it hard to prepare for potential problems that can arise.
Push Back Against A Lack of Clarity
Whoever the point of contact is with clients—whether it is a team member or you—you must
ensure that the team is clear on all project components and requirements. For example,
let's say that you are delivering a user-friendly website for a client. Each detail of
what the client wants needs to be discussed and agreed upon.
Look at past projects and see where there may have been gaps in the information you needed.
Additionally, it's crucial to work with the client to establish their goals and the specifics
of what they are looking for. Look at their requests and see where you may need any more
clarification. Even if the back-and-forth takes a bit longer than you intended, it will help
you in the long-run to avoid any deviations in scope.
Establish a Process for Project Changes
It is almost inevitable that a client will need to change the project's scope. So, what do
you do? How can you ensure it doesn't negatively impact your project timelines and costs?
You want to create a system that allows the client to get what they need without putting
undue pressure on your team. This step is where establishing a process for making changes
up front can help. For example, in a contract or statement of work document, it should
outline how changes should be handled. Is there a specific time in the process where
modifications are accepted? If so, you should establish this.
Also, it would help if you were clear about when a change will require a renegotiation of
price and timelines. The client needs to be aware of how their request for alterations can
change your process. Doing this will help them to weigh whether the change is significant
enough to pay more money or wait longer for their deliverables. Lastly, don't forget to add
lead time into your project timelines to have time to handle potential changes. This action
takes the stress off of meeting project deadlines.
Track Everything—Use Your Project Management Software
You only know if you are going off track if you are keeping up with everything from the
beginning. This reason is why your team needs to use project management software. Every
task delegation, progress update, and milestone reached should be included in your project
management tools. Doing this allows you to keep a close eye on how the project tasks are
being handled and if team members are taking on other responsibilities related to the
project that they shouldn't be. You'd be surprised about how much stuff you can catch if
you are closely monitoring your project management tools to see if everyone is sticking
to the original agreed-upon process.
Realize That It's Okay to Say "No"
There could be things that are just outside of you and your team's expertise, and that's
perfectly okay. There is nothing wrong with expressing this to your clients. Your goal
should be to produce the best quality work you can for clients and making sure you are
equipped to do it. If you aren't, don't be afraid to discuss this.
Look at the act of “expressing your limitations” as adding value to those you work with.
They will appreciate you being honest about what you can and cannot do for them in the
long turn. Additionally, you are also looking out for yourself, your staff, and your
company as you are being mindful of not stretching everyone's time or resources unnecessarily.
Scope Creep Is A Serious Problem That Requires Real Solutions
Yes, pleasing your clients is incredibly important. You want to provide them with the
value they are seeking. However, you have to balance their demands with what you and
your team can do. Your operations and project processes cannot suffer because of
unplanned alterations or a misunderstanding of the project's requirements.
It's important that you all understand your client's needs, agree on a process for making
and accepting changes, and define the scenario of when you would have to change up the
deadlines and price if modifications are needed. Ultimately, you want to ensure that
everyone walks away satisfied—which includes your clients and your team. These tips can
help you develop a plan to handle changed effectively so that you and your team can
overcome project scope creep and thrive.
Managing Scope Creep in Project Management,
Pulse of the Profession 2018: Success in Disruptive,