Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - Five Tactics for Preventing Project Scope Creep

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 handling project scope creep. Any change—no matter how small—can affect the entirety of the project. But how does scope creep affect a 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.


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