Scope creep is a common issue in project management. Often, a project's scope increases beyond the original description in the project charter and project agreement. As a project progresses, often additional requirements are deemed necessary by project managers or other stakeholders.
Scope creep often happens slowly - one small task or change at a time - where it's not evident to project managers or stakeholders. This often makes a project difficult to manage because there is no single change that adds significantly to the work required for successful project completion. However, these minor changes often build to become more problematic issues over time.
Project Management Must be Aware of Scope Creep
Unlike more extensive project changes that happen at once and might require several approvals and reviews, smaller changes are often left to the discretion of product managers rather than requiring executive review. But while a dozen small changes bundled together might require executive review, multiple one-time changes over time might fly under the organizational radar.
Scope creep can happen in any project, and skilled project managers need to step up and ensure all key stakeholders know what is happening and how it will impact a project. Keeping the lines of communication open in project management is essential because the client needs to be aware of what is happening and understand the impact on the project.
Regardless of how a project’s scope increases, scope creep results in delays, disruption, additional costs and an overall negative impact on the project's success. Because project managers are responsible for completing a project on time and within a predetermined, specific budget, they need to be aware all the risks of scope creep and how to keep it from adversely affecting a project.
5 Project Management Tips to Help Prevent Scope Creep
A great project manager is someone who can identify and mitigate scope creep to ensure a project hits key milestones and leads to successful project execution. There are several project management tips that can aid in preventing scope creep.
Tip #1: Set Clear Project Goals and Project Scope
A project management professional needs to establish clear goals and a well-defined project scope for every project. Doing so may mitigate scope creep because everyone needs to consider the impact of new changes if a new requirement is not part of the original project’s goals. When a project manager sees that a project is drifting away from its initial goals and project scope, that project manager should ensure the entire team and client is aware of the change.
In addition, it is crucial in project management to ensure all stakeholders know the difference that new requirements will make to the project's scope. Making people aware of this drift from the project objectives original scope can help keep a project on track to achieve success, since people will be able to see the change of focus.
Tip #2: Create a Detailed Change Order for Others’ Review
In addition, a good project manager should make sure to create a detailed change order. This document or project management tool will ensure that a necessary change is reviewed by all project team members the client, project team and other stakeholders.
The change order must describe the change, the impact the change will make on the project, and the additional time and cost required to implement the change.
The project manager or team member should review any changes with all stakeholders, including the client, project sponsor, team members and customers. This way, everyone understands the impact of the change, and the client or project champion must sign the change order for processing.
Not all changes are of equal importance, so it is a good idea to encourage team members to prioritize changes based on their impact on the project and their value. Prioritizing project changes can help to manage scope creep and keep the project on track, as team members will need to recognize nice-to-haves and must-haves.
If there are dissenters to a change in a project, a change order will also show their concerns are documented and retained for future review. If an authorized person does not agree to the change, then the change can be rejected and filed away.
Keeping track of dissenters and their concerns is vital, especially as their concerns may come up again as change implementation happens and problems occur. Many people blame others for any problems that occur in a project, which is why it's so important for project management to document those concerns to show who made the call to ignore the potential issues.
Tip #3: Create a Change Control System, Such as a List, to Prevent Scope Creep
Another way to prevent scope creep is to ensure that there is a change control system in place. Tracking these changes could be incorporated into project management software or more simply documented as a list.
Establishing a change control system is imperative so everyone involved is aware of the approved or rejected changes. For example, this type of documentation will be necessary for additional payments and changes to the project's delivery date.
Typically, a change control process requires all changes to be reviewed and approved before implementation. As the list of changes starts to grow, it will be apparent to everyone that more complex project changes will lead to delays, disruption and cost overruns. As the list gets longer, having a change control system and a written document can slow down scope creep and prevent changes without due consideration.
Tip #4: Project Management Must Manage Stakeholder Expectations
Ideally, project managers should always manage stakeholders' expectations. Successful project managers should communicate regularly with other team members during status meetings that happen weekly, at least.
These meetings should always discuss approved, potential and rejected changes for the project success and future projects. Regular communication with the client and the project champion will help those stakeholders and team members understand the project's status and all rejected or approved project changes.
Tip #5: Monitor the Project Timeline and Progress Chart
Finally, when managing projects, project managers must maintain and communicate the project’s timeline and progress chart. It is vital to monitor the project's progress using project management software to track any deviations from the project plan. There must be regular updates of the project schedule and budget and project milestones to ensure that a project stays on track.
Ensuring the project team knows the expected completion date of a critical milestone in the project and the projected budget is essential to success on complex projects. At times, a project might exceed the original budget and be completed past the original due date.
However, if everyone knows about project changes, there will be fewer problems. Regular communication ensures that everyone knows about all the changes and keep scope creep under control.
Good Training Can Be Useful in Avoiding Scope Creep
Organizations should ensure that project managers get adequate training, and soft skills, including advanced knowledge of designated project management software. Aspiring or new project managers may want to consider obtaining a degree or certificate to help better understand project management methodologies to assist with the complex nature of projects.
Project management typically requires more than just managing scope creep, so having more education and training can help with additional knowledge and skills of project management. The University offers different options regarding undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees or certificates help to provide useful knowledge for any project manager.
Scope creep will likely be an ongoing issue during one's project management career. Managing scope creep in project management often requires a proactive approach, effective communication, project management skills and a willingness to adjust the project plan.
The more proactive a project manager can be, the more likely scope creep will not get out of control. Implementing these project management tips may help lead to successful completion of a project, help deliver projects on time and fulfill project requirements.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC, is a faculty member of the Reverse Logistics Management and Government Contracting and Acquisition programs at the University. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles; a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix; and a doctoral degree in management from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Gordon also holds graduate certificates in information technology project management, information technology security, and logistics management from American Public University.