How does scope creep undermine a projects success
July 16, 2019

How Does Scope Creep Undermine A Project’s Success?

By Brian McHale

There’s nothing worse than seeing the project deadline looming over your head, and you know you’re not going to make it.

And while these things happen, they will affect the success of your project.

You have to nip it in the bud. In this article, you’ll learn how to manage scope creep, and how to avoid scope creep in project management.


What Is Scope Creep?

Project scope creep is a term we use for all the changes in the course of a project that you weren’t planning for.

Informally, you’ve likely talked about project scope creep by saying:

  • “I can’t believe the client changed the requirements again!”
  • “Wow, maybe we did bite off more than we can chew.”


As a project manager, you’re the one who has to make sure that scope creep doesn’t happen.

You can usually do this just by planning and organizing the project well enough, and noticing risks before they’ve had the chance to affect your project.

Otherwise, you could risk going over budget, exhausting your team, or even abandoning the project entirely.

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How to Manage Scope Creep

Project scope creep can be caused by virtually any stakeholder in the project.

This means that a client could be responsible, but so could be your team, or even you.

However, the most common causes of scope creep are:

  • Poorly defined scope or completely undefined scope
  • Lack of scope management
  • Lack of stakeholder involvement
  • Poor risk assessment and preventable mistakes.


Fortunately, there are ways you can manage scope from the very start and avoid problems later on.


1. How to Avoid Poorly Defining the Project Scope

Here’s what usually happens:

A client approaches you with a vague idea. Maybe they say something like:

“I want you to make a new Facebook for me.”

Having received no clear requirements, you and your team have to use the centuries old method of simply winging it.

When you’re halfway done (despite the ambiguous brief), the client comes in, takes one look at everything you’ve done and says they want something else, or something extra.

In the same timeframe, of course.


How to Avoid Scope Creep in Project Management

Now, this is scope creep that you can absolutely avoid.

Make it clear from the very start that the client has to be clear about their expectations and requirements for the project.

You can also create a project brief where they have to include all the necessary information.

Then, create a project scope statement. It should include:

  • Project justification (Why the client wants to invest in this project)
  • Product description (What the end product will look like)
  • Acceptance criteria (The criteria that will define whether the project was successful or not)
  • Objectives (What will be accomplished with the completed project)
  • Project exclusions (The things that the project will not produce)
  • Necessary resources (What you need to get the project done)
  • Timing and budget
  • Project constraints and change management (The things that could be achieved after re-negotiation, and the policy on changes)
  • Metrics.


In order to determine which resources you’ll need, you should create a work breakdown structure.

Not only will it help you define project scope as accurately as possible, but it’ll also help you with task management later on.


2. Lack of Scope Management

The worst thing that you could do is not manage the project scope at all.

Here’s the most common scenario:

You and the client have defined everything, and you’re sure this is going to be a great project.

You break it down into tasks.

If the client demands changes, you aim to please and don’t factor that into the scope.

And then you twiddle your thumbs until the day you’re supposed to complete the project.

Then – shock and awe – something happened!

The project scope has changed!


How to Manage Scope Creep

Fortunately, this kind of situation is easily preventable.

First, you should set up a change control process.

When you need to make any changes that will affect the scope, add it to the documentation.

Clarify why the scope changed, and how it will affect the project.

Secondly, you should stay in touch with all the stakeholders.

Keep your team, clients, and top management updated on the progress and on the effect of changes that were accepted.

Finally, make sure you use project tracking and the right tools.

You should always keep an eye on the health of your project:

  • Make sure that the tasks are being completed on time?
  • Are team members performing as well as expected?
  • Is the project reaching it’s milestones?
  • Are you informing the stakeholders about progress, changes and issues with the project (and the subsequent timeline)?


Fortunately, even simple software like Microsoft 365 allows you to understand how your project is going so you can course-correct before it’s too late.

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3. Lack of Stakeholder Involvement

When it comes to projects, the customer really knows best. After all, they’re the one with all the expectations.

However, some stakeholders are just not involved enough.

The classic scenario is:

You and your team feel that you need to make a decision that hasn’t been accounted for in the project specification.

You call the stakeholder and they just say:

“Meh, just do whatever you feel is right.”

You do it, and then it turns out to be the wrong thing.

You’re left needing to make changes, you go over budget and you don’t make the deadline.


How to Avoid This Type of Scope Creep

Here’s the thing: stakeholders have to be involved.

The easiest way to make them engage with the project (even if they’re disinterested) is to establish your requirements from the very start.

Decide on milestones and check-in points where they’ll sit down with you and discuss the progress of the project.

Establish their preferred mode of communication.

And finally, keep them updated. Ask for their feedback when you’re briefing them on project progress.

If the worse comes to worst, make sure you have a liability policy that clearly outlines the process of communication when you need stakeholder feedback, and your degree of responsibility should the client fail to comply with the policy.


4. Poor Risk Assessment and Other Preventable Mistakes that Increase the Project Scope

Finally, don’t forget that your team members are stakeholders, as well.

And in some cases, project scope can get huge if you haven’t properly assessed risks and planned on how you’ll mitigate them.

For example, you and your team may have completely overlooked the viability of creating a platform that can only onboard 10,000 users.

There could have also been a problem with the delegation of responsibility.

One team member thought they weren’t responsible for a task when they were, and you noticed it too late.

There’s a myriad of these simple mistakes that affect your project in the long run, and here’s what you can do to prevent them:


Monitor and Communicate

Projects are primarily about people and as a project manager, your main two responsibilities are monitoring and communication.

You should monitor your team’s performance throughout the project, as well as the status of tasks.

The easiest way to do it is with tools like Office 365 and Project Central.

You’ll be able to see everything related to performance, tasks and project status on one simple dashboard. No long email threads needed.

Finally, you should communicate with all the stakeholders.

Keep your top management informed on how the project is going.

Stay in touch with clients. It’s much better to ask too many questions than too few.

And keep your team close. Ask for their feedback and resolve any issues that may occur as soon as possible.

Only then will you be able to avoid scope creep and finish your projects in time – all the time.

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