What is a Scope creep?
October 31, 2019

Project Management

How to Deal With Obsessive Scope Creep? Quick Guide for Project Managers

By Pavel Kukhnavets

Even the phrase ‘Scope Creep’ itself sounds rather fishy. However, the real pain for a project manager begins when it sneaks up and suddenly hits a project.

It’s important to always deal with changing the scope to avoid unpleasant surprises. Nevertheless, Scope Creep is a reality that any experienced project manager expects and plans ahead. For young project managers without experience, it is rather crucial to learn how to pay maximum attention to this issue at the start of their careers.

In this article, we briefly describe what Scope Creep is, how it hurts projects and what are the ways to mitigate it.

What is Scope Creep?

Scope Creep is the term that means how the project’s requirements tend to increase over a project lifecycle. For example, it’s when a product that was planned with four features now must have a dozen of them. Or when in the middle-way of a project, a customer changes the needs and this prompts a reassessment of all requirements. 

You may also face the equivalent terms “Feature Creep” or “Requirement Creep”.

Managing Project Scope

The changes in the Scope can be controlled and uncontrolled. In the first case, that results in documented changes to the requirements; in the second case – the result is Scope Creep. 

Regulating Scope Creep means controlling those changes in Scope through a change control process. This includes:

  • Tracking of the status of project and Scope.
  • Comparing work performance measurements with the baseline Scope.  
  • Defining the reason for Scope Creep and the level of the changes.
  • Identifying corrective actions.
  • Managing change requests and the actions defined.

The reasons for Scope Creep can be different and may be caused by stakeholders who change requirements, or because of internal disagreements.

Top Reasons Leading to Scope Creep (Plus the Ways To Eliminate Them)

1. Unclear Scope

Every project requires clarity. If you have not defined the scope at the very beginning, it can cause essential troubles down the line.

In order to solve it, communicate the Scope clearly to everyone working on the project. Involve all team members in setting the scope to bring them into what they are delivering.

2. No customer involvement

Luckily, there is no more wide practice when you perform a month or two of work and then send the final result to your customer for feedback. However, sometimes it’s still happening and results in unpleasant surprises and work having to be redone.

Increase collaboration with your customers and involve them proactively. Demonstrate them the work in progress constantly.

3. No customer agreement

Customers are likely to change their minds if they are not bought into the Scope. 

The solution is simple: ensure that customers understand what is in Scope and what is not. Talk to your customers, be transparent, and walk them through it properly.

4. Not highlighting issues

Someone may say that hiding behind crucial issues seems easier but surely this is the wrong way. 

To solve it, try to raise issues right away, when they happen. Following this way, you’ll have time to work through some solutions timely.

5. No feature prioritization

If you do not practice high-quality feature prioritization, it’s hard to define what can be descoped when adjustments to requirements happen.

In projects run in accordance with the Waterfall methodology, products will likely be built step-by-step. This may lead to thinking that everything is a priority.

To solve it, apply available prioritization techniques to identify what’s necessary for delivering a successful product. 

Implement the advantages of the Agile approach where you utilize the minimum for release as quickly as possible. Dive deeper into the subject of discussions “Waterfall vs Agile“. Perhaps, it will be helpful.

6. Testing needs more time than it was estimated

It’s about the QA estimation, how you can accurately estimate how many bugs will be raised, and how long they will take to be fixed.

To solve it, talk to the QA analyst and get them to review, estimate a percentage of the development work, and add contingency. Define all devices and browsers you’ll test against, along with the types of issues.

7. No agreement on how to handle changes

The lack of agreement on how to handle changes at the beginning of your project will only lead to difficulties for working through changes in scope later.

To solve it, point out in your Statement of Work how you are going to handle changes.

8. Poor estimation

It is not easy to be a perfect performer at the project beginning in the environment with many unknown factors. You may not consider some obvious and critical things, so you should be tied to the extra scope to deliver your overall project.

Try to estimate collaboratively with your team members, do not make guesses and before estimating, ensure you have defined customer and business requirements.

9. Not interrogating new requests

When you get new requests from customers, teams often think that everything moves are the right way forward. If you do not examine these requests properly, you have chances to accept a new scope, creating unnecessary features or duplicating work.

To solve it, try to always review new requests with your team. Outline what the request is and what is its outcome for the user. Prioritize the new request.

10. Not involving users

Unfortunately, even some of high-performing and effective teams think that they know the users well enough to avoid interacting with them. 

When you do not consider users’ feedback early on, you can go far down the way that is not appropriate for users. Therefore, your scope can suddenly go spiral.

To eliminate this problem, try to involve users to use the product as early as possible. Write a plan to address user feedback wherever it comes to the project.

Scope Creep Real Life Example

Actually, project managers have his/her own true story about scope creep in their projects. We’d like to share an interesting case that describes fatal scope creep can be. 

This is the story of the Wasa warship – one of the most popular museums in Stockholm nowadays. The story demonstrates how uncontrolled requirement changes killed the project manager and 53 people from his community. Get the details and the lessons from history in the following video:

What is the Difference Between Scope Creep and Gold Plating?

Many people actually confuse it. 

  • Scope Creep mostly happens because of the demands of customers and stakeholders for new things and changes. Therefore, project managers get into a loop of doing uncontrolled changes that affect time, resources, and costs.
  • Gold Plating happens without customers or stakeholders’ asking for anything. A project manager and the team give demands by assuming it will be beneficial for them (even though they have not been asked). They develop a report in accordance with the specification mentioned in a Project Scope document. The project team makes extra efforts to give outstanding visuals for this report that is not budgeted, not asked but a customer may like it or not.

Scope Creep is a Positive Process

If you have read all above then it’s high time to change the way you look at Scope Creep. 

Rather than seeing it as the sneaky monster, think of it differently. No enemy, just a cause for a change! The way you manage this change is what affects your project. That’s it!

Be careful to spot it especially when it’s not obvious. Raise it before it progresses. After all, if you are aiming to build the best product you can, then scope creep may become extremely beneficial for you. Requirements must change and you need to lead the way for adapting to this.

To sum everything up, follow the next quick tips to prevent or manage (if it happens)  Scope Creep effectively:

  • Try to define the change management processes upfront.
  • Define what can be descoped. 
  • Prioritize.
  • Communicate with stakeholders and customers as soon as Scope Creep appears.
  • Analyze impacts. 
  • Embrace it and if it means changing the Scope, seek ways to incorporate the changes.

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