Scope creep – the unspoken nightmare in project management and How to avoid it.

One day, you walk into a meeting seeing your PM tearing his hair out:ย 

– What happened?ย 

– We’re facing a scope creep…ย 

What is “scope creep”?ย 

Scope creep happens when the goal and requirements of a project are changed and become different from the initial agreed scope without any control procedure like change requests. This is one of the most common project management risks and can affect delivery milestones, costs, and resource allocation, etc. It can also demotivate the development team and damage your brand image.ย 

How do we realize scope creep is happening in a project?

To recognize a scope creep, you may need to know the difference between scope creep and scope change as well. Scope change is the process of changing the scope officially and is well aware by the PM and all stakeholders. It can also impact delivery milestones, costs, and even project quality. With a proper scope change, everything is transparently informed and agreed on, meanwhile, scope creep is without transparency and re-planning. Every time you think you have finished, you may realize thereโ€™s still more to do.ย 

The headache that scope creep brings to the PM results from the fact that it is not well aware until the workload becomes too much or until the budget is used up without bringing the promised outcome. Generally, it occurs when new project requirements are added without being properly reviewed and the development team ends up doing more tasks with the same time and resources.ย 

Some typical excuses being used that lead to scope creep are:ย 

  • โ€œItโ€™s just a small change.โ€ย 
  • โ€œIt wonโ€™t take much time.โ€ย 
  • โ€œItโ€™s still the same function, just needs a little bit moreโ€ฆโ€ย 
  • โ€ฆ

Is it popular? Why it happens?ย 

Yes, it is pretty popular in the kingdom of software development and project management. According to a study by the Project Management Institute (PMI), 50% of projects experience scope creep, and only 57% finish within budget while only 51% of projects are finished on schedule.

Some root causes of scope creep can be listed as follows:

  • The original scope is not clear: Many times clients donโ€™t have the exact picture of their own products. They want to discuss along the way after the contract is signed and the development team already starts their work. They want to see the draft version first and then adjust detail by detail.ย ย 
  • Cursory planning: Not having a careful plan when starting a project (for example not having clear milestones or the number of resources needed, evaluating the teamโ€™s capacity higher than it actually is, not asking enough questions to unlock the complexity of a project,…) can cause a big mess later when we need to keep going back and forth to re-define the delivery plan.ย 
  • Ineffective communication: Communication is one of the keys to open the success of a project. Without effective communication, the team members can work on their tasks with incomplete support and the stakeholders can miss important information which causes misunderstanding and transparency.ย 
  • Not involving clients throughout the project: In all stages of a project, the client needs to be involved and informed about the changes and limitations if there are any. Having the client in the meetings will give them the chance to speak up immediately and give the development team the chance to anticipate changes based on the client’s feedback and opinions.ย 
  • Not confirming client agreement: It is important to define the project requirements as clearly as possible and have it written down as evidence. In many cases, this is the reason that leads to scope creep. Try to ask more and more questions and donโ€™t feel yourself being annoying when doing this. If the initial requirement is confusing and uncertain, ask them to simplify it in documented form (flows, tables, images, mockup UI, etc).

How to avoid scope creep?ย 

It’s not possible to completely eliminate scope creep, but somehow we can still limit its negative effects.

From the root causes listed above, we can come up with some solutions:ย 

  • Document the project requirements and confirm client agreement at every stage or whenever there are changes
  • Be bold to ask more and more questions to clarify the requirementsย 
  • Create a detailed delivery plan with team capacity, resources, schedules, timelines, necessary tools, etc.ย 
  • Define a scope-changing process to handle unforeseen changes
  • Focus on effective communication, set up communication channels and protocolย 
  • Add provisions for additional remuneration when the scope of work is changedย 
  • Engage the team members and make sure they are aware of the project plan and changes if there is

As previously mentioned, the majority of software projects will experience scope creep, which implies that adding knowledge about scope creep prevention in the project is a vital skill that the Software development Project Coordinator or Project Manager must focus on. These skills will enable the project to run smoothly and on time, assure the time, costs, and wants of the customer, and match the resources of the software development team.

With the mission of becoming a good partner in software development, CodeComplete always encourages our team to learn, experience, and deal with project scope creep issues. All have created a productive and efficient workflow that brings value to our customers.