One of the most prevalent problems encountered as a project manager is scope creep. If you have not yet encountered it, it isn’t easy to communicate how much it can impact your projects. However, when you have suffered first-hand from scope creep, you will go above and beyond to take all measures possible to avoid it in the future.
Scope creep can result from miscommunication during the design phase, opportunism, or a client who does not know what they want from a project. Whatever the cause, scope creep can derail a project, and even result in complete project failure.
In this article, we will deep dive into scope creep, its types, and ways to avoid it. Let’s begin.
What Is Scope Creep?
Scope creep occurs when the parameters or client expectations change after a project has started. The details can vary greatly, from a minor change of font, to a change that overhauls the scope completely.
The most common instances of scope creep generally involve seemingly simple requests. For example, “Would you mind just changing XYZ?” or “Could you make it so that it could also do this?” Whatever the details, it boils down to a request to add things to the project that were not originally outlined and discussed before you defined the project parameters.
Identifying Scope Creep
Sometimes scope creep can worm its way into a project surreptitiously. However, the most direct source of scope creep is often from simple client input. Unfortunately, that can also be one of the more challenging forms of scope creep to shut down.
In many cases, the party suggesting changes to the project doesn’t understand the knock-on effect. They have not thought about how this will impact the overall budget and timeline for delivering the final product or service.
Identifying this type of scope creep is easy, but it’s almost always complicated to navigate. When the client is unaware of the ramifications, they may not realize that a “small” addition can profoundly impact a project that has already commenced. Naturally, a client will take offense to a flat-out response such as, “no, we can’t do that.” Therefore, one must handle the situation carefully and tactfully.
Many clients will try to milk a project for all it’s worth. These requests are snuck into casual dialogue or discussed as though they had been a part of the project all along. When you notice such attempts to expand upon the agreed scope of the project, it should be shut down immediately.
It’s recommended that one question any statement regarding potential scope creep. A simple “In terms of the project agreement, how does that fit into the project?” should deflate an opportunistic attempt to add more to the project scope. However, if you don’t shut such discussions down immediately, this conversation will be cited and reframed as an agreement on your behalf.
Too Many Cooks
Another common cause of scope creep happens when the client lacks internal communication. In such a situation, not all the important members of the organization are on the same page, yet all give input after the project has already commenced.
In this situation, one must provide only the facts. Then, refer to the project outline so the client can handle miscommunications internally. Finally, if the client returns to you to clarify any miscommunication, you must redefine the entire project and its scope.
Naturally, most clients will think the changes should be easy to implement in the project outline. Unfortunately, that’s a trap, and the only way to avoid project failure is by redefining the scope and, thereby, the client’s expectations for the final product or service.
Unauthorized agreements with your team members
Ideally, contact between your team and the client should be avoided. Such practice opens the door to communication for all sorts of miscommunication. The project manager must always act as the middle man between them.
However, depending on the project, it may be necessary for your team members to speak directly to the client at one point or another during the project. Unfortunately, if they are in contact with the client, this can have disastrous implications that can disrupt the entire project, and invariably leads to scope creep.
For example, imagine your team is tasked with creating a bespoke web application for a client.
Your front-end designers may need to contact the client company’s marketing department for an on-brand look and feel. Perhaps a manager has asked someone on their team to request a color change on a couple of visual elements. It is an innocent enough request, and your design team can implement the change quickly.
While that would be fine, imagine if the website was just one element of a larger marketing project, providing the client with a new brand identity consisting of several sub-projects. Next thing you know, the color change permeates most of the digital marketing materials for which your design team is responsible.
This is a definitive example of how easily scope creep can happen. In this case, you may need to discuss this matter with the appropriate liaison from the client to clarify whether their expectations reflect the change requested. Then, you’ll need to implement adjustments based on that conversation, which can cost more time and money.
How To Avoid Scope Creep
Write detailed documentation of the project requirements and scope.
The most effective way to prevent scope creep is to cover everything your client expects from the project. The two most important factors are the timeline and the scope of functionality or features agreed upon before commencing the project.
The more details in this document, the more you are covered. Such documentation should be legally sound and likely require input from a legal representative. You may consult the internal legal team regarding this procedure. The critical thing is for this document to clearly outline everything the client expects and when they expect it. It must satisfy all project stakeholders’ expectations.
Define a change control process.
The client is always right, even when they are ludicrously wrong. To that end, you must have a predefined process by which the client and other project stakeholders can request additions or changes.
To avoid scope creep, you should document this procedure and provide it to all the project stakeholders before any final agreements regarding the project. It’s not only useful for laying the groundwork to request changes, but it also communicates that changes will require recalibrations in the project’s baselines.
This way, you are less likely to receive requests for unnecessary changes and can request time and the resources to cover the requests received. The change management process needs to define how change requests are submitted, who has the authority to submit changes, and who will review and approve those changes.
Make sure that everyone is on board.
Preparing all of the documentation to cover changes and how they will affect the schedule and budget for your project is only useful when all parties are on board and fully understand the key points.
To that end, verify each step with all of the project stakeholders. A legally binding contract including such documentation may cover you in a case where stakeholders don’t adhere to your conditions for requesting changes. If everyone involved does not understand the process and its importance, it could damage your relationship with the client and project stakeholders.
As we have discussed, scope creep is a multifaceted problem that can take different forms and arise in many different ways. Therefore, when planning your approach to potential scope creep is important to make certain of two things.
First, you want to ensure that scope creep can’t creep up on you. Your team needs to understand the procedure when faced with a direct change request. Furthermore, the project stakeholders must understand the process for submitting requests for changes to the project’s scope.
Second, everyone involved must understand that changes impact both the timeline of the project as well as the resource cost. As long as all stakeholders are on the same page, change requests or requests for additional features can be managed in a way that does not damage or greatly disrupt your projects.
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