3 Steps for Effectively Managing Scope Creep

Read time: 8 minutes

We’ve all been there: heads down on a mission critical project, two days from go-live, and the wheels have come off. Franco, over in design, has been emailing you every 2 minutes looking for approval for extra time to get his proof done. Emily in engineering needs Franco’s work to finish her deliverable, and Rebecca from the COO’s office needs to know why the project wasn’t completed 2 weeks ago as originally promised.

All these symptoms can be indicative of one thing: scope creep. It creates more lost productivity than Netflix and a well-charged remote. The good news is there are steps you can take to manage scope creep before it has a chance to set fire to your project. 

What is Scope Creep?

The definition of scope can be simplified to: what you’re delivering, and what it takes to get there.

Scope creep, then, is when the work, and its requirements, grow without oversight or control.

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Example

You’re contracted to build a slide at a public pool. You’ve been given all the materials to build it and a budget of $1000 for your time. After conversations with your twin 7 year olds, you decide to make a few changes on the spot. The end result is a jet powered internet-connected ride called “The Thing of Nightmares”. Not surprisingly, it’s catastrophically over budget and only half completed when the project sponsor comes to check on things.

The slide, the materials, and the $1000 are the original scope. Scope creep is what led to a ride that was way more than what was asked for, and the project being half-completed and sorely over budget.

While you may not necessarily be building public pools, that example contains all the seeds for scope creep — a lack of:

  1. control
  2. communication
  3. continuous monitoring

Here’s how to take back control of these 3 aspects of a project to prevent scope creep before it starts.

1. Scope Control

Scope control starts at day one on your project. Picture your project as a shapeshifting boulder. Scope control is then the blanket that has to fit snuggly around it all times. Scope control is the processes, tools, and procedures that keep the blanket the right size. The project tries to get bigger without approval? The blanket contains it. The project tries to elongate in time? The blanket is there to prevent unauthorized changes.  The project tries to order gold to plate itself with? The blanket will not let it get past unless there is approval.

How to Manage Scope Control:

Step 1
Reach an agreement with all stakeholders on a process that has approval gates that will control budget, time, or requirement changes in your project

Step 2
Implement step 1. This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet that acts as a change log, or as complex as an electronic change management system that logs changes, sends emails for change approvals, and reports what got changed when and by whom.

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2. Communication

Scope control without communication is like having an orchard without a ladder.  You might get some of what you want, but the bulk of the results will remain out of reach.  Like scope control, effective communication needs to be established on day one and maintained throughout the project. Typically, this will involve:

  1. Identifying key project stakeholders and approval gatekeepers
  2. Defining expectations with the approval gatekeepers
  3. Establishing communication channels and using them throughout the project
  4. Remembering that change can have a ripple effect outside of your project. Changes in requirements, cost, or time should be regularly communicated to company leadership

Related: How to Communicate with Clients to Avoid Scope Creep

3. Continuous Monitoring

Continuous monitoring can be summarized in two words: vigilance and feedback. The communication and control you established from day one need to be monitored to ensure they are sound. This can be done through:

  • Checking your project’s financials – are you tracking in line with estimated?  Any mystery overages?
  • Communicating directly with your key project stakeholders and approval gatekeepers – are your processes working? Any unapproved work being slipped in?
  • Checking your project schedule –  are you tracking as expected? Any anticipated hurdles coming up?

Keep in mind that any unapproved changes in financials, requirements, or schedule should be considered significant project risks, and elevated to your project leadership.

Establishing regular checks on your Scope control and communication, and incorporating any lessons learned into your processes will ensure that your system is a living, self correcting process that grows with your project’s footprint.

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