Struggling with Project Scope Creep


Scope creep is every project manager’s biggest challenge.

When a project’s scope gets expanded to include ambitious work that was never planned for, it can disrupt the original project plan, stretch the timeline and blow away the budget. Some call it featuritis, as in “We’d like to add these features that weren’t included in the initial project.” When software developers are asked to haphazardly include strange, orphaned features, their software becomes bloated with additions that seem out of place. Hence the term “software bloat.”

Are you feeling bloated? You might be due for a surprise addition at any moment. Scope creep can make you the babysitter of someone else’s unplanned brainchild. As a project manager with a new, unexpected addition to the family, all of its needs, complaints, kicking and screaming becomes your problem.

Some try to prevent project scope creep by explicitly defining the plan, timeline and budget of a project on paper. It’s a good strategy, but those set-in-stone documents can often get ignored if someone has a sudden brilliant epiphany that must go into the project. After all, “big picture” people can’t be bothered with silly trivialities like budget, resources and project scope, right?

Have you suffered from scope creep at work? Have you defeated it? How?


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Peter is Vice President of Digital Marketing at an investment holdings company in Washington DC and Co-Founder at True North.

Discussion

  1. Jeff Hilton on the 23rd July

    This happens way too often in my website development projects. You want the customer to be happy with the result, so you make an effort to comply with the new requirements. However, often that leads to problems in the design and schedule slips. The customer doesn’t like those either.

    It seems the best approach is to have a clear set of features agreed to when the project starts and gently but clearly let the customer know what the effect of adding their new “great idea” will be on the budget and schedule when it happens.

    “Wow, that is a great idea! Let me get back to you tomorrow with an estimate of the cost and schedule for that.”

  2. Scott on the 24th July

    Another problem that leads to scope creep is “assumptions”. Most of my web clients are great at what they do, but “web” is not their area of expertise.

    If I don’t explicitly state in the proposal that things like copywriting, stock photo procurement, contact forms, and e-commerce functionality are *not* included unless specified, many clients just assume they’re “park of the package”.

    Likewise, my clients sometimes assume they can go through as many rounds of design revisions (often to the point of “start over”). If there was an encyclopedia of scope creep, my projects would take up several chapters!

    The solution, which I’m still working to perfect myself, is to be as clear as possible up front about what’s included, what’s not included, and how “out of scope” requests will be handled. Although it’s hard, because I want to please my clients, I have gotten better at “pushing back” and saying, “Sorry, but that is not in the original plan we discussed.” I then go on to explain that we can put it on the “phase 2 wish list” or do it as part of phase 1, with the understanding that there will be an extra charge and that it will most likely delay the delivery.

  3. Tim Sanchez on the 24th July

    I run enterprise software implementations for a living. Every single project has scope creep of some kind. The only good way I’ve found to manage it is to have a signed contract that clearly defines the scope of work for each phase of the project. Everything that falls outside the scope of work has a signed change order with an estimate of the work.

    It’s not easy to make someone sign a change order every time they want some great (or not so great) feature, but it’s the only way you can successfully run a project of that nature. Your customers may not like it during the course of the project, but they’ll thank you later when you stay within budget and accomplish the initial goals of the project.

    I’m happy to answer questions or help anyone struggling with this in their job. Feel free to contact me via my blog (deliverbliss.com).

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