Scope Creep in Project Management & How You Can Help Manage It with Scope Statements

May 22, 2019

Scope: The overall forecasted work required to complete a project.  
Scope Creep: The process of discovering mid-project that more work is required than originally agreed on.

Scope creep usually starts out small, an extra element added here, a requirement change there. Initially it doesn’t seem like they could derail the project, but each of these sets off a chain reaction of tasks and jobs, pulling time and manpower away from the initial agreed upon work.
Often a result of lack of communication, differing expectations, or requirement changes passed down from up top, scope changes are regularly responsible for elevated costs and missed deadlines.

For obvious reasons, no project manager would put scope creep on a list of their favourite parts of the job, but it happens so frequently that experienced managers know to expect it and can minimize its effect by managing it when it arises.

Here’s how they do it…

By clearly detailing scope deliverables from the beginning using a scope statement.

A scope statement is a very clear outlay of what work is included in the original quotes cost and timeframe, leaving no room for ambiguity by any party.  By detailing this before the project begins you can manage scope creep with ease, as any work arising later not detailed in this statement would be considered ‘outside scope’ and may not be subject to the goalposts of the original agreement.

When someone asks for project amendments, take a good look at what exactly is being asked.
Is it something small that would take minimal time and manpower? If so, you may wish to include it as part of the original scope. This is not always recommended for clients however, as they are then unlikely to understand why you cannot then manage the second request, or the third. If you do agree to include the change in the original scope, be sure to document your reasons in detail so it is clearly understood by all concerned why it was allowed.

Most of the time the extra work will fall outside the original scope.
You will communicate this by referring back to the scope statement, and advising how this will impact the project. Detail out how each project addition or change will impact the original agreements timeframe and cost – the client may then consider if they are willing to meet those requirements. If they agree, be sure to create a new scope statement incorporating the changes.

Scope Statements – a necessity.

By using a scope statement you eliminate the reasons why scope creep becomes an issue, and sometimes you can nip it in the bud entirely.

Lack of communication or differing expectations about the scope? All clearly laid out in the statement. All parties have agreed on what is included and had time to understand or clarify before the project has even begun.

Extra added features or requirement changes? Not a problem, they can be implemented. By detailing out your scope statement the client will understand in advance, or can be easily shown that it is ‘outside scope’ and should not be surprised when budget or timeframe changes arise.

Scope creep will always be a problem in any project management. But with great planning, documentation and communication, a scope statement can keep your project under control.