How to manage Scope Creep in Project Management

April 22, 2020

Scope Creep is the stuff Project Management nightmares are made of. Project Managers don’t like scope creep because it makes the project and everything that goes with it (budget, resources, client expectations, timeline, etc.) utterly unpredictable. 

What is Scope Creep? 

PMI defines scope creep as ‘Adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorized (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope).’

But as much as we would like to avoid it, scope creep is part of the project management package. Every project knows scope creep on some level. There is no getting away from it. The question is, if you can’t avoid it, how do you manage it best and what can you do about it when it strikes? 

Scope creep occurs when small changes are made to a project that appear not to be worth an official discussion. The problem is that a lot of small changes can have a big effect. The longer a project takes, the more room there is for scope creep. Worst-case scenario, it can cause a project to fail. 

How to stop Scope Creep from ruining your Project? 

So what are our top tips to avoid scope creep spinning out of control? 

  • Make sure the project specifications are detailed and leave no room for doubt on what the project includes and what it does not.  Clearly define initial requirements . 
  • Have a process for change management in place and use it. Always. 
  • Be very clear on who the stakeholders are. 
  • Be on the lookout for ‘scope kill’. Being overly rigid in allowing changes can also exclude what could benefit and improve the project. It’s a balancing act. 
  • Do an in-depth cost analysis before the start of the project to assess the viability of it. Also, don’t succumb to the pressure of trying to please the client. Be firm. Sometimes it’s better to walk away from a project. 
  • If you have the opportunity to discuss similar projects with other Project Managers, always take it. I’ll never forget the story about the build of a new airport terminal where everything was planned for… apart from the fact that on the day of opening, nobody knew where to go. The irony? It had happened before in another airport, except nobody took the time to have a sit down with the project manager of that airport. This is also why you always take the time to debrief at the end of a project. 
  • Create a clear line of communication. Make sure client communication goes through you and not with contractors directly. 
  • Also communicate regularly and formally. It’s better to over-communicate than to under- communicate. Not everything is always noted from the first go. Follow a verbal meeting up with an email summarizing the conclusion, the implications and the action points. It leaves no room for discussion afterwards. 
  • Be aware of clients trying to get extra’s on the cheap
  • If the project is especially long, it may be worth chopping it up into several sub-projects