Ways to Avoid Scope Creep


Over a three-month period a project manager was tasked with delivering a new piece of software. After a few weeks into the plan, the sponsor of the project added new requirements. After the project manager included the new requirements, the sponsor made even more changes.

Of course, the project manager responded that the changes would not be a problem. Near the three-month deadline, the sponsor was upset and complained that the project was behind schedule. The baselined plan was too ambitious for the additional work to come in on schedule, explained the project manager.

Can you guess what happened next? Yep. The project manager was taken off the project, accused of being “too slow” by the sponsor.

Scope creep is what happens when changes are made to the scope of a project without any control. Naturally, changes happen to projects all the time. It is that very rare project that ends up delivering exactly what was asked for on Day 1. However, without there being some control over the changes, a project manager has little chance of keeping on top of the work and managing the project effectively.

Generally, scope creep is when new requirements are added after the project has started. Often these changes are not properly reviewed. The project team is expected to deliver them with the same resources and in the same time as the original scope.

On the other hand, you could end up with a project with lots of approved, considered changes, that never ends because every time you think you have finished a new requirement arrives in your inbox and you have to make more changes.

Don’t let the scope creeper cripple your project. The following are five ways to keep control of your project.

1. Document the Requirements

The single most important thing to avoid scope creep on your project is to document your requirements. Talk to all the project stakeholders and users to work out exactly what they want from the project. Write it down. Manage conflicts. Say one stakeholder wants their new website to be blue and another stakeholder wants it to be green, find someone to arbitrate and make a final decision. Prioritize requirements, as it may not be possible to do them all.

It can be time-consuming to record everything the stakeholders say, but once you have done so, capture all the requirements in a document. Share that document online so everyone can easily see it.

2. Set up Change Control Processes

The requirements document is only a starting point. What happens when someone wants to change something?

It is unrealistic to think that nothing will change. What you want is managed, controlled change on your project. For that you need a change control process.

A change control process is very straightforward. Essentially, someone suggests a change, it is reviewed, approved or rejected and if it is approved, then incorporated into the project plan. If your project management software has change management functionality, use that.

Setting up the process for your project means thinking about who is going to review and approve changes. You can discuss them with your project sponsor or at a team meeting. There’s no need to arrange a formal change meeting unless you think you will have a lot of changes and that it will be easier to sit with your colleagues to review them all at the same time.

Without a process, change merely… happens.

3. Create a Clear Project Schedule

Use your requirements to create a detailed task list. The project schedule is the result of knowing what your project will deliver; it should show all the requirements and how they will be achieved, in the form of tasks and activities.

You can cross-reference your schedule against your requirements document to insure you have not forgotten anything.

Once you have outlined the schedule, make sure you have planned for some contingency. As noted above, change does happen. It only impacts a project negatively if it was a) never planned for or b) allowed to creep in.

4. Verify the Scope with the Stakeholders

It’s important to check that you have properly understood the requirements. What you think the project sponsor means might not be what he or she meant. Often people talk at cross purposes without realizing it. Take the time to go back to your sponsor and share the requirements documentation with them. You can also show them your project schedule and insure that all the elements they expected to see are represented in the task list.

You can do this with all the other stakeholders, too. Schedule some time with each stakeholder and talk them through exactly what the project is going to deliver. Show them the plan and give them the chance to comment. You may find that they change their mind, even at this stage, but it is better to know now than to carry on with your project and find out in a couple months that they expected different requirements.

You can also use these discussions to talk to your sponsor and stakeholders about the change control process. Explain how you will manage changes on the project and what approval you will need from them in order to proceed. This is a useful moment to remind them that they can have pretty much whatever they want – if they are prepared to pay for it and for the project to take longer if they include new requirements!

If the stakeholders are “too busy” to want to get detailed with the schedule at this stage, gently remind them that what stage you’re in. Sometimes, poor communication means key stakeholders were not informed of what the requirements gathering process actually ended!

5. Engage the Project Team

When your project stakeholders are happy, don’t neglect to make sure your project team is happy as well. They need to know about the change control process, and how it will affect them. They need to be guardians, protectors of the realm, not agents of change.

Sometimes project team members want to be helpful and will agree to change something without applying the formal process. Explain that they cannot say yes to changes without the change being approved. If they want to help a stakeholder, the best thing to do is to explain the process and offer to help with documenting the change.

Scope creep is a real problem on projects, especially when the team and the stakeholders don’t understand the impact that changes can have on the resources, the budget and the schedule. Fortunately, it does not need to be a major issue if you are clear about the initial project scope and you carefully manage changes during the lifecycle of your project.

To avoid scope creep and manage the constant changing requirements of your project, you need an online software tool that is up to the task, which offers change management features to add new changes and review them in real time. With ProjectManager.com a project manager can prioritize these changes and assign the work to team members, and when a change is approved, someone can get to work on it immediately.

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