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What is Scope Creep and How to Avoid It

How to avoid one of a project manager's biggest nightmares.

May 11, 2021

Scope creep is one of a project manager's biggest nightmares. 

Before you know it, a three-month project has 3x as many deliverables and has taken twice as long. Chances are, you and your team are not just slow. Instead, you're dealing with scope creep. 

The project's original scope has been altered drastically with new demands and requests, making it impossible to complete in the original time frame. Left unaddressed, scope creep has severe consequences for the project, your team, and your reputation. 

Fortunately, there are some key ways to prevent scope creep from deterring a project. 

Read on to learn more about scope creep and how to prevent it. 

What is Scope Creep?

The scope of a project is everything it includes. A common issue with all sorts of projects is scope creep. Scope creep, or requirement creep, is the notion that the requirements of a project expand throughout the project. 

After you start the project, new requirements come into view. It's natural for projects to evolve, but if you don't carefully review the changes, scope creep can occur. The deadline remains the same even though the demands of the project increased.

Scope creep leads to:

  • Pressure. Scope creep increases the pressure on your entire team. Your team will be handling more deliverables than they initially agreed to. This is only feasible if you make the correct time and budget adjustments.  
  • Burnout. The added pressure is not suitable for employees. It increases stress and can lead to burnout. Burnout can increase turnover rates.
  • Reputation damage. If you struggle with delayed deliverables due to scope creep, it could impact your end product quality and professional reputation.
  • Project failure. At its worst, scope creep can lead to total project failure. Teams often rush to roll out features without proper checks and may even neglect to test, which can cause a faulty end product. 

How do you identify scope creep?

Did the project start with five steps and now grow to 10? Is the client or stakeholder constantly adding new demands that were not originally agreed upon? If you notice that the to-do list for a project keeps getting longer the more you go on, there's a good chance you're dealing with scope creep. 

Scope Creep Causes 

There are many different reasons for this phenomenon. Some of the most common causes include:

  • A vague statement of work.
  • Undocumented agreements between the team and client. 
  • Adding uncontrolled changes without approval. 
  • Unrealistic time frames/ deadlines. 
  • Inflexible change control process. 
  • Additional client requests that were not in the original agreement 
  • A lack of a project scope statement, or the team is unclear about the project's scope. 

What are some examples of scope creep?

Scope creep happens in companies of all sizes in all industries. One well-known example is the Denver International Airport. The team suffered from poor communication and unrealistic deadlines. Various parties ignored a staggering four warnings, which ultimately led to a massive luggage handling failure. The airlines, which are crucial stakeholders, were not included in decisions. Based on the initial project requirements, the time frames were not realistic. The result was expensive scope creep that the airport then had to manage and resolve. 

How to Prevent Scope Creep 

  • Clearly define the scope of the project at the beginning. Outline all deliverables and who's responsible for them in a Statement of Work.  
  • Ensure that all relevant stakeholders understand the deliverables and time frame. 
  • Consider the impact of third parties who are involved in the project. Identify all project dependencies upon starting the project. 
  • Hold regular check-ins to ensure everyone is on the same page. 
  • Ensure decisions are made together, not in a vacuum. Share questions with everyone and facilitate teamwork for solving problems. 
  • Address client requests that may create scope creep. Suggest alternatives rather than just saying no. Creating and reviewing a Service Level Agreement upfront may help. 
  • Estimate a percentage of the work based on the complexity of a task rather than the time it will take to complete. Include the entire team in estimation to ensure that it's as accurate as possible. 
  • Raise any new issues as soon as possible. Collaborate with your team to create various solutions and then present them to the stakeholder or client. 

Project Management Help

Even top project managers need help with project management. Working with a professional will help you prevent scope creep and deliver high-quality projects on time. At BLM Technologies, we bring a new perspective and years of experience to every project. We'll work alongside your team from pre-planning to completion to ensure your success. Learn more about our project management service and how it can help you by contacting us.

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