Scope Creep: The Two Dirtiest Words in Project Management
This guest post was written by Sandy Stachowiak.
You are a new project manager or in a different position where project management has become part of your current job. The project is moving along just fine; deliverables are being met, milestones are on track, you are confident that the deadline will be satisfied.
Suddenly, your client or co-worker decides that a change must be made. The change was not part of the original scope or initial request and will ultimately lengthen the project. Not only that, but now the extra work has a trickle-down effect.
Deliverables, milestones, and the final deadline are all affected. All you can think is – this was not in the original request, this is way beyond what we were asked to do, what just happened? Well, I will tell you – scope creep!
What is scope creep?
Scope creep is when a change—an update or addition—to the whole or even part of the project has been requested when the project is already underway.
The change may come from your client, co-worker, or customer. They decided they want something done differently or would basically like the outcome to be different than originally requested.
This can happen once or several times within the life of a project.
The requested change can affect several areas of the project from deliverables to deadlines. If you have several people working on the project, the change can trickle down to each of them in turn affecting each of their deliverables.
For example, if the change will take an extra 40 hours to make then the team member (Joe) making the change will need his completion moved out to accommodate it. It is possible that another team member (Bill) on the project was to begin his portion after Joe finished.
Since Joe now needs an extra 40 hours, Bill will not get to his portion when expected and thus his completion date is pushed out as well. And, so on…
In the above scenario, imagine that both Joe and Bill have other projects that they were to begin when finishing your project. Since their completion dates have now been pushed out, the start dates for their next projects are adversely affected; hence, the trickle-down effect.
In the end, the change affects the final delivery date of the project and possibly other projects as well.
Scope creep can be categorized as minor or even catastrophic depending on the project and the change. There are ways to avoid scope creep and there are ways to handle it if it cannot be avoided. Let’s take a look at those.
How do you avoid scope creep?
Depending on your business, position, and the size of the project there are things you can do to prevent scope creep. None of these will work 100% of the time, but they can help deter changes from being requested.
- Create a Scope Statement. Before the project begins, during the planning stage, create a statement that spells out the project and entire scope. The Scope Statement should be signed off on by all stakeholders. This ensures that everyone is aware of the scope and expectations for the project. The project should not go beyond that agreed scope. There are plenty of Scope Statement templates online that can be downloaded for Microsoft Word that are easy to use.
- Penalties – Financial or Other Work. Some companies will accept the changes requested to a project, but charge their client extra for those changes. Using the example above, the company may say that the changes can be made; however, the client must pay for the additional 40 hours of work plus a fee for the change. Other companies may also accept the changes, but let the client know that it will affect other projects they may have or will request. Again with the above example, the company may accept the change but inform the client that this will delay the start date of another project they had already requested. In both cases, the client may or may not accept the terms and may or may not decide that they still want the change.
- Make the Changes Later – A New Project Request. In some cases, the changes requested may be able to be made at a later time after the project is complete. For example, the company may ask the client to submit a request for a new project once the current project has been implemented. The cost could end up to be the same because the amount of work to make the change may stay the same and the client would be relieved of any fees charged for changing the original project if they submit a new one.
How do you handle scope creep?
Even with the above options to avoid scope creep, there are times when you must simply make the change to the project. Perhaps an executive decision was made to make the change or perhaps it would be more work or costly to change it later. If this happens, there are ways to handle the scope creep to make it manageable.
- If you have been instructed to make the change, accept that decision and move forward. Constant negative reminders of the change throughout the remainder of the project will only facilitate a bad attitude upon the team and possibly your client.
- Document the change and have all stakeholders sign off on it with a Scope Change Log. Make sure the document spells out the exact change being requested. Also, make sure the document contains all implications of making the change; from the time it takes to make it to the cost to the effects on completion dates. There are scope change log templates for Microsoft Excel that can make this easier.
- Turn the change into a positive. Perhaps this change is a novel idea. Maybe it is a change that other clients could benefit from. Perhaps the change simply makes sense. Look at the change as a good thing that everyone should be positive about making.
Let’s face it; no one wants their project derailed for any reason. Sometimes it is unavoidable if a problem is discovered in the middle of the project. However, that is usually more acceptable than a client deciding part way through the project that they want something done differently or simply change their minds about what they want.
Scope creep is frustrating; no doubt about it. But the reality is that it is part of project management. Hopefully the above information will help you when you come across a situation where those dirty little words pop up.
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