Scope Creep

Dick Billows, PMP
Dick Billows, PMP
Dick’s Books on Amazon

First we’ll talk about what Scope Creep is and then we’ll talk about how to avoid it. Scope creep is the addition of new features and functions after the original project plan has been approved.  These additions to the project scope are approved without any compensating adjustment to the project budget or schedule. It is the number one cause of project failure. Some organizations are plagued by scope creep on every project because their project managers don’t do a good job of defining the scope or engaging the project sponsor in scope control. These actions should be done early in the project. If not, the projects (and project managers) have a limited opportunity for success. Trying to fight every change to a project doesn’t work either. Even if the stakeholder or customer doesn’t “ram the change down your throat,” they are still unhappy with the project and the project manager. Project Scope Creep Main Page

How To Avoid Scope Creep: Planning Is The First Line of Defense

The battle against scope creep starts during project planning. You and the project sponsor need to lay a foundation where you can fend off additions to the project that are not necessary to achieve its scope. Every good idea that is proposed by a stakeholder or one of your team members must first be tested to see if it’s necessary to achieve the project scope. That means that the scope of the project needs to be defined in unambiguous measurable terms. We need a scope statement like, “less than 5% of the customers spend more than 20 seconds on hold.” Then when someone proposes a good idea, you politely say, “Please tell me why we need to include that task to achieve our goal of ‘less than 5% of the customer spend more than 20 seconds on hold.’ It seems to me the tasks we have planned will get us to that end result.”
With a measurable scope and deliverables, you have a better ability to fend off scope creep additions to the project without making the stakeholders angry. So you must spend a great deal of time defining the scope in measurable terms rather than falling prey to the “start work fast” mandate. That often prevents the development of a clear scope definition. And without that clear definition, you may start fast but you’ll finish late because of all the scope creep that is loaded onto the project. The deliverables in the project must also be defined in measurable terms. They form the first line of defense against scope creep. You need to convince your sponsor that it’s worth spending time to define the deliverables because they help you avoid scope creep.

How To Avoid Scope Creep: Trade-offs Are The Second Line of Defense

Rather than trying to fight every change, you will be more successful handling scope creep when you are able to quantify trade-offs every time a stakeholder asks for a change in the project. You shouldn’t tell them you can’t do something they want.  Instead you should say, “Of course we can make that change. Let’s talk about what it will cost and how much it will change the duration of the project. We can also discuss how much it will change the resources we need on the project team.” Then you calculate the numbers that clearly communicate the impact of the requested change on the project.

Remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. Every change has an impact on the project cost, schedule, quality, risks or resource requirements. After reviewing your estimated impact numbers, the stakeholder making the request may decide not to pursue it. Or you may follow the organization’s change management protocol and send the data to the project sponsor to make a decision. Either way, you are better able to manage the stakeholders than if you try to fight all changes. You also need to be disciplined in maintaining the stakeholders’ expectation that any change to the project will increase the schedule and duration. Here’s an example. A stakeholder says to you, “I’ve got a tiny little change I want to make to the curriculum for the service representatives’ training class. This is so small I hate to bother you with it. I want to add about four hours to the class and give them information on the best way to deal with people who are having marital problems. With the skyrocketing divorce rate, I’m sure a lot of our customers fall into that category. This change is really nothing; maybe a few minutes of preparation for the trainer and a couple of hours of additional class time. Can you just add that for me?”

The short answer is no, you can’t just add that. It’s not that this scope change is so terribly damaging. Rather, it’s the expectation it creates in the stakeholder’s mind. If you “just squeeze in this one,” next week you’ll get a change request that is just a little bit larger and hurts the schedule and budget a little bit more. You must begin to control  the stakeholders’ expectations for making changes during the presentation of the project plan. And you must continue that control every week until the project is complete. There is never a free change to the project you can “just squeeze in.”

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At the beginning, when you and Dick talk to design your program and what you want to learn, you will select case studies that fit the kind of projects you want to manage. Chose you course and then select the which specialty case study from business, or marketing,  or construction, or healthcare, or consulting.  That way your case studies and project plans, schedules and presentations will fit your desired specialty.

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Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on