Over the past few months we’ve been releasing our six part mini-series on how to derail a project, which looks at every aspect of the project development process. After covering failures of communication, lack of clarity, expectation management, and the myth of multitasking, this month we’re focusing on the one thing that keeps more project managers awake at night than any other: scope creep.
The term scope creep refers to any time the requirements of a project shift as the project moves forward. Now, it’s difficult if not impossible to account for every single tiny piece of a project during the planning phase—in a way, every project suffers from a little bit of creep. But the term is usually used when the scope of a project is increasing or shifting in a runaway-type fashion because of poor control on the project manager’s or client’s side.
The downsides of project creep are obvious—as the scope of a project expands, the hours and costs originally planned to complete the project go out the window. At this stage, the project manager begins to tear his or her hair out, knowing that there’s no way the project can be brought in on time and on budget without a radical re-shifting of priorities back to the original scope.
In one survey, 77% of project managers working on large IT projects cited scope creep as a contributor to failure.
Thankfully, there are things you can do as a project manager to control scope creep and stick to your original plan.

3 Ways to Control Scope Creep In Your Projects

1. Ask more questions up front, and agree on deliverables. Scope creep occurs naturally when there is a lack of understanding between project manager and client about the overall project vision, metrics of success, and deliverables. To put it simply, be sure you know exactly what the client is asking for before you put together the budget, timelines, and milestones.
2. Learn how to say “No”. If your company prides itself on customer service, you may find it hard to tell a client that the new idea they just had for an addition to their project can’t be done. But as a project manager, this is one of the most crucial aspects of your job.
Because you’ve clearly outlined deliverables (in #1 above), you should be able to easily make the case that new addition to the project are not a good idea and will slow down everything. If a new requirement is an absolute must, communicate to the client that a new project phase may be added, and that you may have to update the project timeline and costs to account for the addition. At that point, many clients re-evaluate how necessary they consider the change.
3. Build in time for the unexpected. As we mentioned before, scope creep happens naturally in all projects above a certain size, because it’s impossible to predict exactly where the project will go.
To keep your sanity, always build a cushion of at least 10% in time and resources to give yourself the extra time to deal with the unexpected without derailing the project. Don’t share this contingency with the client, because the more parties that are aware of the extra time available, the higher the likelihood of inviting project creep.
Do you remember a time when scope creed drove you to the brink of madness? We want to hear about your experience! Send us an email, or get in touch with us on Facebook or Twitter!
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