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Avoid Project Scope Creep

One of the most challenging aspects of project management is managing the project scope. Increasing cost and time spent on the project can often result in decreased satisfaction and diminished outcomes. As the scope of the project begins to snowball, you may find it going in a completely different direction then when you started. By understanding the nature of scope creep and its causes, you better position yourself to ensure the success of your project.  

What is Scope Creep? 

First, it is important to understand what project “scope” is. A project scope determines the parameters, requirements and overall work required for a project. Scope creep is when a project’s scope begins to grow, expanding the work required and sometimes diverting the entire direction of the project.

Scope creep can manifest as an increase in deliverables, a sudden increase in required features, or a complete change in direction due to shifting needs and wants. It is important to remember that change is inevitable, and all projects are bound to change on-the-fly throughout the process. However, this change must be monitored, documented, and mitigated within reason.

How Does it Happen?                                       

So, how does scope creep happen? The Project Management Institute dug up a discussion between some Linkedin colleagues as they came together to identify a few factors that they find often lead to the growth of a project’s scope.

  • Unclear initial documentation of specifications & requirements
  • Starting design & development before establishing project requirements
  • Enabling undocumented contact between client & project participants
  • Customers vying for extra work at little-to-no cost
  • Failure to focus on the highest-priority features

(Bleiweiss, A., Bupp, J., Johnson, D., Meister, J., Murphy, B., Temchin, M., & Oldfield, P, 2009)

The biggest factors at play here seem to be caused by a lack of clarity in the original scope documentation, uncontrolled communication and beginning development before establishing system requirements. The way we tackle projects at CoreSolutions is by working collaboratively with the client to establish a set of clear and concise system requirements before beginning any development work. Without documenting requirements first, proceeding with a project is a lot like driving blindfolded.

Why is Scope Creep Bad?

Like we mentioned earlier, some scope creep is inevitable just as change is inevitable. However, when it goes unchecked, cost as well as development time increases while quality, resources and team effort start to dwindle. Without an established structure to document and manage project changes, the project team will allocate more and more time to unapproved changes, be it extra features or design tweaks. This creates more work and necessitates time being spent on things that must be completed within the original timeframe and budget. This additional work takes time away from established requirements and fosters an environment of compromise and corner-cutting. Without proper planning, this may result in incomplete features and designs, or a much longer project time frame as well as a swollen budget.  

What Can You Do to Mitigate it?

Two words: change management. Organizations should establish a formalized change control process that enables them to accurately track project changes such as added features, design reworks, or shifts in direction. These changes must then be communicated amongst the team to prevent the scope from growing out of control. Here are some tactics you can use to help manage change in your project:

  • Regularly assess project status & scope
  • Compare actual & planned work— "How much does completed work vary from the initial plan?”
  • Document, manage & acquire approval for all change requests
  • If approved changes impact the overall scope & budget, then all initial documentation should be updated and sent to project stakeholder

The biggest thing you can do is document, approve and communicate changes throughout all levels of the project team. Another important factor in mitigating scope creep is the establishment of accurate time and budget estimates. In our latest eBook: A Manager’s Guide to Software Development Projects we state that “a good and accurate estimate for your software development project will reduce scope and budget creep, improve relations between you, your team and vendors, and keep you in a favorable light with your management team”.

Final Thoughts

Taking time early in the project to establish a clear set of system requirements will go a long way in managing the scope of the project moving forward. Without first documenting requirements, more and more work can be added on as an afterthought, making it difficult to accurately budget project time and resources. Always make sure project changes are documented and approved, as it makes it simpler to allocate work without detracting from the rest of the project. Remember change is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to control it!

Starting your own development project? Fill out a complimentary Needs Analysis and start documenting your system requirements today!

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