A deadly phrase in project management circles, the dreaded project scope creep, where projects grow in size without the right planning mechanisms in place. It’s common for most projects to suffer scope creep at some point, but it’s certainly not acceptable to allow project scopes to expand without reasonable justification. As always, it’s a tough balance to find!
How do you know the scope is being compromised or challenged?
It might not always be obvious and the client might not even be aware they are causing it, but when it happens, it can quickly take hold:
- The client starts asking for additional tasks to be completed as part of the project
- The client hasn’t fully disclosed the extent of the issues before starting the project
- The client’s budget is stretched, or reduced, but they expect you to deliver the same outcomes (or more)
- Various stakeholders demand different things that cause extra strain to the project
- The business expects tasks to be delivered within a shorter time frame than initially agreed
- A change in the business strategy and/or leadership means the priorities for the project change and things are added on / become more urgent
- Different stakeholders interpret the project scope and requirements in a variety of ways
So how can you manage (or ideally) avoid project scope creep?
Prevention is always better than cure, so here are a few ways Asq suggests you can avoid the dreaded scope creep:
- Understand the vision of the project sponsor
Instead of just relying on the official project documents about outcomes and business strategy, meet with the project sponsor and try to gauge their vision (and motivation) for the project. Gaining this insight early on will help you to focus more clearly on the project and manage potential scope creep when it happens. Other stakeholders will have their own agenda and interpretation of the sponsor’s vision so try and bring everyone onto the same page from day 1, before you start planning.
- Don’t skimp on the planning phase
You might be eager to get the project off on the right track (and the client will be too) but rushing through the planning stage will only cause headaches down the line.
- Ensure you have a thorough understanding (and confirmed documentation) of the client’s expectations and requirements
- A project scope is one of the first documents you need to have the client sign off
- Gain approval from all necessary stakeholders before jumping into the ‘doing’ aspects of the project
- Keep in constant communication
It goes without saying that regular steering committee meetings should take place – at least monthly – but it’s important to open up regular communication channels for those involved at all other times too. A small issue raised informally might prevent it from becoming a larger issue down the line.
Different organisations might have different ways of communicating on projects but quick and easy social tools, such as Yammer and instant messaging, encourage stakeholders across all levels to communicate in useful and efficient ways.
If you are in constant communication with all stakeholders, it becomes harder for misunderstandings about what is and what isn’t in scope – you can also work with them to understand why something cannot be part of the current project or phase.
- Manage issues before they become crises
Scope creep can often happen when eyes are taken off the ball. Ignoring the small issues, hoping they won’t matter down the line is rarely a successful strategy. Have a process for logging and tracking issues effectively so you can mitigate them before they get bigger.
- If things need changing, ensure it is handled effectively
Part of the initial project scope document needs to include how changes or amendments to the project scope can be made. This process needs to be tightly managed and any change requests need to have sufficient reasons and a logical business case before they can be submitted. The steerco needs to be the ones deciding on any project scope amendment but you need to provide them with the facts before that decision can be made. It’s also a good idea to explain to stakeholders how the change request might affect the rest of the project, i.e. other tasks will be delayed or will need to be removed, or the budget will need to be increased.
- Be realistic at all times
Depending on your level of project management experience, your sense of reality might differ. A newer PM might be eager to deliver and accept scope creep without complaining, while not fully understanding the negative impact this can have. A seasoned professional will probably be more astute to the signs that scope creep is happening and try to nip it in the bud early on. Either way – scope creep is an inevitable part of project management (although not to say every project!) so be realistic in terms of what you can and can’t take on when the client is demanding more and more.
If you’re concerned that your project is suffering from scope creep, or you would like to learn more from the Asq team of project management, change management and industry consultants, let’s do coffee!