As a project manager in charge of a project and balancing the project cost, schedule and quality, the last thing you want is a change! But I am sure most of you have heard statements like, “Since the team is working on this functionality, why don’t we add a couple of more features in it.” or “Now that I see the working piece of software, I actually want the process in a different manner”!! These statements are the starting points for potential scope creep.

The work to be done by the project team to deliver the project successfully is project scope and the features of the product/ service to be delivered is the product scope. Scope creep is an increase in work to be done and addition and update of originally planned functionality or features. It is a deviation to the planned project objectives. Scope creep can result from various factors like –

- The client is not sure of what he wants. Requirements are unclear.

- Requirements are not detailed out properly or there is improper analysis of requirements.

- Project stakeholders are not fully involved from the beginning of the project.

- End users are not involved from the beginning in the scope definition.

- Project management is not strong and unable to manage client requests properly.

- Poor communication between client and project team.

- No change control process in place.

- Using Agile project management methodology without proper boundaries set (* Make Agile estimation work for you .

Scope creep can happen to any project and if scope control methods are not implemented, it can create havoc. The project can be delayed or there can be cost overruns and there can be missed milestones or deadlines.

Let us see how to manage scope creep –

– Project scope should be defined and documented in the planning phase in an extensive manner and the project manager should ensure that each task to be done is in the plan.

– The project manager should ensure that there is a change process in place. The process should capture change requests. The change requests should be analysed and the impact in terms of efforts, timeline and cost should be documented. There should be a process in place to calculate and document revenue and benefits expected from the changes asked for. If all key stakeholders feel that the change is absolutely necessary, only then the change request should be incorporated in the project schedule. Tasks, deliverables, milestones and deadlines related to it should be updated and resources expected to work on it should be informed.

– The client would want the sky and more but it is not necessary to agree to every change asked by the client. Sometimes a change might seem small at the outset but might affect many parts of the application leading to lot of rework. The changes should be evaluated in a detailed manner and if it is not feasible, the change should be rejected.

– Sometimes, it is difficult to say “NO” to the client. There are other ways to tackle this. Change requests can be logged for the next release. Some change requests can be included provided certain functionality is removed. You should put a charge for every scope change which can make the customer think twice before adding new features.

– Changes should be reflected in the project plan across all tasks affected. The new plan should be published for all project stakeholders to see.

– There are a number of project management tools that can be used to handle scope creep. For example, project documents should be baselined so that changes to the documents need an approval which helps to keep track of project tasks. Requirements Traceability Matrix can be used to track requirements right from the Requirements Phase to the Design Phase, Development Phase and Quality Assurance Phase. The matrix will have to be updated across all phases if a change is to be made. This will help in seeing the real effect of a scope change.

There is a thin line between exceeding customer expectations and working beyond the project scope. It is good to delight the customer in some ways but if it comes at the cost of going over the budget or beyond the project schedule, it does not help. There are other ways to exceed customer expectations too. For example, if the project is delivered ahead of schedule or if the number of bugs are less than what is mentioned in project acceptance criteria, the client will surely be delighted.

Sometimes, scope change is unavoidable due to certain circumstances like change in policy or solving a problem etc. If that is the case, appropriate steps should be taken to ensure that the project is not affected negatively.

Managing scope creep is not easy but it is part of project management. Using the steps mentioned above will help you to avoid or control scope creep and be in better control of the project.