What is Scope Creep and How to Overcome it

Last updated on January 14th, 2020

The scope of a project determines the work required for the project. However, the scope of the project can often go off-track, with additional demands, plans and features creeping into the project over its life-cycle. This scope creep can ruin projects, result in cost overruns and even lead to the failure of the project.

What is Scope Creep?

When the scope of a project is enhanced over the project’s life-cycle to accommodate additional demands, this is called requirement creep, feature creep or simply, scope creep. For example, a project which originally included one deliverable can end up having seven, resulting in scope creep.

A building which should have had 15 windows can end up having 30, not something you would want as a project manager. Scope creep eats away at valuable resources and costs additional time, money and manpower.

scope creep

 What Causes Scope Creep?

There is no denying the fact that customer needs can change over time, as well as the economic landscape and market demands. Furthermore, some shocks can result in the need for additional reinforcements to enhance the quality of the project, with additional deliverables. However, when these demands go off the rails, scope creep has crept in the project. Scope creep occurs due to a few fundamental reasons. Let’s take a look at what causes scope creep.

Poor Analysis of Requirements

If the baseline of the project is flawed, the project requirements are likely to increase in the future. Many non–profit projects associated with the development sector require a baseline analysis of the situation on ground before a development project initiates. Many times, these baseline assessments are flawed and are done in haste to quickly appeal to the donor organization. This is also because many NGOs are often working on a business model for making a profit rather than being concerned with the cause for which the organization was setup. Similarly, for corporate projects, scope creep can haunt project managers due to a poor analysis of customer requirements. This can result in gold plating and cost overruns.

Gold Plating

Customers are often not sure what they want. This means that there needs to be an accurate needs assessment to ensure that the customer is offered a product that can be free of scope creep. This often results in gold plating, which is where the scope of the project is exceeded to satisfy customers, which doesn’t even always work.

An IT company might offer to make an online marketplace for a customer with certain agreed features, with the responsibility of maintaining the marketplace. As traffic increases, the web portal might need better servers with more RAM, CPUs and disk space. Furthermore, there might also be an additional need for updated security, plugins and new features in-line with the changing landscape of the web. If the factor of scalability isn’t accounted for or if the scope keeps increasing, scope creep is inevitable.

Not Involving the Client

Project managers can often be reluctant to engage the client to avoid exposing weaknesses in work ethics or to avoid appearing as a novice. Companies often save money on certain costs that they don’t want to reveal to the customer. Not involving the client can often result in scope creep, as the project can go off-track from what the customer wants and involving the client late (e.g. when showing the prototype) can result in a number of complaints. The product might not be what the customer wanted and any additional changes can result in additional costs.

Underestimating Project Requirements

Various things can affect a project, ranging from the cost of inflation and exchange rate, to new laws, market demand, new technology, etc. Underestimating the project requirements can lead to scope creep. This not only means making sure your initial assessment is accurate but also to forecast risks and to account for possible supply side shocks.

what causes scope cree

How to Avoid Scope Creep?

You can avoid scope creep by getting your basics right, not exaggerating your capabilities and by looking at a few practical solutions. Getting your basics right and adhering to best practices can often do the job. It is in fact the lack of professionalism and work ethics which often leads to scope creep.

Focus on Accurately Assessing Basic Requirements

To save costs, many organizations can end up using secondary data for a needs assessment. This can also lead to a weak baseline assessment or a miscalculation of the requirements for the project. If costs are a problem, your organization can hire a reliable consultant, or if budget is available, perform a baseline assessment. The ideal thing to do is perhaps to start with an initial low-cost assessment and within the project, propose a new assessment to ensure that the project requirements can be accurately accounted for. This is because market rates for inputs, the value of the currency and various other factors can increase costs from the time you bid for the project to the day the project starts.

Involve the Client and Account for Scalability

There is no harm in involving the client at various stages of the project to ensure that the customer is satisfied. This can also enable you to explain possible cost overruns or constraints that you might be facing. You can agree a solution with the client to move forward in such a case and avoid scope creep. You should also ensure that you account for scalability, as project requirements might need to be fine tuned over a period of time, especially in the case of projects that run for many years.

Explain Project Execution Clearly to the Client

It is important for you to not hide fine details from the client. For example, if you’re making a web portal, you need to tell the client what resources will be used and how will the portal be made, as well as the scope for expansion and limitations. Similarly, even if you’re building a road or a bridge for a client, you need to tell them the scope and limitations.

Be Clear About the Possibility of Additional Costs

To avoid scope creep from eating away at your project, you should be clear about what costs are involved, how some costs might increase or what would entail additional costs. In case the client wants new features or wishes to enhance the scope of the project, he/she would understand the additional costs that would be required and save your organization from wasting additional resources, time and money on gold plating for the customer.

overcome scope creep

Final Words

The chances of scope creep eating away at projects is perhaps more common today than ever before. Be it the fast-changing digital landscape, new theories on international development, volatility of the global markets or the rise in low cost competitors from around the world, scope creep is a threat that project managers need to account for. It is therefore necessary to ensure that your assessment, execution and costing is done in a transparent manner, with the client being briefed at various points during the project to avoid scope creep. In such a case, even if some level of scope creep affects the project, you will be able to avoid cost overruns and better account for the needs of the increased scope of the project.

About Farshad

IT professional, communications specialist and Blogger!

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