Scope creep is the uncontrolled expansion to project scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources. It is a characteristic of many projects – and it always leads to problems for the project team. When work changes, but boundaries don’t, either something needed doesn’t get done, or the boundaries start an uncontrolled shift.
Scope creep can occur at any time in the project. It most commonly occurs during reviews with stakeholders or customers. During the review, the stakeholder or customer requests a change to a project goal or deliverable that will require additional unplanned work. The project goal or deliverable is changed without adjusting the project schedule or resources.
But don’t blame everything on the stakeholders. Scope creep can also occur when project team members add unnecessary work to the project. Often the team members do this because they believe it will make the project results better. However, if the stakeholders have not agreed to the change and provided additional time and resources, the effect is to cause scope creep.
Scope creep inevitably leads to delays and overruns since the extra work requires time and money to complete. Often scope creep is not recognized until the delay or overrun has already occurred. At that point it is too late to prevent the scope creep. The project must either be “de-scoped” to fit within the original boundaries or the delay and overrun absorbed by the project sponsors.
Five steps to control Scope Creep
1. Managing scope creep starts at the time of project initiation. A clear set of project boundaries will reduce the likelihood of project scope creep. To clarify the boundaries, I suggest that a list of potential activities that are not needed on this project be listed and signed off at the time of project initiation. Two lists, one of what is in and one of what is not in the project will sharpen the boundary.
2. Create a small reserve of time and resources during project planning to be able to absorb small scope creep perturbations. Allocate a portion of this to each phase of the project. Some organizations refer to this as management reserve.
3. The Project Leader should guard against scope creep initiated by team members at the regular team meetings. If a task completion is delayed, the Project Leader should immediately check for the possibility of scope creep. If that is occurring, the Project Leader and Core Team member should redirect the task leader to stay within the task scope.
4. Following every meeting with stakeholders, the project team should review the action items and direction to determine if there is scope creep. If there is an unfunded request for additional scope, the Project Leader should notify the stakeholders and request a clarification on project boundaries. Either an increase in time and resources, or the removal of the scope direction.
5. Scope requests that are not approved by the stakeholders should be recorded on a list known as the “Scope Creep Parking Lot.” If the project is rebaselined, this list should be reviewed and appropriate tasks added to the project. At the end of the project, this list is turned over to the project sponsors for review by future projects.