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How to avoid scope creep | Picture of a person in a white button-up shirt using a pair of biniculars.
April 5, 2023 · 5 min read

How do you prevent scope creep?

When building out a project, putting a plan in place is crucial. 

One of the biggest challenges is scope creep, which occurs when the project’s scope expands beyond its originally established boundaries.

The question is, how do you prevent scope creep? Whether this is your first big undertaking as a project manager or you’re looking for a refresher on how to avoid scope creep, we’ve got you covered. 

Let’s begin by taking a look at what scope actually means.

What is scope creep?

Scope creep refers to any unapproved or uncontrolled changes that gradually expand the scope of your project. 

It can happen at any stage in a project and is usually caused by working on requirements that aren’t clearly defined or documented. 

When this happens, stakeholders chime in, adding new features, functions, and requirements to the project. It’s not always an intentional choice. It’s often a late-in-the-game realization that stakeholders missed something in the planning phases.

Why is scope creep bad?

Scope creep is bad for projects because it causes delays, increases costs, and reduces the quality of the end product. It also extends timelines, requires additional resources that weren’t planned for, and stretches teams thin.

Let’s dig into these issues.

Production delays

As stakeholders add new requirements, you must extend the project timeline to accommodate them. These extensions can be especially problematic for startups with limited resources and time. Thus, managing scope creep is essential.

Increasing costs

Delays are costly in themselves, but expanding the scope of your project also requires additional resources. While you can always hire someone part-time to do some of the work, that means increasing your budget. 

And if you’re already working against a tight budget, this can be problematic.

Reduction in quality

Have you ever been buried in work and thought, “I can do it all, but I can’t do it all well”? 

Your scope just got crept on, and your work suffered for it. The same thing happens in projects. 

When new features get added, your team has to take that time from somewhere else, like writing tests or integrating third-party APIs. This lack of time to check things is when bugs get released in the final product.

And this isn’t a great look for something your team has worked hard on.

How do you prevent scope creep?

While some scope creep is inevitable (seriously, build at least a little leeway into your project for this), there are a few things you can do to mitigate its effects.

Here are some scope creep examples and how to avoid them.

Clearly define the scope of the project

As my mother was always fond of saying: proper planning prevents piss-poor performance. 

Alliteration aside, it’s a great reminder that spending time on proper planning upfront can prevent performance issues later. 

The scope of the project (requirements, functions, timelines, etc.) should be shared with your stakeholders at the beginning. This sharing not only level-sets expectations but also allows them to request changes, additions, and updates to the project before your team dives in. 

Your stakeholders should clearly understand what’s expected, making it easier to identify when project scope changes are requested.

Use a change control process

Change is inevitable, but you can control it. Define a process for requesting changes, including how the request is made, how it’s approved, and how your team should implement the changes.

To determine their necessity, you should evaluate any requested changes against the project’s original goals and objectives. 

And if the change is approved, you should communicate its effects on the timeline and budget to the stakeholders.

Monitor the scope

In traditional development environments – where teams run sprints – it’s easy to see where and when things are held up or changes are made. 

However, if your team is small and agile, monitoring scope creep may require more effort. 

Review the project’s progress against the original timeline regularly to determine if things are still on track. Document and evaluate any changes against the original plan, and anything that goes through the previous step should be reflected in an updated timeline available to everyone.

Engage stakeholders early and often

Obviously, you want to involve stakeholders from the beginning and ensure that the project meets their needs – but it’s a big mistake only to consult them when a problem arises. 

I’ve been unfortunate enough to be part of a team that didn’t involve stakeholders past the initial discovery phase. This lack of involvement resulted in the developers working for months on building out a new set of features, only to discover upon “completion” that the C-suite hated every bit of them.

That heartache and disappointment were palpable, and we could have avoided them with regular check-ins to ensure everyone was on the same page. 

Don’t make this mistake.

Manage expectations

A well-defined project scope should help you manage expectations with stakeholders (what will be accomplished, the timeline, etc.)

It’s also important to manage expectations when changes to the plan occur. Let those stakeholders know that something they view as a “simple” change is actually an extra 60 hours of manpower. 

If the changes are necessary, the stakeholders should understand what it takes to get them.

So how do you prevent scope creep?

Delivering a product on time and on budget with all the bells and whistles you want is an extremely rewarding experience. But it takes discipline to get there, and that starts with your project plan. It also means avoiding scope creep.

So how do you prevent scope creep?

Kick things off with all involved parties so that everyone understands what the outcome will be and when expected milestones will be hit. 

Then, use a change control process, monitor the scope, engage stakeholders early and often, and manage expectations. All of these little steps will help keep your team on track and ultimately end with a product everyone is proud of!

Are you a project manager or developer looking to be part of a new project? Let us help you get hired today!