Scope creep in project management refers to uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope. The addition of, or changes to, a project's requirements and features can occur when the goals of a project are not clearly defined, documented, or controlled. Project managers have been plagued by scope creep since the beginning of project management. However, managing scope creep is achievable.
How Does Scope Creep Happen?
Even when there’s a clearly defined project scope, you still have to beware of scope creep. This generally tends to occur when new features are added to product designs that have already been approved, without providing equivalent increases in budget, time and/or resources. The main causes of scope creep are:
- Poor Requirements Analysis: Clients don’t always know what they want and can only provide a vague idea. Therefore, their needs are not fully expressed or well defined.
- Not Involving the Users Early Enough: Thinking you know what the users want or need is a serious mistake. It is important to involve users in the requirements, analysis and design phases.
- Underestimating the Complexity of the Project: Many projects run into problems because they are new in an industry and have never been done before. In those cases, project managers and participants don't fully know what to expect, or who to look to for additional guidance.
- Lack of Change Control: While you can expect there to be a degree of scope creep in most projects, it is important to have a process to manage these changes.
- Perceived Additional Value: This refers to exceeding the scope of a project in the belief that value is being added. However without proper analysis of the change request, there is no guarantee that the change will increase value or customer satisfaction.
How to Control Scope Creep
Managing scope creep in project management is a challenging job that needs to be addressed at the beginning, and throughout, each project's life cycle. Here are some basic guidelines to set for yourself to successfully control the scope of your project:
- Understand the priorities of the project sponsors: Make a list that you can refer to throughout the project. Items should include budget, deadline, feature delivery and customer satisfaction. You’ll use this list to justify your scheduling decisions or to support your need to defer additional requests once the project has commenced.
- Define your deliverables: Deliverables should include general descriptions of functionality to be included within the project. Make sure you have them approved by the project sponsors.
- Break the project down into milestones: Complete a thorough project schedule and make sure you identify the critical paths within the timeline. Be sure to leave a little room in the project schedule for change requests or an error. If your schedule is tight, reevaluate your deliverables to see if any can be deferred until after the team completes the primary project requirements. Seek schedule approval by the project sponsor, then notify all key project participants.
- Expect that there will be scope creep: Implement a change process early and inform the project sponsor and participants of your processes. A basic change control process must include a means to identify the affect on the project timeline, budget and resources. In addition, it must require an approval for the changes to be implemented and a recognition of any impact.
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