Project Scope Creep Explained with Examples


You must have encountered the term project scope, and if you are a project practitioner, you definitely know that it defines the work to be done in a given project. In fact, one of the most significant roles of a project manager is managing the project scope once the project is underway.

However, this scope may tend to increase as the project progresses. To help you better understand this phenomenon, we will look at project scope creep, examples with their root causes, and how you can manage them. We will also feature some of the best practices for managing project scope creep for efficient project management.

Let’s get started!

What is Project Scope Creep?

Project scope creep, occasionally known as requirement creep or feature creep, refers to the increase of a project requirement as it progresses. A good example is what started as only one deliverable growing to four or five.

The scope creep is usually caused by a change in project requirements by the key stakeholders. It can also be caused by internal miscommunication and disagreements. Therefore, you must work twice as hard as a project manager to take care of the creep, or you will be thrown off-balance.

Our discussion may have painted the project creep as a bad thing, which may not entirely be the case. It often leads to project delays, roadblocks, and even budget expansion, but at times it is for the best. Keep in mind that project delivery is not static, and at times change is inevitable.

A good example of scope creep is altering a project’s scope to meet customer’s changing needs. It may appear overwhelming at the moment, but it serves a greater purpose. Therefore, before the commencement of a project, the manager should be open to the possibility of a scope creep and plan for it.

Examples of Project Scope Creep

The best way of knowing how to handle the project scope creep is by knowing its origin. Here are some real-life examples and their causes:

Example 1

Scope creeps are experienced even after the end product is complete. A real-life example was the introduction of the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The Chrysler Corporation had everything in check, from the design, production, and promotion. However, they did not take note of dealer showroom delivery times when drafting the project requirement.

This threw them off guard, with the top heads trying as much as possible to deal with the problem while responding to angry dealership owners who had their ideas. They resolved to ship out cars to any old rails they could find in any old city and leave the rest to dealers, which saw the project scope creep winning.



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The root cause of such a project scope creep is the failure to involve the client throughout the project. Chrysler did not take time to determine what the dealers wanted and had to suffer angry dealership owners who had their ideas.

If only the top management considered the project delivery schedules, the number of sales reported could have been higher. The best way of dealing with such a last-minute scope creep is to ensure that the scope is collaborating wisely with the client throughout every stage of the project, including delivery.

Example 2

An excellent example of a project scope creep is a significant delay in completing a project due to clients’ consistent change requests, as was seen in the lawsuit between the contractor responsible for building Kitchener’s main library extension and the city.

The root cause of such a scope creep is making too many last-minute changes on a project, causing unseen delays. The best way of managing it is by either saying ‘no’ to unnecessary changes or agreeing on how to handle last-minute change requests at the beginning of the project.

Example 3

Another typical example would be a scenario where one fails to effectively communicate with the clients as the project progresses and end up misinterpreting what was required and thus delivering a different thing altogether.

The client will then demand another end product altogether; project scope creep that may be hard to deal with. Therefore, project managers must communicate openly and consistently with different clients and stakeholders to avoid such scenarios.

Example 4

The Denver International Airport is a classic example of a project scope creep. The luggage handling system failed as a result of ignoring warnings from several parties. The set deadlines for the projects were never achieved. The keyholders were also not involved in decisions, making this one of the most expensive scopes creeps in the world.

The root cause of this project scope creep was failing to prioritize features. Remember, the whole project failed because the airport ignored warnings from different parties. The best way of preventing such scope creep is to identify the essential components for successfully delivering an end product and making it a priority.

Other Causes of Project Scope Creep

1.     Failure to proactively raise issues

Several project managers prefer to hide issues from clients and stakeholders when they arise, as it seems like the easiest way out. However, hiding issues during project management can lead to severe repercussions as the clients may be forced to change their deliverables unexpectedly.

The best way to avoid this is by raising issues with the clients beforehand to allow them to be in the know. A good option would be taking time to think about some solutions so that you can offer some possible solutions and strategies by the time you inform them of any arising issue.

2.     Poor estimation

This is pretty understandable. It may be challenging to estimate a given project’s timeline correctly. Remember, every project is vulnerable to several unseen changes, and therefore, knowing what will happen at the conception of one may be difficult.

You will not account for several things when drafting your project deadlines, which may cause a delay. The best way of dealing with this phenomenon is to involve everybody in the estimation process. Also, avoid making estimations based on deliverables.

You can use a good time and materials pricing model instead of making a fixed price estimation. Also, allow some room for change while working with your team on the deadline estimations.

3.     Failing to vet new requests properly

Although project management requires openness and teamwork, some project managers take a too-literal approach and take on new requests from clients, which they believe are the right way forward. While this may be true, failure to properly vet requests and ideas may lead to duplications or unnecessary constructions.

Therefore, you need to review all the new requests and ideas from different stakeholders and team members. Determine the impact of every suggestion and make sure that all the team members clearly understand their requests.

The last step would be cross-checking to avoid supplication. Additional causes of project scope creep are failing to involve users early enough and differing stakeholders’ opinions.

Best Practices for Managing Scope Creep

Now that we know that change is often inevitable and may affect your project scope, you need to know how best to manage scope creep. Some websites and people suggest saying ‘no’ to avoid scope creep, but at times it just happens.

In case a sudden change pops up in the project, here are some of the best management practices:

1.     Communication

Communication plays a vital role in project management. As the project manager, most communication should flow from you. Remember, the project team and other stakeholders treat you as the primary communication point for the project.

Therefore, once you notice the project shifting, engage the clients and the stakeholders, which means you should be proactive. Remember, you need to be as open as possible about the project to all the stakeholders and clients, which you cannot achieve without proper communication.

Therefore, discuss how the changes affect the project and the overall budget to develop solutions quickly. For smooth sailing, the project manager and the stakeholders should agree on a change management process upfront.

2.     Transparency

Transparency plays an essential role in project management. Everybody should be on the same page as the project progresses. This helps the teamwork together for faster delivery and meeting of the set objectives.

Therefore, the best thing to do as soon as the project scope creep appears is to inform the client and other stakeholders. Everyone has a role to play in the project’s success, and you should share information freely.

You do not want to hold on to such critical information only to find yourself at a tight spot later. Openness also invites different ideas, which may help in dealing with or accommodating the project scope creep.

3.     Analyze the impacts

It would be best if you kept in mind that not all project scope creeps have negative impacts. As the project manager, you are expected to attend to anything that threatens to stand in the way of project delivery. Therefore, whenever a change shows up, take some time and work out its impacts.

What are the positive impacts of the change? Can you proceed with its negative impacts? Once you have analyzed the impacts, present the solutions to your client or the stakeholder. Remember, you may be in charge of the project, but that does not mean that your reserve all the decision-making rights.

You still have to consult with the stakeholders and client(s) to work on a way forward.

4.     Prioritization

What do you do if you find yourself in a tight spot? Prioritize. As we said, most project creeps are inevitable, and therefore, trying to do away with them or saying ‘no’ may not work. Therefore, always be open to the idea of descoping.

As the project manager and with the help of the stakeholders, look for what can be descoped to create room for new projects. However, please do not give up an integral part of the project, or it may be a miserable fail.

5.     Embrace the scope creep

Some changes are inevitable, and taking time to fight or find ways around them may not be successful. Therefore, the project manager and team should work out whatever is necessary for a testable and usable product.

Remember, one way of dealing with project management risks is embracing them, which may also work for scope creep. If it means you have to change the entire scope or a significant part of it, quickly look for ways to incorporate the changes. Remember, scope creeps cause delays, and the best way to deal with them is to move quickly.

While dealing with the project scope creeps, the manager should aim to reduce unauthorized changes to the already established requirements. These are just but a few of the ways of managing a project scope creep.

However, one should also have in mind that not all project changes will result in a scope creep. Therefore, you do not have to alter the project scope at the slightest change or obstacle. Some unexpected things may happen as the project progresses, such as a critical team member falling sick or a stakeholder going MIA.

Therefore, ensure that you keep track of all the changes that occur as the project progresses and only consider altering the project scope if it is necessary. Also, as a project manager, you are not allowed to make a timeline update without notifying all the stakeholders.

Conclusion

Project scope creeps are common, and therefore, you should prepare in advance. However, note that not all changes will lead to a project creep. However, once you have determined that a given change in requirements is inevitable, you should bring it up with the client and stakeholders and forge a way forward.

Remember, your ability as a project manager is tested by dealing with sudden changes in the project. People hardly noticse your prowess when everything is flowing as expected. Therefore, ensure that you are up to the task. A good alternative would be using modern project software applications that can help you as a manager reduce the project scope creep.

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