Top 10 Tips To Prevent Project Management Scope Creep

Editorial Team

scope creep prevention

Project Management Scope Creep. It’s the silent, but deadly project management disease.

Side effects include projects that far exceed initial budgets, feature add that just can’t be contained, and dissatisfied internal and external stakeholders. Even seasoned Project Managers find this one hard to avoid.

That’s why it’s vital for both you and your project, that you pay attention to these ten top tips.

They’re clinically proven to prevent project management scope creep, right from the outset.

Project Management Scope Creep Explained

Project Management Scope Creep is when the scope of a project expands beyond its original plan. It can include anything from the addition of extra features to a software application, or merely new deliverables added to a project outcome.

For example, if you’re implementing a new management programme, this could include having to provide unbudgeted training for each manager. Or in the case of launching a manufactured product, having to contract someone to develop packaging for it on your behalf, and at your expense.

Project scope creep comes in many forms as it can literally cover anything. However, it always delivers the same end results: killing projects, and occasionally careers.

This is why it’s so important that you don’t let project scope creep sneak up on you.

The Causes Of Project Management Scope Creep

So many things can cause Project Management Scope Creep. It could be anything from a poorly defined project plan, a badly developed business case, or even poor management practices.

It could be as simple as clients not understanding what the initial project scope actually agreed to deliver. You’d be surprised, but with a complex project, this is more common than you’d think.

The Top Ten Tips To Prevent Project Management Scope Creep

To successfully deliver your project on time and to budget, you must ensure that it stays within scope. This is an achievement that requires you to remain vigilant throughout the project.

Do yourself a favour and don’t fall down these project management traps by proactively protecting your project from scope creep, before it’s too late.

1. Start With A Clear Project Scope

This may seem simple, but if you are delivering a complex project, sometimes accurately defining its scope can be a real challenge. However, even if this takes extra time, it’s better to get this right than to rush it, and get it wrong.

It doesn’t matter what you are doing. You could be manufacturing furniture, renovating an apartment, or delivering a new insurance product. However, you still need to start with a clear project scope.

Every project is susceptible to beginning its life tainted. That means lacking a clear and actionable criteria that both the client and you, the project manager, are happy with. Don’t let this happen to yours.

If you’re having trouble developing a clear project scope, start by setting out your KPIs, project milestones, and drafting a detailed agreement about what both the client and provider expect from the final product.

If there are specific features that you have agreed will not be included in the project scope, don’t be afraid to stipulate these in the scoping document. If another provider is expected to contribute to the project, absolve your company from their responsibilities. If you don’t they could come back to haunt you.

Throughout the scoping process make sure everyone’s involved. That includes your team, your client, and your stakeholders.

Call on expert advice where possible. If you aren’t great with figures, get advice from your colleagues in the finance department. Not sure how long it will take to develop art assets for a website? Ask your artist. Always use your project team to their full potential to get this right.

The better your planning from the start, they better your project delivery will be.

2. Ensure Your Client Is On Board

Most of the time, you will get work because you’re an expert at what you do.

That often means that your clients won’t necessarily know exactly what they want when they come to you. This can make establishing client expectations difficult.

Say for instance you’re a security specialist. You may get a client who has a bowling alley that they want to protect with the latest technology. However, they’ve come to you because they don’t know where to start.

This client depends on your expert advice to guide them through what they need, and how much it will cost. You’re often there to explain the benefits of the latest systems to them, and to sell your products.

However, in relationships like this, sometimes when talking to a client you can assume that they have more prior knowledge than they actually do. There will be times when the client understands much less than they’re letting on. This is dangerous because it can lead to them developing unrealistic project expectations.

If you don’t think your client understands exactly what they are agreeing to, or it is just very complex, take time out to help them understand. Meet with them to explain exactly what your project is going to deliver, and if necessary explain what it won’t deliver.

Starting with a Project Scope that’s understood by both you and your client will prevent future headaches. It also makes it less likely that they will complain that you have not delivered what was agreed.

3. Have A Back Up Plan

Often, projects change rapidly.

A requirement that was initially possible may suddenly become impossible. It could be to do with the economy diving, or even one of your contractors going out of business.

The unforeseeable always seems to happen when you’re busy, in the middle of a project. That’s why it’s so important that you have back-up plans in place.

It may not be obvious, but protecting your team from taking on additional responsibility is one of the easiest ways to prevent project scope creep.

Say for instance a supplier goes out of business. If you have someone waiting in the wings, it could prevent your team from having to pick up the extra work, and changing your project specifications. This could save you from ending up with an unsustainable and ultimately, undeliverable project.

A backup plan could even extend to the eventual scope of the project. If there’s a chance that a project cannot be delivered, be honest and talk to the client when you are agreeing the scope. If it’s an internal project in your company, there’s normally an option to try out Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work. Make sure you have the foresight to include it in your original plan.

4. Involve Your Client Throughout

Projects are complicated. To meet your overall goals, sometimes compromises need to be made.

You need to ensure that your client fully understands how the project is progressing, and that they are reminded of the initial project scope as it progresses. This will help you manage their expectations throughout.

If you involve them, you can explain to them why proposed added features are not realistic more easily.

Consistent client involvement can also help you keep a check on internal project scope creep. This is something that your Project Team are responsible for. Regular engagement with your client gives them the opportunity to clarify their expectations and flag whether the project is growing beyond their expectations.

5. Proactively Raise And Address Issues

Have you ever delivered a project without a hitch?

Even the best project scopes are sometimes wrong. So despite your best efforts, as a Project Manager, occasionally you will find yourself responsible for a project that is going over budget.

It can be embarrassing, but you should not hide issues or pretend that they are not happening. Eventually, you will either have to inform the client that things are not going to plan, or tell your manager that you have made a mistake.

If you flag these issues as early as possible, there is the potential that you will be able to renegotiate aspects of the project, reduce costs, or use collaborative techniques to find appropriate solutions to your challenges.

Beware, your problems will only grow if you leave them. Take control of the situation and address project scope creep before it becomes too unwieldy to deal with.

6. Negotiate New Requests

People change their minds. Working in project management you will be used to receiving change requests.

However, when new change requests are submitted in relation to your project, make sure you have the right processes in place to renegotiate any changes that will change the project’s scope.

This includes requests from clients who may want to add deliverables to the project that will cost a significant amount of money to implement. Also, never forget, change requests don’t always come from the client. They can originate from your project team, and even other teams in your company.

When you agree to make a big change, make sure you agree to the terms in writing and ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the change.

7. Maintain Oversight of Your Project and Team

Some of the worst causes of project scope creep originate from your own project team.

You may have a colleague who isn’t satisfied with the work they’re doing. They could see your project as an opportunity to develop something that they want to develop. Something that’s completely out of scope.

While you will trust your team, it never hurts to maintain an overview of what they are doing. Ensure that you have regular catch-ups, and always ask probing questions informed by your original Project Plan.

If you find that someone is not working on their part of the project to plan, take them aside and ask for a full explanation.

It could be that they are having some issues with their accountabilities that they haven’t raised with you yet. However, if you are not satisfied with their commitment to delivering their assigned work, take immediate action.

You can do this by delegating work to other members of the team, or hiring new people.

8. Establish a Project Review Board

Project Review Boards can be a pain. That’s because often, they’re a serious time sink. However, they’re common practice in project management for a reason. That’s because they are an incredibly effective way to formally review your project’s milestones.

These meetings are your opportunity to scrutinize all aspects of the project and ensure everything going to plan. They also help create internal deadlines for projects, helping motivate your team and keeping them focussed on the project scope.

Sometimes it can feel like there isn’t enough time to properly set up a Project Review Board. Mitigate this by delegating responsibility to a named team member. Make them responsible for organizing the Project Review Boards, taking actions and maintaining a risk register.

In terms of Project Scope Creep, Project Review Board’s are a vital tool that will help you keep the project on track and in line with your original plan. You can always invite external Board Members onto the Review Board to help you scrutinize your team’s progress against the original project scope more thoroughly.

9. Seek Advice From Your Peers

In addition to your project team, don’t be afraid to seek advice from your peers. This could include your manager, or other project managers in your company.

If you are concerned that the scope of your project getting out of hand, seek their advice. Invite them in to have a look at your project and provide an independent review of your team’s progress.

10. Keep An Open Mind

While you need to be aware of project creep, don’t worry about it constantly. It could destroy your relationships client.

If your company, or your client have a legitimate change that will benefit the overall project, consider it properly. Do not use project creep as an excuse to arbitrarily disregard changes.

It can be hard, but try not to let paranoia about project scope creep ruin your relationships. That doesn’t mean forget about it, but that it’s important to maintain a healthy balance, and be vigilant when agreeing to project changes.

Keep Project Management Scope Creep At Bay

Project Management Scope Creep can be a real killer. However, if you keep your eyes peeled and make sure that you do your homework, there’s no reason to let it ruin your project.

When you’re next reviewing a project, keep these tips in mind. Remember, even if you’re working on an extremely long-term project, it’s important to recall what you originally agreed to deliver.

It’s the simplest way to keep your company and clients content.