Well-planned projects should have clearly defined outcomes. Outcomes can grow and morph and affect budgets and timelines. This is the risk of project scope creep, so what exactly is it and how to manage it?

Your project management office (PMO) will have a range of KPIs that will be unique to its situation. Generally, most PMOs will be responsible for projects getting delivered on time and on budget and with positive stakeholder outcomes. Scope creep is a significant risk in you not hitting these requirements.

When assessing the risks faced by a new project, scope creep should be high on the list because it can have wide-ranging impacts. To that end, we’re going to look at:

  • How to recognise scope creep in your projects
  • Why scope creep happens
  • Ways to mitigate or prevent scope creep from happening

What is project scope creep?

Scope creep in a project is when there are new demands placed on a project with no extra time or money allocated. It can be a shift in the outcomes and deliverables required or adding new functions or deliverables entirely.

Scope creep will impact the success of projects since more work will be needed without any extra resources. It can also put undue stress on people, asking for more work without budget for overtime which can affect retention and employment satisfaction.

How can I prevent scope creep in my projects?

To stop the scope of projects in your PMO from blooming out of control, you need to understand why scope creep happens. There are plenty of things that can expand the initial plans of a project, and we’ve identified four primary things you need to know about and have plans in place for.

Setting parameters

During the planning stage, it’s paramount to have clear parameters for a project. Without a clear scope for a project in place, it’ll be much easier for additions and changes to be made.

Every project needs to have a Project Scope Statement that goes into the Project Initiation Document. Clearly laying out exactly what is to be expected from a project means that the client or stakeholders know they will need to pay more to get anything other than what’s been agreed.

Involve your project managers, executive sponsors, and end users in the setting of parameters so they all know the deliverable and functions. Engaging them early on should stop superfluous requests – everyone knows what the outcome will look like.

Involving clients

Long after the parameters have been set with the client, you need to ensure they are still kept up to date. Having the client, end-users, or stakeholders in the loop with the project can stop big issues surfacing later in the delivery cycle.

Even when everyone was involved in the planning stage, you can’t assume they know exactly what’s going on week to week. Your PMO needs to ensure that everyone who is relying on the outcomes knows the direction that work is heading.

Protect the deliverables of a project with weekly catch-ups and monthly reviews. Having a client come back to request a whole different process to get the end result after months of work will create havoc. Keeping everyone in the loop will ensure that nothing goes too far before problems are identified that will affect the scope of a project.

Setting priorities

Particularly with projects on a linear timeframe, it can be easy to see all steps in the process as equally important. When scope changes or elements of a project overrun and time and money need to be allocated, you need to know what can be jettisoned.

Giving every function and deliverable in a project will ensure that the really important elements are protected whilst the nice-to-haves can be eliminated if – and when – something changes from the client or stakeholder end.

It’s useful to have a menu of items that can be cancelled when scope creep happens. Have a list of priorities so you’re able to negotiate scope creep and keep the projects under your PMO on time and on budget.

Change management

Scope creep is an inevitable part of projects. Although it’s ok to push back on it in lots of cases, there needs to be processes in place when you have to accept changes.

Your project managers might not want to approach your PMO with every change and decide to manage it, and only raise it when a problem arises. This is poor risk management – you need to have a proper framework in place to agree project changes that are adhered to.

For more information, please take a look at the article “Overview of the Project Change Control Process”.

Project Change Control

The take-home

Understanding the risk of project scope creep, what it is, and how to manage it will ensure that your projects don’t go off-piste on their budgets or timelines. Having processes in place to reduce creep and manage it when it happens will ensure project success is protected.