Scope creep creates all sorts of problems for project teams. Resource conflicts may crop up if excessive labor or materials are consumed by one project and then unavailable for another, for example. Delays in reaching key milestones can also occur when outside-scope tasks prevent the team from completing their original workload.
Identifying scope creep before it impacts the project’s budget, timeline, and results is critical. Though experienced project management professionals are skilled at spotting problems ahead of time, there are some missteps that can sometimes allow an initiative’s scope to expand before anyone realizes it.
If you’ve had problems with scope creep in the past, consider if you may be at fault and evaluate the steps that can help you avoid unchecked scope changes in the future.
1: You didn’t confirm the scope with the project’s decision makers
You may have finally gained consensus among the various department heads helping to develop the project plan, but that doesn’t mean your sponsors and executive team agree with the proposed scope. Until you receive their buy-in, the scope is still open for debate (and subject to change). Forging ahead now is a recipe for scope creep, since the different functional areas are likely to begin working toward their vision of completion, which may include activities that don’t ultimately get the green light. Close the loop with those who have final approval and confirm all stakeholders are on the same page before anyone heads off in the wrong direction.
2: You didn’t tell your project team that the scope was finalized
It can be surprisingly easy to overlook alerting the project team that the scope has been approved and finalized, especially when budgets and other components of the project are also coming to fruition at the same time. Even as you juggle numerous other communications, remain aware of all the people who need to know of the scope’s status and be sure to send out an update as soon as the parameters are final. You may also want to consider following up in person with leaders within the project team who can then touch base one-on-one with their direct reports to help ensure everyone knows the scope is set and what it includes.
3: You didn’t communicate the approved scope to external collaborators
The list of project activities will quickly become unwieldy if vendors and other outside business partners don’t know what’s included in your initiative and what isn’t. This lapse can create big problems if external providers coordinate tasks through internal contacts who also aren’t clear on the scope. Rather than run the risk of having to pull back on an expanding set of deliverables or halting activities that were scheduled before authorization has been received, review the communications strategy with vendors and assure them you will be in touch when the scope is given formal approval and they’re cleared to begin their work.
4: You didn’t confirm that your project team understood the approved scope
Routine projects may not call for much extra detail, but initiatives that are complex, that have long durations, or that will entail participants leaving and entering the project as it moves through its lifecycle warrant some additional attention once the scope is set. You don’t want a simple misunderstanding to create problems with the project’s scope down the road. Talk with your team about the deliverables and expectations, and be clear in explaining the components of the project. Respond quickly to any questions your team has and confirm that everyone knows where they can review the project’s data to help fill any gaps in their knowledge.