Scope creep—where your project’s parameters balloon outside the approved limits—is an ongoing challenge for teams. Between managing the usual trouble spots and juggling other efforts that are vying for attention, it’s often difficult enough to keep project activities aligned with the original schedule. When a project’s list of deliverables becomes a moving target, it multiplies the complexity and the organization essentially sets itself up for failure. Funding may not cover all the extras added to the initiative, people run out of time with so many unplanned tasks on their plates, and corners are invariably cut as everyone scrambles to keep up.
Teams employ a number of strategies to tackle the problem of scope creep, but sometimes even their best efforts seem to fall short.
If you experience ongoing scope creep challenges, consider if any of these common problems are working against you.
1: The executive team never truly commits to the original scope.
If your senior staff has designs on expanding the scope from the get-go, pushing back against their proposed changes once activities begin isn’t likely to net your team any support. Executives that don’t understand your project management methodology aren’t likely to hesitate in trying to add to the scope after the approval process is complete.
2: End users don’t agree with approved scope.
Because your end users may be most affected by the project’s results—in the form of changed workflows, enhanced capabilities, increased production capacities, etc.—they could be the most vocal about arguing against the original parameters. A project scope that doesn’t meet their needs or address their current challenges is almost sure to experience creep as they exert pressure on the sponsors to resolve the issues.
3: The project team doesn’t believe the original scope will remain intact.
When your team knows the scope looks good on paper but will never survive reality—particularly if this disconnect is typical for your organization—they’re unlikely to put much energy into pushing back against scope creep. Without any hope the situation will improve from one project to the next, there’s little reason for them to go to bat for a workable scope.
4: Project leaders aren’t willing to argue against scope changes.
The culture of your business may make it seem improper (or deeply unwelcome) to challenge the senior staff on proposed expansions to the project’s parameters. If project leaders have a genuine reason to believe they may be punished, such as with fewer opportunities for career advancement or limits on resource approvals for future projects, they might choose to hold back on voicing their concerns.
5: The project team expects the project to fail from the beginning.
A team that doesn’t have faith in their ability to move the project to a successful completion—typically because there are internal politics or other systemic struggles at work that are preventing the desired results—probably isn’t going to make a good case against scope creep once it starts appearing. Instead of speaking out, they might simply go along with a plan that’s destined for failure, comfortable in the knowledge they won’t be the one blamed for the outcome.
6: There’s no process for reviewing and approving scope change requests.
If your organization doesn’t have an established mechanism for submitting, reviewing, revising, and approving proposed initiatives, your sponsors don’t have the guidance they need to develop a project scope that’s accurate and useful. Without a formal process, you’re also missing key steps tied to gaining consensus among sponsors and executives, as well as marking the time when a project’s scope is locked against any further changes.