Stop Project Scope Creep in its Tracks

Project scope creep is a problem that plagues projects across the spectrum. Small or large, simple or complex, a project’s success can be threatened by stakeholders eager to add just one more activity to the list. If the team doesn’t know how to keep those parameters in check—or if they don’t have the tools to know when the approved scope is in jeopardy—they’ll have difficulty resisting requests to take on more than the project’s budget and target timeline can support. Failure often follows, as the Project Team’s resources are expended early and the schedule falls apart.

Fortunately, there are some strategies organizations can implement to help maintain order and eliminate ballooning project boundaries. These approaches will also aid in avoiding the related schedule delays and cost overruns, not to mention the strain on team members’ workloads.

1 – Begin with unanimous agreement on the project’s scope. It sounds obvious, but it’s not uncommon for teams to start working under an informal set of parameters while they wait for something more concrete to be established. Once work begins, however, there’s little time to look backward and close the loop with stakeholders on what the project will accomplish. It’s an open door for scope creep. A better approach leverages a formal project charter and obtains buy-in from all parties before any work begins. This ensures the right expectations are in place from the start. Any requests outside the scope must then gain the appropriate approval.

2 – Understand everything involved in executing the project. When teams have deep insight into all the tasks that must be executed for the project to be considered complete, they’ll be better equipped to know if (and where) scope creep is occurring. A detailed network diagram and work breakdown structure will uncover every activity that needs to be assigned as part of the project. These tools also give PMs enough granularity to spot any tasks that may have mysteriously appeared after the project’s original boundaries were set.

3 – Implement tight project controls. Halting scope creep calls for constant monitoring of key milestones. For best results, the practice must begin early in the project’s life-cycle. If the project team is able to spot trouble—in particular, those instances where the growing scope is hindering progress on critical-path tasks—they can bring those to the attention of stakeholders while developing a solution. By identifying scope creep’s impact on important activities, the team can demonstrate the difficulty it presents in executing the project and potentially eliminate add-on tasks that weren’t part of the original charter.

4 – Establish accountability for every task. The process of identifying and resolving scope creep issues is more effective when all of the project’s activities are clearly mapped to the people responsible for executing them. If team members are working on something that isn’t included in their documented task list, the issue will quickly become clear when they provide their regular status update. Are their activities behind schedule? Have they encountered conflicts between tasks? Is their time occupied by unplanned duties? This approach provides the team with another early warning system that the project’s parameters might be creeping outward.

5 – Develop strong communication channels. Robust information sharing across the entire project team is crucial in stopping scope creep. When progress reports, issues, ideas, and resolutions are communicated between stakeholder groups and sub-teams, any divergence from the agreed-upon parameters can be addressed before problems seeps into other areas, too. Team members can also use these communication channels to raise concerns if they’re under pressure to push the scope out to encompass additional goals or activities.

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