Confronting the Ugly Truth About Project Scope Creep

Scope creep—that phenomenon where a project’s achievable’s grow beyond what was agreed upon at the outset—is often seen as the scourge of project management professionals. Project Teams put significant energy into avoiding scope creep, but they should also look at the other side of the equation if they really want to conquer uncontrolled scope growth. How your team responds to scope creep is just as important as the steps they take to prevent it.

scope creep

First, it’s helpful to acknowledge the harsh reality of scope creep: it has the potential to occur in nearly every project and even experienced teams will never be able to eradicate it completely. Needs are constantly evolving, and what an executive group wouldn’t support today may be their biggest driver tomorrow. This is an unpleasant truth that many PMP®s don’t want to face, but once you’ve made peace with it you can move forward more effectively. Your team can now put together a much more comprehensive approach that marries proactive steps with reactive strategies.

Because complete avoidance is often not realistic when it comes to scope creep, strong project control expertise should be embraced as a primary line of defense. PMP®s who are able to control a project from beginning to end will be in the best position to anticipate how potential scope creep will impact the project’s timeframe and resource consumption. They can then establish a plan to accommodate an expansion of the project or demonstrate to others why the creep shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

Part of the project control competency also entails the advanced skills (and time available in the process) to very clearly define the project’s initial plan. Every detail should be documented. While this can sometimes head off scope creep before it happens, it’s also useful in confronting it when it does arise—and typically before timelines have been significantly impacted or other achievable’s compromised.

Along the same lines, creating detailed schedule calculations early in the project’s lifecycle enables Project Teams to chart how evolving requests and expectations will affect budgets, critical milestones, supplies of necessary materials, labor contracts, and other resources. Recognizing potential areas where stakeholders may pursue additional project scope later is another important—but sometimes overlooked—skill. It’s helpful on the proactive side in confirming everyone is on the same page as far as achievable’s and expectations go. It also enables PMP®s to create better contingency plans during the initial strategy and planning phase.

Together, this information can be leveraged in several ways. First, PMP®s may use data about impacts to push back against impending scope creep. When the costs are made clear, organizations sometimes support the squashing of unplanned activities. If senior-level leaders continue to give the go-ahead for the growth of specific achievable’s, the team is able to present granular information in support of the need for additional funding, additional staffing, or the modification of the project’s timeline. Experienced PMP®s can evaluate the deadline dates and resource schedules that will need to change as a result of the expanded scope and develop a modified plan that takes the adjustments into account. This gives the team a new framework against which they can chart their progress and helps to mitigate any negative impacts on the project’s overall success.

These approaches, which focus more on reactive measures, shouldn’t be used instead of solid proactive planning. But if Project Teams expect only to prevent scope creep, they may find themselves surprised and unprepared to effectively deal with it when it actually happens. A multi-facet strategy offers more options and gives the team the tools they need to realize consistent project success.

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