Common Pitfalls of Project Management | Scope Creep

Last month, we started a series on the common pitfalls of project management.  We began the discussion by conveying how to avoid the significant impact of shaky project requirements.  Today, we are continuing the conversation by covering another nemesis that plagues projects: Scope Creep.  Poor requirements gathering paves a sure-fire path to unmet expectations and an incomplete solution. Further downstream, scope creep will result in a great deal of lost time and wasted dollars.

Scope creep is an industry term used to describe the point where agreed-upon effort and project objectives begin to change over the course of the project timeline.  A key indicator of scope creep is when new requirements are introduced following the design phase.  A project sponsor wakes up with a bright idea and suddenly, your test plan has three extra pages.  In seemingly no time, your project's scope begins to drift like a ship with no sail.  The efforts to hit the ever-moving target fall flat and you find yourself stuck on the train to nowhere.  

This is how it typically plays out.

Ultimately, it is the project manager's responsibility to resist scope creep.  It may be uncomfortable to say 'No' to the person who's cutting the check.  However, saying "No" isn't nearly as uncomfortable as not receiving a check because the budget and deliverables are non-existent. 

Here are a few tips that can help to keep your feet out of the quicksand...

Manage Expectations

Project Managers should communicate regularly, from project initiation, the clear expectation that the project will adhere to a succinct scope.  This narrative should be perpetuated in requirements gathering sessions, project governance documentation, and all project meetings.  Doing so will create a shared sense of accountability across the team and embed itself into the project's culture. 

Set Milestones

Establish, communicate, and enforce a "scope lock" milestone.  Be sure to express the implications and document the impact of the milestone to the project timeline. 

Make It Difficult

Scope changes shouldn't be easy.  Given the downstream impact, each change should be given great consideration and properly vetted.  Instituting a rigid scope change process can aid in making sure that this happens. Furthermore, process rigidity can serve as a deterrent to the "dreamers" on the project.  In your process, incorporate sign-offs at several levels of the organizations, across multiple functions.  This way, if for no other purpose, you can be assured that the change was at least worth the extra effort. 

Document Everything

So nice - we had to say it twice.