Managing Scope Creep in Program and Project Management

Collective Insights Team
May 4, 2022
May 4, 2022
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Managing Scope Creep in Program and Project Management

The ultimate indicator of a successfully managed project: meeting desired outcomes on time and within budget. Unfortunately, even the most thoroughly scoped projects do not always go as planned. Three deliverables can quickly become five, or many small decisions over time can grow into a big problem.

When scope creep is managed poorly, budgets increase, timelines extend and projects fall short of their expected value, resulting in unpleasant conversations with project sponsors. The best way to combat scope creep is to embrace the inevitable and manage scope creep while reducing the impact to the overall success of the project. By understanding four common causes of scope creep and ways to combat them, your organization can better execute successful projects.

1. Unclear scope definition

Organizations are eager to get going on new projects, but it’s always beneficial to think through the details before getting started. Unclear expectations set up a project for failure. Understanding the intended outcomes, talking to the right stakeholders, and taking the time to fully discern what exactly a client needs, but sometimes cannot articulate, saves time and budget on the back end of a project. Having a statement of work is essential. A statement of work should outline project activities, deliverables and timelines. The more specific the better, to eliminate ambiguity on what is being delivered and the effort to deliver it. This ensures that all parties can manage progress with aligned expectations.

2. Unmanaged scope and requirements

In the early stages of a project, new requirements are often uncovered. Without clear decision-making conditions, it can be difficult to determine if additional requests are within scope. While preventing scope creep is favorable, one must also be careful to not reject valid scope changes that benefit the project. Determining an acceptable level of new or modified requirement can be a challenge, but with clear change control processes, your project is bound for success. Your process should provide a system of checks and balances for both parties, clarity on how to request changes and get approvals. Upfront and ongoing communication regarding scope changes builds a partnering relationship between client stakeholders and the project team will ensure project success.

3. Disengaged sponsors and not enough stakeholder participation

Let’s face it – we’re all busy! Key client stakeholders have a lot on their plates and are pulled in many directions within their organizations. However, their input throughout a project is imperative to its eventual success. It is important to have a continuous feedback loop with your sponsors and stakeholders so potential changes can be addressed as early in the process as possible. By identifying changes early, teams have more options to resolve issues. This minimizes impact to schedule and budget and gives sponsors and stakeholders a voice. Tools like a project status report keep stakeholders informed, engaged, and most importantly happy with the outcome.

4. Your project is too long

While the length of a project doesn’t necessarily correlate with scope creep, the longer a project stretches the easier it becomes to stray from the original ask. One way to keep stakeholders more involved is to set up reviews every few weeks following an agile process for continuous review and delivery. Another option to consider would be to build out a plan to build with an MVP (minimal viable project) solution and add features functionally afterwards, rather than building a gold-plated solution.

Concise timelines and smaller projects prevent scope creep from drawing out a project. Break up large projects into phased delivery of functionality and capabilities. Celebrate the completion core functionality and use learnings from to successfully implement capabilities and improve delivery outcomes moving forward. Additionally, status reports and dashboards or scorecards that track milestones are all accelerators to use throughout out the project to engage stakeholders, increase accountability, and successfully close out phases of projects on time.

Partner with Collective Insights to successfully manage your next project:

At Collective Insights, your success is our success. We understand the value of delivering projects on time, in budget and within scope. We provide your team with the appropriate processes and tools to effectively manage successful projects.