The Problem With Scope Creep
Scope creep is the natural tendency of the client, as well as project team members, to try to improve the project’s output as the project progresses (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, & Sutton, 2008). Scope creep is an inherent problem in any project and can be the result of many different factors ranging from people to new ideas. All project managers must take an initiative to prevent this from occurring. The results of scope creep can derail projects and lead to budget issues, bad reputations for the project manager, or poor results from the project (Doll, 2001).
In an article written by Shelley Doll, seven steps give assistance to a project manager in order to prevent scope creep from occurring or at least reduce its effect on a project. These steps are (Doll, 2001):
- Be sure you thoroughly understand the project vision. Meet with the project drivers and deliver an overview of the project as a whole for their review and comments.
- Understand your priorities and the priorities of the project drivers. Make an ordered list for your review throughout the project duration. Items should include budget, deadline, feature delivery, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction. You’ll use this list to justify your scheduling decisions once the project has commenced.
- Define your deliverables and have them approved by the project drivers. Deliverables should be general descriptions of functionality to be completed during the project.
- Break the approved deliverables into actual work requirements. The requirements should be as detailed as necessary and can be completed using a simple spreadsheet. The larger your project, the more detail you should include. If your project spans more than a month or two, don’t forget to include time for software upgrades during development and always include time for ample documentation.
- Break the project down into major and minor milestones and complete a generous project schedule to be approved by the project drivers. Minor milestones should not span more than a month. Whatever your method for determining task duration, leave room for error. When working with an unknown staff, I generally schedule 140 to 160 percent of the duration as expected to be delivered. If your schedule is tight, reevaluate your deliverables. Coming in under budget and ahead of schedule leaves room for additional enhancements.
- Once a schedule has been created, assign resources and determine your critical path using a PERT Chart or Work Breakdown Structure. Microsoft Project will create this for you. Your critical path will change over the course of your project, so it’s important to evaluate it before development begins. Follow this map to determine which deliverables must be completed on time. In very large projects, try not to define phase specifics too early, but even a general plan will give you the backbone you need for successful delivery.
- Expect that there will be scope creep. Implement Change Order forms early and educate the project drivers on your processes. A Change Order form will allow you to perform a cost-benefit analysis before scheduling (yes, I said scheduling) changes requested by the project drivers.
In 2004, my job role as a teacher expands to duties as department chairperson of the history department for the high school that employs me today. This new job role comes at a time when our department is up for new textbooks. The high school where I teach has a large population, and our department has over 15 different courses (core curriculum and electives). Textbook adoption is a massive undertaking and normally takes about a year to complete the project thoroughly. I was in a position of organizing the adoption of the new textbooks, but the project management of it takes place from an administrator at our educational board office. At this time, this administrator is new. She is a formal elementary school teacher and not familiar with high school textbooks or the adoption process. It is not much help that it was a new experience for me too. To begin, I start process off by assigning committees for each course. Most committees consist of 2-3 members, and the majority of the teachers take part on multiple committees since we only have 12 history teachers in our department.
The issue of scope creep begins a few months into the project. Most of the committees began work on reviewing the multitudes of textbooks and evaluating them for content. The first evidence begins with the introduction of more textbooks to evaluate. In addition, the amount of paperwork is now double the amount from the beginning. The timeline sets back the end date of the project by several months. It takes the committees about three additional months to complete the projects. The problem with the setback is the new textbooks did not make it to our school on time for the following school year. They did not arrive until the middle of the first grading period.
The way to better manage this project is by frequent meetings with the administration. After the initial meeting at the beginning of the textbook adoption, there is no communication until the new and additional textbooks and paperwork presents itself. As project manager, it is more efficient to meet frequently and keep in constant communication. In addition, a statement of work, project scope, and timeline and budget is a vital part of avoiding scope creep. Looking back on this project, the lack of communication and lack of proper project planning are the main causes of the scope creep. This project is a lesson on proper planning and implementation.
Doll, S. (2001). Seven steps for avoiding scope creep. Retrieved on February 10, 2013 from
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John
Wiley & Sons, Inc.