Project management

Scope creep – the project manager’s worst nightmare

Imagine this: you are working hard on your project, you are right on time with your deliverables and milestones, and all of a sudden you get an email that the client cannot implement their part. After a few days, they solve their problem and you continue to work on the project. Now you get another […]

Mirko Jadrić 1 year ago
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Imagine this: you are working hard on your project, you are right on time with your deliverables and milestones, and all of a sudden you get an email that the client cannot implement their part. After a few days, they solve their problem and you continue to work on the project. Now you get another email from stakeholders, that they have some bug in their process, and they don’t know how to solve it. The conclusion of everything: the project is stopped, delayed, and currently unsuccessful. 

These things happen to almost everyone and they are called SCOPE CREEP, the project manager’s worst nightmare. 

What is scope creep? Why PMs don’t like it?

To make everything clear first, we need to understand what the project scope is. The PMBOK® Guide describes scope creep as “adding features and functionality (project scope) without addressing the effects on time, costs, and resources, or without customer approval” (PMI, 2008, p 440). So basically, when the project’s requirements go beyond those included in the original plans, without any permissions and authorizations, the project enters into Scope creep.

Scope creep can cause unforeseen changes that can lead to missed deadlines, team and client dissatisfaction, increased budget … 

For me, the main problem with scope creep is that when it happens, it leaves less time for approved parts of the scope, it creates confusion, and sometimes even chaos inside the team, or organization. Even the most experienced project managers work hard to reshuffle, reprioritize, reorganize, and sometimes extract a little more money for the new, additional tasks.

Scope creep is not just a problem for project managers, it affects the whole team. The team has been presented with the project scope at the start of the project and they knew their responsibilities inside the project. Now they start to lose their confidence in you and the whole project.

Scope creep affects your company by making your product release dates overdue, thus creating unsatisfied customers/users. Unsatisfied users lead to financial problems, and there you go, you have a major problem with the operability of the company.

Scope creep is not good for the stakeholders either. Most of them have some expectations with the project and going out of the planned direction could make them lose confidence in you. Also, they might not be happy due to changes to the cost and launch date of the project.

Last but not least are the users. Scope creep could cause a not-so-perfect version of the outcome of your product and the result is losing a lot of possible customers, which leads to a budget loss.

Common causes of Scope creep

There are endless reasons why scope creep could occur and there is no way to predict them, but we are going to give you a few examples of the most common scope creep.

Defined Project Scope Requirements

Maybe you think “what is this guy talking about”, but unfortunately this problem is most obvious and it still happens. Without acknowledging the scope of the project with all your stakeholders, project sponsors, and your team, you don’t have a clear understanding of how to align and how to communicate your work with everyone involved. 

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

In every restaurant’s kitchen, you have roles and responsibilities: there are waiters, kitchen porters, station chef, Sous Chef, but there is only one Chef de Cuisine. It’s the same within project management, if every stakeholder is a decision-maker, you’ll probably end up with scope creep. The biggest problem that could happen is undocumented conversations and agreements directly between the client and team members.

That also includes poor communication between team members, team leaders/project managers, clients, and stakeholders.

Lack of Task Prioritization

From time to time, it’s hard to keep the project on schedule and focused and that’s why you have the project scope. I mean, what’s the point of having a project scope if it’s not enforced and doesn’t act as a clear guide for every member of the team? 

But what if the project scope is planned wrong? Maybe timeframes and deadlines are impossible to achieve?!

Poor or Missing Change Control Process

There is a possibility that some part of the process will need approval for the next phase, and without your notice, instead of the project/product owner, the stakeholder gives approval. This leads to additional uncontrolled changes that haven’t been approved.

Unchecked Client Requests

Let us get inside the client’s head. You have a new small idea that you believe is a new breakthrough for your project. On the other side, you have a strict project manager who sticks to a plan and doesn’t yield at all. The easiest way to implement a new small idea is to personally contact a team member that is directly working on a project… As a client, you explain to a project team member that it’s a 5-minute process and that you’ll contact the project manager later. A team member accepts an additional task without confirmation from the project manager and there it is – you have a problem. Your well-planned project is now risking derailing, quality and cost-effective final deliverables.

Until the next time, Scope creep

For most people Scope creep is something that “happens”, and it is, but it is also something that can be prevented. How, you might ask? The answer lies in part two of this topic: “Preventing & fixing Scope creep”. Coming to you soon!


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