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How to Prevent Scope Creep

Managing the risks of scope creep will keep your website project running smoothly.

Your project is off to a good start; progress is being made, the timeline is being honored, and the budget is on track. Then one day you check your email and learn that a key stakeholder has left the project. You hear the suspenseful theme from Jaws in the back of your mind; this is the perfect scenario for that dreaded fiend scope creep to show up. 

I say fear not!  

Like a robocall in the middle of the night, scope creep is something nobody wants to encounter, especially during a project. That being said, it is also a natural part of any project and is bound to happen. The good news is that you can be proactive about heading it off at the pass, or preventing it from happening in the first place.     

Common Contributors to Scope Creep

Scope creep is the introduction of anything that can cause the focus or goals of a project to expand, and go beyond the original scope of the project. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when handled properly, but it can put the success of a project in jeopardy when handled poorly. 

Many factors can contribute to scope creep but most commonly it’s the humans that do the creeping. Any individual could knowingly or unknowingly contribute to creep; personal needs, internal politics, or the inability to make decisions are just some reasons that an individual or group can cause a project’s scope to expand. Other contributors to creep are:

  • A change in stakeholders
  • Revisions to the project goals
  • Introduction of new features or functionality
  • Additional rounds of revision to deliverables

With so many areas for creep to originate, how do you prevent it?

Preventing Scope Creep

The sad news is that you can’t prevent it from growing; humans are curious, and it’s natural that there will be questions and requests that will prod scope. So while you can make sure the team is educated in what the scope of the project is, there will always be some level of curiosity as to what additional is possible. 

You can, however, prevent it from affecting your project. I’ll go into greater detail as to specific approaches you can use for preventing creep, but it’s important to note that prevention starts with being engaged, and being a defender of the scope. 

It’s easy to be so caught up in the day to day running of a project that requests may be made or requirements added  that will push the boundaries. Consider yourself standing guard preventing those requests from making their way into the project. If you fall asleep at your post, you may find yourself clambering to remove the creep.     

Know What’s in Scope

Kind of a duh, I know, but this is so often overlooked. It’s not uncommon for project participants to come and go throughout the course of a project’s life cycle. Therefore every consideration should be given to making sure every person has reviewed the project scope; which should be provided in clear documentation that outlines the roadmap for the project. This may be in the form of a contract, proposal, or a project outline. If you don’t have one, define the scope before the project even begins.

The most effective documentation not only goes into detail as to what is IN scope, but also what is OUT of scope. This helps to clearly define where the focus will be for the project. Having participants review this documentation stops scope creep in the minds of those who might introduce it, and makes everyone a guardian of the scope.  

The project manager is the core individual monitoring the pulse of the project, and it is a big responsibility to act as the sole protector of scope. By imbuing this mission in others you build a team that can move together toward a single destination, rather than spending time keeping everyone on the same path. 

Establish an MLP

MLP stands for minimum loveable product; essentially the simplest version of your completed project that you can live with. An MLP can make a huge difference in ensuring that everyone on your project is rowing in the same direction. By clearly defining what makes up the MLP, you’ll have a goal in mind where the team can place their focus before working on lower priority, or scope creep items. This isn’t to say you can’t iterate and improve on the MLP once complete; by working on what’s most important you’ll at least have something that you’re happy with. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

Document the Changes

There will always be changes during the course of a project, it’s unavoidable and that’s fine. What’s important is how those changes are adapted to the existing scope. “Change Requests” turn new requirements or requests into official scope. They’re crucial especially when additional work is going to push the boundaries of a budget, and additional funding is needed. And if additional funding isn’t possible? A change request can clearly outline how existing scope items may change or be removed to make room. Without a change request, scope is not only going to creep but expectations are going to be misaligned.

Document the Risks  

We’ve talked about making everyone a guardian of scope, but because the team can’t be on alert 24/7, how do you focus everyone’s efforts so you know what to guard against?  Documenting risks is another way to reinforce the team’s focus. Risks are those items that you know could potentially impact the success of the project or cause the scope to balloon. You may already know what they are, or they could arise organically throughout the course of the project. Regardless, what is important is to document the risks and make sure the team has transparency into those items. Include a detailed description of the item, if known, a plan to address it, and better yet; assign someone to keep an eye on it.  

Scope creep also provides opportunities!

Hopefully I haven’t made scope creep out to be the villain; as much as it is something to be on the lookout for, it’s also an important opportunity to start planning for the future. Document, and track them; those items that may be scope creep now could also be the next positive expansion for your project.