Scope Creep in Project Management: 5 Tried & Tested Ways to Avoid it

Posted by Carl Witton on September 24, 2019


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What is scope creep? 

The scope of a project encapsulates all the tasks, goals and targets that should be accomplished in order for a project to be finished. It’s the part of a project that lays out the details and allows everyone involved to see what they’re working towards and how to get there.

As with any project, there are a few things that could throw a wrench in the works and completely derail your projects. For example, your team could be nearing the close of an advertising or software project when, unexpectedly, your client decides to add in extra features or special requests. That changes the scope of your project and will likely require additional time, cost, and even resources. 

The term for the unexpected crashing of your project by a client, is ‘Scope Creep’. You probably have had to deal with it in the past, and will come up against the problem again.

How do you handle scope creep?

Well, if you choose to ignore your clients request, then they’re not going to be too happy.

You could also agree with the request, totally underestimate the time and resources it will take, then end up with all of the pitfalls of over-servicing - losing time, money, and resources. 

The best project managers, find a perfect balance when faced with these sometimes, unavoidable situations. But, there are ways to handle scope creep, and more importantly - avoid and counteract it. 

5 Tried and Tested Ways to Avoid Scope Creep:

While agency management software helps manage and prevent scope creep, it's certainly not a silver bullet. Having worked with hundreds of agency teams, we've identified these as the 5 best ways to squash scope creep while enabling you to build better relationships with your clients, and deliver more profitable projects - on time! 

1. Stop Being a ‘Yes Man’

Are you a PM who likes to say ‘yes’ to everything, just to please others? Then you’re going to struggle with project creep. You might have already noticed this issue happening regularly in recent projects.

If changes are being requested right at the last minute, you, as project manager have the ability to control the situation. If you’re a ‘Yes Man (or woman!) ’ then you may be swayed to just go with it and risk the project.

If you’re a smart project manager, then instead, you could accept  the request but implement the changes, as a mini project that works along the side of your current project. This can then be billed separately, and won’t harm your initial project.

Having the power to make decisions based on what’s best for the project AND the client is an essential attribute. Just by saying No, you have the power to stop scope creep happening now and in the future.

2. Have a Clear Vision for your Project

Successfully meeting deadlines requires project managers to set a clear vision from the get go. The best project planners know, that ‘the better the plan, the better the results.’

Experienced project managers know that projects will change along the way. It’s almost impossible to avoid scope creep when changes occur if you aren’t already clear about the direction or details of your project plan.

By setting out a road map early on, one that encompasses the required insights and requirements for the project ,then your team will work more efficiently (and thank you for it when the project goes to plan.


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3. Plan for Changes in your Project

Rigidity within a project is not the answer to preventing scope creep. Being too flexible isn’t either. This links back to the concept of project balance. When you’re implementing a ‘zero maneuver’ rule, then any (inevitable) changes are going to turn into an even bigger job than they should be, if only flexibility in the project was allowed.

This is especially relevant if billing on an hourly basis. You could just continue to add more hours, but it’s not going to benefit your team's or your stress levels. In fact, it generally doesn’t add any value to projects at all.

To avoid unnecessary stress for everyone, make sure you allow some room for any changes that could occur in your project. Then bill your project as a whole.

This will help your project adapt to small changes and help with your client relationships.

4. Communicate Clearly and Often

We often discuss communication as an endemic problem within project teams.

The issue in regards to scope creep, is that poor project management from the start means a growing team will suffer, if solid communication methods aren’t implemented from the get go.  

Without project visibility, team members and manager have a habit of ‘passing the blame’. This causes problems and team clashes. This can be avoided. Using a reliable project management system that allows full transparency within projects, creates notifications and generates reports. One with integrated communication tools is key for a successful and harmonious team. This is one way, amongst many, to eliminate communication issues with your teams.

5. Set Realistic Project Expectations

Clients aren't always the best at conveying their project visions. This can lead to lots of re-works, delays and confusion. This can be completely prevented just by having a solid scope brief.

Questioning clients about EVERYTHING is the best way to avoid scope creep.

Holding regular meetings about what’s realistic and what’s not for their project, helps to set the groundwork and a clearer picture of what you and the client expect from the project.

By involving your clients from the start of your scoping exercise, you can determine how to lay out a project plan more effectively. By gaining their feedback on a regular basis, you can ensure your team are constantly updated and understand what your client’s requirements, truly are. 

Clear communication, client meetings, balanced decision making and solid project plans will help you complete projects on time and to budget. Scope creep might try to trip you up, but having the above 5 strategies in mind, you know you’re equipped with the tools to beat it.

Written Kindly By Emily Rose Dallara, For Deltek WorkBook.  

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