What is Scope Creep and How to Avoid It?

avoiding scope creep“Scope creep” is a term that is commonly used in the world of software development.  It describes an unfortunate phenomenon that sometimes happens during a project. When changes to a project are continually requested, significantly altering the original project plan, scope creep is likely occurring.

While scope creep can happen with one major change request to a project, more often it happens quite subtly with many small change requests. Over the course of time, what appeared to be minor changes begin to accumulate into more significant shifts in design and plan. Not only does this often change the project time frame, but it also typically affects the budget, too. With added resources needed in order to make changes and adjustments, it is no wonder that scope creep is sometimes considered a project manager’s worst nightmare.

Avoiding Scope Creep – 4 Helpful Tips

Since scope creep can wreak havoc on any software development project, it is helpful to think about ways to minimize or even avoid it before it ever happens.  Here are a few things a project manager can do to reduce the risk of scope creep.

  1. Make sure your project is clearly defined. Projects that are not clearly defined are sitting ducks for scope creep. Before you begin any software development project, make sure you clearly articulate the necessary objectives and goals of the project. This includes clarifying exactly what is and is not included in the project. Stakeholders, managers, team members, and anyone else involved in the project should have a clear understanding of the project scope.
  2. Clarify your deliverables with as much detail as possible. It is helpful to create a document that clearly details what will be created, who will create it, and when it is expected to be complete. Adding a more detailed description to individual deliverables is beneficial.
  3. Have a clear process to acknowledge completion of deliverables. Sometimes referred to as a “baseline,” it is helpful to have a clear way to determine when a deliverable is complete. Without this important benchmark, it is easy to unknowingly fall victim to scope creep.
  4. Implement a clear change request process. Scope creep is much less likely to happen when a clear change request process is in place. A change request, which includes documentation of the need for change, provides a way to document times when a shift in project scope occurs.

While it may not be possible to completely avoid scope creep on every software development project, it is possible to do things to reduce the risk of it occurring. Scope creep is not only a problem for the software developers working on a project, but it is also a source of great frustration for project stakeholders, managers, and others.  In the end it can lead to wasted time, money and other resources, while also generating considerable frustration.

Striving to limit the risk of scope creep is an ongoing yet worthy effort for the entire software development team.  Having clear and detailed project goals, deliverables, and a process for requesting changes, is the first step to avoiding scope creep. Working with experienced project managers who are understand all the facets of project planning and management is also beneficial. In the words of Basil S. Walsh, a banking and insurance executive during the 1930s: “If you don’t know where you are going. How can you expect to get there?”