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Scope Creep Explained – And How To Avoid It

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 9th March 2018

We all know that sinking feeling. The deadline is looming, and the project isn’t completed and doesn’t look like it ever will be. You analyse the work and realise that you’ve actually got a much bigger issue on your hands than you realised. Your client asked for “little extras” to be tagged on and now you’re going to be scrambling to get everything ready in time. You’ve become a victim of scope creep.

As a Project Management Apprentice you learn about project scope and how important it is to focus on what you’ve been asked to do  – but in the real world it can be hard not to allow the client to ask for more than you’ve been contracted to provide.

Even worse is when the scope creep occurs from your side. When it seems sensible to add in a bit extra that the client hadn’t actually requested. After all, if you do it now it’ll only take a minute….

Scope Creep Slows Projects Down

Of course it does. You don’t need Project Management Skills to see that if you are working on side-projects not directly costed and allowed for you’re going to be at greater risk of missing the deadline and delivering late.

So Why Does It Occur?

Projects – especially large ones – do evolve over time. It’s essential that they have some flexibility to cope with unforeseen circumstances. Which allows the boundaries of what is and isn’t part of the project to be pushed.


And How to Avoid It?

As with many things prevention is better than cure so here are a few suggestions to tighten up your practice.

Get It in Writing

A major contributing factor is lack of precision in the project specification. If a client wants a house and says “build on my plot” it’s far easier for them to persuade you to include a garage than if they specify that they want a five-bedroomed detached house with two reception rooms and a conservatory.

Manage communications

As project manager you need to know what’s going on. Your team members should only be consulting with the client through you. Otherwise you might find them agreeing to features that were never mentioned in the specification without realising it.

Don’t Let Clients Get Work on The Cheap

Scope creep can, and often does, occur in fractional increments. A feature or alteration is requested and, as it appears to add barely any more to the workload, you agree to add it to the project. The problem occurs when you realise you’ve added several such tiny features or incremental changes and suddenly your client can be getting what amounts serious extra work essentially for free.

Document all alterations to the existing specification

Finally, stop scope creep in its tracks by insisting that all features or changes however small they may seem are written into a new specification and the extra cost is authorised by whoever is footing the bill.

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