Scope Creep on Projects

Scope Creep

I’ve recently been engaged in a discussion on Scope Creep on a LinkedIn discussion group. I generally don’t have much to say across any of the discussion groups I’m on, I prefer to see what other people think and how others have dealt different experiences and challenges in project management. But Scope Creep is a pet challenge of mine.

However, on this occasion, I felt I had some valuable content to add. Scope Creep is something that all projects are at risk of and it should actually be added to the project risk register at the very start of every project. After all, it’s like catching a cold, it happens to all of us and once it strikes there’s no one solution or cure to getting rid of it.

Always remember – “project management is about people” – and scope creep is a very human issue.

Scope Creep definition

So what is scope creep? Well, without getting into text book definitions my simple minded definition is this: Scope Creep is when any uncontrolled deviation occurs from the original scope of work. Notice a couple of key points in this definition – “uncontrolled deviation” and “original scope of work”.

The reality of project work is that there will always be an element of change requested or imposed on a projects scope before the project completes. That’s fine and is anticipated by the inclusion in all well run projects of a change management and risk management process. More on these elsewhere, but back to scope creep for now.

Breaking down scope creep – Uncontrolled Deviation is when changes to scope are forced on the project, or happen without the PM’s knowledge, and not managed through a control process – typically a change management process – or anticipated and dealt with through a risk management or issues management process – which could eventually end up as a change request in a change management process.

Of course, this is all garbage if there is no defined and agreed scope in the first place. I remember having a discussion with a senior manager at a bank once. I was running an office build project where a middle office support department was being expanded out of the London office into Singapore and we were building a new floor out for 360 staff that hadn’t yet been employed.

Scope Creep example

Here’s one of many examples of scope creep in action: The project budget was well under control and the new boss was keen to make the office better than anything the bank had in London. His focus was on developing the audio and video conferencing facilities so that he could improve, and show-case, the new groups’ achievements to all the offices globally but in particular to his boss in London, the global head

So we developed an AV (Audio Visual) solution for him and found budget within the saved costs from the IT budget. Here’s where the problems started. He wouldn’t sign off on the scope we put together because he didn’t know exactly what he wanted. I also believe, as he was a shrewd business man and I was not,( I didn’t see this one coming – scope creep can catch you unaware), that he wanted to stretch his options as much as the budget and I would allow.

We delivered his AV solution – big screens, projectors, conference phones etc., and it all worked well. I don’t recall now how much we spent exactly but it was the best part of GBP500,000. Anyone that’s installed large Av installations will not be surprised at the costs.

After a significant additional spend on a podium, built in cameras and recording equipment I had to call it a day and closed the project budget accounts on further changes. I was only able to do this with my regional boss’s buy-in as it was somewhat political.

Scope Creep Management

This was scope creep in its simplest guise. I learned a lot from this experience and have been careful to push everything through formal channels on all my projects since then. Sure, the business will always request more.

There are always new ideas and new opportunities to be considered and a PM should always facilitate progress in any way possible. Now I raise a change request, make sure costs, time and any other impacts are fully appreciated and get the client to sign off before I act. It’s the best way to manage these situations and it’s the right way to manage them.

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