Hot! Project Management – When Scope Starts to Creep!

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When we set out on a project, there is a scope that the project aims to achieve. That scope defines the boundaries of thescope creep  project and what it will deliver.  Often, though, this will find itself changing as the project progresses and this is known asscope creep.  When this happens, a number of things then result:

  • The project is difficult to manage because the scope is no longer clearly defined
  • Success criteria for the project becomes hazy.

Let’s take an example: on a project I worked on to produce a database that recorded the development of clinical forms. I project scopejoined the project once it was in full flight.  The database had started as a record of the provenance for the developed forms. Someone then came up with the great idea that it could also store information on who was using the forms.  Sounds like a simple addition? No!

  • Firstly, the original acceptance criteria was now no longer valid for the revised scope.
  • Secondly, as the addition to the scope was not done in a controlled way, the specifics for the additional database functionality were clearly articulated so were open to the interpretation of the developer.
  • No-one gave any consideration that the change would have on a) the budget (an external contractor was being used for the development) or b) the delivery timescale.

The list of problems above, introduced by the impromptu scope creep, is by no means exhaustive but it gives you a flavour of the negative impact that scope creep can cause.  In short, a smart project manager will avoid it at all costs, no matter how much pressure important stakeholders exert!

So what do we do when there is a genuine need to change the scope of a project?  Simple, we introduce the revision to the scope in a controlled and managed way. To do this:

  • Clearly define the addition to the scope
  • Assess the impact of the change on all other aspects of the project, including, budget, timescales, resourcing needs, risks, etc
  • Make a formal decision on the change using the project’s governance structure
  • Update project plans accordingly
  • Communicate the change to all affected

Today’s breed of collaborative online project management applications, like WORKEtc, Central Desktop & Basecamp all offer comprehensive functionality to manage projects end-to-end, including the management of the project scope and objectives.


Jan Birley

Jan holds a PhD in computing and started out in software development and IT training. She built a strong career as a project and program manager focusing on IT in the Health Service sector. Jan specializes in taking greenfield and immature services/departments to effective business-as-usual operation and is currently responsible for the delivery of clinical assessment forms into a high profile clinical system. Jan has authored 100′s of articles on project-management related topics.

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