Scope Creep … slow but deadly!

Scope CreepWe have all heard or said it before: “my project is late and over budget”; sometimes it doesn’t even look like the same project we started. This often is a result of expansion of a project outside of the planned objectives – aka scope creep. As a project leader, you need to constantly be aware of what is in and out of scope because scope creep can interfere with the smooth execution of a project, damage relationships, create unnecessary stress and delay revenue.

Many project managers, especially those who have been in the industry for a long time, might accept the concept of scope creep as just another part of the job – inevitable and best thought about before the project begins – but it is actually something that threatens to lose companies money, time and investment.

Project managers often face an uphill battle when it comes to leading the team and getting a project completed on time, on budget and within scope. Communication issues, personal bias, and the desire to ‘fix it all’ can invade a team, stopping a project in its tracks before anyone realizes there is an issue. Part of the project manager’s job is to be prepared for such problems, provide a road map through mid-effort wildernesses, and present tools for more efficient work.

Lots of little changes are as bad as a big change
Whether you want to compare it to a slippery slope or a vicious cycle, one thing is certain – no matter how big or small, change has consequences. Adding scope leads to requirements changes, which leads to project delays, which will lead to increased cost… so how do you stop it from snowballing out of control? Those who know the answer will set themselves apart from the competition.

Put a viable scope-change process in place
The project manager and project team must realize that there is nothing wrong with scope change. If you cannot accommodate change, the final solution may be less valuable than it should be, or it may, in fact, be unusable. Therefore, you want the client to have the ability to make changes during the project when needed. The problem comes when the project manager does not proactively manage change on the project.

Every project should have a process in place to manage change effectively. The process should include identifying the change, determining the business value of the change, determining the impact on the project, and then taking the resulting information to the project sponsor for its evaluation. The sponsor can determine whether the change should be included. If it is included, then the sponsor should also understand the impact on the project and allocate the additional budget and time needed to include the change.

Scope creep
Many project managers recognize large scope changes but are not as diligent on smaller changes. There is a tendency to just go ahead and add the additional work without too much thought. Scope creep refers to what happens when a project accepts a large number of small changes. When all of these small changes are combined, the team realizes that it has taken on too much extra work and can no longer make its budget and must delay commitments.

Projects, like business, often fail because they are not properly managed. Scope creep is a major aspect of project failure. This can be mitigated by following simple procedures such as having a scope document that all the stakeholders agree on and on having a change management plan if there are supposed to be modifications to it.

Projects involve people, estimates about the future, and change. As such, there is almost a guarantee that something will go against the plan. A project manager must remain calm, use all tools available and constantly remind the team of project definitions and scope. A well-defined project and strong communication tools are the best way to ensure the most seamless effort possible.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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