Scope creep. It’s not some newfangled dance move (though you never know today). Instead, it’s something that’s all too familiar to many project managers. It’s when a project goes beyond its initial plan, taking on new functions and often looking nothing like its initial self.
It’s more often than not scope creep that causes IT projects to not only be late but also over-budget. This is why preventing scope creep is so vitally important to project managers. But don’t worry. We have four simple ways to help you manage and prevent scope creep from eating up your time and budget. You’ll be a PM hero in no time.
4 Ways to Prevent Scope Creep
1. Define Project Scope
One of the most effective ways to prevent scope creep is to define the project scope. We know – it’s pretty intuitive. However, at the end of the day, a lack of clear project scope and agreement is the biggest cause of scope creep. It can be prevented though if you have your team and client sign a project scope agreement, one that defines exactly what does and doesn’t fall into the project.
The first step in making a project scope agreement is defining scope. To do this, you need to understand exactly what your client wants from this project. This means that you’re responsible for understanding their vision, for breaking it into deliverables, and for planning how you’ll meet their goals within time and budget limitations.
Once you’ve not only determined and defined your scope and deliverables, but have also set up a budget and preliminary project schedule, insert this information into a project initiation document. Meet with your clients, and walk them through it. If they agree to the scope, deliverables, schedule, and budget, make sure they sign the document. Then, and only then, should you start the project.
By defining project scope in a project initiation agreement, you ensure that your client doesn’t try to add to the scope of the project without your approval.
– With a vague, verbal project agreement, a client may believe something to be included in the project that you don’t. This can cause friction between you and your client as your battle back and forth about additional time and costs, which coincidentally, takes even more of your time.
– If you don’t have a specific project agreement, then you may find yourself adding to the project without any additional resources from your client. This, essentially, means that you’re working for little to no pay.
2. Plan Your Project
Planning out the calendar for this project is something you should do before presenting your project initiation documents. However, it’s an important enough step that we didn’t want to group it in with the defining project scope point.
When you’re working on your project’s plan of attack, firstly break it down into major and minor milestones. Determine roughly how long each one will take you. (Depending on the type of project that you’re working on, story points and ideal days are two ways you could estimate this.) Put these estimates on the calendar, but make sure that they are fairly generous estimates, erring on the side of caution.
By slightly overestimating the amount of time you think it’ll take you to do a project, you’ll be sure that you’re on time, if not ahead of it. And what client doesn’t love that? However, erring on the side of caution also has another perk – building in time for client additions. Although you’ve clearly established a project scope, the slight leeway in time would allow you to make small, half-day additions to the project scope without forcing you to get behind. If the project is large, you can use your project plan to illustrate how you won’t be able to fit in that month-long addition without blowing the project plan, and by association, the project agreement.
3. Expect Creep
It’s almost guaranteed that while you’re working on the project, your client will come to you with desired changes. It’s understandable – sometimes people don’t know what they want until they see it.
By slightly overestimating on your project plan, you may be able to fit slight changes into the calendar. However, don’t accept their changes willy-nilly. Implement a “Change Order” form. With a change order form, you can calculate the time and money associated with this plan change, and determine whether or not it will throw you off considerably. If it will, then you have two options:
– Using the change order form, you can show your clients how much time and money will be needed to make this addition. If they are comfortable with this, and you are too, consider making a new project scope agreement.
– You don’t have to accept this change, which brings us to point four.
4. Question Your Clients’ Requested Changes to Project Scope
You’ve always heard that the customer is right, but are they really? Not necessarily.
When you’re working on a project, it’s because your client has brought you on due to their own lack of technical resources. You understand this project from a different perspective than they do. That’s why, when they bring a change to you, you should question them about it. Not in a condescending way, mind you, but in a way that gets them to think critically about what they’re asking for.
Ask them questions like “Why?,” “How will this improve user experience?,” and “How much money are you willing to put into this?” Questions like these will help them to determine whether or not this is a necessary, or even a smart, addition. Sometimes, they’ll decide that the time and money aren’t worth it. If they’re convinced that it is, however, you’re allowed to say no, citing your project agreement, or to push it off to a next iteration of the project. Just give it the appropriate consideration, and reasoning.
At the end of the day, preventing scope creep comes down to making a plan and sticking to it. If you know exactly what the project entails and plan it out with a bit of extra time, you should be able to stay right within your time and budget limitations. However, you’re not managing in a perfect bubble, so you need to expect that there will be some creep. Figure out if you can make it fit, but don’t afraid to say no if it doesn’t. There’s always a second iteration or a renegotiation of contracts to make it all work, as long as you’ve set up a relationship where you can communicate with your client.
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Thanks to Kike-X for the use of their respective photographs.