Jeff's Blog

5 easy steps to controlling scope creep

Today's business technology is both powerful and restrictive. No matter how "feature rich" a software solution or hardware asset may be, there's always another upgrade around the corner. In other words, it's just a matter of time before your company's next IT project.

When that day arrives, beware of "scope creep" - you know, the official term for the way projects seem to always gradually expand while underway (in both dollars and time). 

Common culprits

A variety of culprits may be to blame when scope creep becomes an issue. In many cases, users do not provide adequate (or any) input during the planning stage. Or misunderstandings may occur between the project team and users, obscuring the purpose of the job.

Excessive implementation time undoes many projects as well. As weeks and months go by, business processes, policies, and priorities tend to change. For a new system to meet the needs of the business, the project's scope needs to be executable within a reasonable time frame. 

Ineffective project management is another common culprit. Scope creep often arises when a project manager underestimates the complexity of the tasks at hand or fails to adequately motivate his or her team.

5 steps to success

To stop or at least minimize scope creep, try these five steps:

  1. Distinguish "must-haves" from "nice-to-haves." Draw a red line between the functionalities your business absolutely must have and any added features that would be nice to have. Schedule the prioritized requirements in the form of phased deliverables during the project's life cycle. Add "nice-to-haves" to the final phase or defer them to future projects.
  2. Put agreed-upon deliverables in writing. Use a statement of work document to clearly outline the stated project requirements. Be sure to cover both those that are included and those that aren't. Have everyone involved sign off on this document. 
  3. Divide and conquer. Segregate the project into small, manageable phases. As it proceeds, continue to review and sign off on each phase as it's delivered, following an adequate testing period.
  4. Introduce a formal change management system. If someone demands a change, ask him or her to rationalize the request in writing on a change order form. Then analyze the potential impact, estimate the added cost and time, and obtain consensus before proceeding. This step will eliminate many low-priority demands. 
  5. Anticipate some scope creep. It's a rare circumstance in which any project proceeds exactly as planned. Be a little flexible in your budget and timeline.

Head-on approach

Improving you company's technology should be cause for excitement and, eventually, celebration. Tackle scope creep head on to make sure your next IT project goes smoothly.