When a project expands beyond an original agreement, with the addition of unexpected deliverables, features, or functionalities, scope creep occurs. While scope creep may not be 100% avoidable 100% of the time, it is smart business to have a plan in place before it happens.
It is important to remember that scope creep isn’t always a bad thing. At times, it can present an opportunity. Following some basic steps can ensure your teams are prepared to manage and take advantage of opportunities when scope creep occurs.
Step 1: Develop a Detailed Project Plan
Proper project management starts with establishing a clear plan, or scope, which includes the vision and specific business goals an IT plan is to help accomplish. The plan must then be broken down into detailed timelines, strategies, tactics and budgets. These details define how goals will be met. Without them, paths to accomplishing goals are unclear and scope creep can more easily occur. Project managers and their teams must be closely involved in this planning stage, providing buy-in to each aspect of the plan and signing off on timeline and budget details.
The scope should also break deliverables down into specific tasks and outline major and minor milestones along the project’s timeline. Should additional deliverables, features or functionalities be requested at any point, each can be measured against these original plans. If a request doesn’t fit within the original agreement, the project manager should determine whether additional scope is necessary or the request needs to be turned down.
Step 2: Define Project Managers and Project Sponsors
A project scope must also define who the project managers and project sponsors are. Project teams and members can recommend changes, but only the project managers and/or sponsors should create change orders.
It is important that developers and other team members know to pass all change requests by these project manager(s)/sponsor(s). If developers, SMEs or other team members make decisions in a vacuum, “gold plating” can occur. Gold plating is when unnecessary functionalities or features that don’t add any real value are added onto a project.
Step 3: Plan for Change, Realize Opportunities
Including a change order management process in the original project plan reduces the likelihood of scope creep delaying deliverables and creating timeline lags. This process can outline how change requests are to be handled, who will manage them, and the process to approve additional payment for added work.
Change management processes set your team up to take advantage of opportunities presented by change requests. When is scope creep an opportunity? When expanding upon the original scope, timeline and budget will deliver more value and help you achieve your overarching goals. In these cases, a project manager can turn change requests into a new phase of the project, with its own scope and cost.
Step 4: Closely Collaborate
No longer can IT teams work in a vacuum, completing months of work before requesting feedback. Close involvement from all teams, from beginning to end of a project — through each phase of development, design, and testing — is important. Collaboration reduces the likelihood of surprises, reworks, and do-overs that can negatively affect a project’s timeline and budget.
Two-way communication ensures that all parties are aware of what to expect from one another at every stage. Regular communication reduces cases of scope creep that can lead to project failure or harm a relationship.