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How to Deal With Project Scope Creep

Updated on August 31, 2017
MKishor profile image

Kishor has years of working experience in software industries focusing on Agile and Project Management, A PMP & CSM certified professional.

“Changes are inevitable and not always controllable. What can be controlled is how you manage, react to and work through the change process.” ― Kelly A. Morgan


The world is changing every moment, so as our requirements. Therefore, it is quite obvious that changes to the initial project scope are inevitable in today's competitive market to meet the demands. But, the project managers across the industries knows, how much efforts it requires to manage and control the project scope.

Scope creep is surely a calamity for any project manager. It has been seen that project manager across the industries used to burn the midnight oil to keep the project scope under control. They cannot avoid the addition and modification of scope due to various reasons, be it pressure from an influential stakeholder or a strong request from the client.They only can manage and control the scope within its acceptable limit to complete the project on time.

There are various situations which can potentially destabilize the project scope and put the project in the red zone. Let’s discuss those various circumstances which can lead to scope creep.

Why Scope Creep takes place?

You cannot save your project from scope creeping just by following the project management processes as you cannot avoid the addition of new features or changes due to various reasons, such as:

  • Requirements can be misinterpreted at times, and in a case of complexity, the chance of misunderstanding is higher. Sometimes the business analyst may not understand the exact requirement or the client may not clear at first instance.
  • It has been seen that in some cases the client stated indistinct requirements at the initial stages as he/she cannot visualize the actual picture. In that scenario, it is necessary to take help of some proven requirement gathering techniques such as Brainstorming, Expert Judgement, Workshops, and Surveys etc. to extract more details on that. It is also a good practice to build a sample POC and demonstrate to the client, which can facilitate the customer to think more visibly on that requirement.
  • Changes are inevitable in the project life cycle, and often those unwanted changes lead to scope creep if not handled properly. But a proper change control process can minimize the risk. It is essential to follow the change control process by analyzing and evaluating the impact of changes that can save your project. It is also important to maintain the record of every change with proper documentation and approval of the sponsors and client, which can be referred when required.
  • Sometimes the sponsor or an influential stakeholder wants to add some extra features as a value addition to pleasing the customer, which is called Gold plating. You should always avoid gold plating, as those changes may increase the project cost, schedule but does not guarantee customer satisfaction.
  • Last but not the least; it may sound unpleasant but scope creeps also happen due to the weak leadership, whether it is the project manager or the Sponsor.

Let's discuss a typical business scenario often happens with many project managers.

Case Studies

The company got another project from his existing big client. They have already delivered two projects for the same client in the past. So without any delay, they commenced the works for the new project.

The project ran smoothly for few months, after completing the planning works the project entered into the actual development phase. Everybody was pleased with the progress, be it client, senior management, all are praising the project manager for managing the project so well.

Then one day, the client requested to add a couple of new features as value addition to the ongoing development of the product. After analyzing the impact, the project manager was reluctant to accept the request. But the sponsor insisted as they cannot afford to upset the client. This one the third project they got from the same client, so it is obvious that they want to continue the same relationship to win more projects in future.

So, the team accepted the changes and plan accordingly to complete the work in the committed time period. But the request didn’t stop there. The client keeps on adding more features in regular intervals, and they couldn’t refuse him just to keep the relationship alive.

As time passes, the team tried hard to adjust all the changes to keep the schedule on track. But despite their all-out efforts, they missed some major milestones. The final delivery date was around the corner but they were a long way behind the D-date. The team morale was at the all-time low.

The project manager who was earlier basking with glory is now under a lot of stress, getting flak from his seniors. The senior management keeps pressurizing him to complete the work on the scheduled date. And the pressure chain down flows to the team.


So, what is the actual reason of this chaos, who is the culprit? The manager and sponsor who accepted the request or the client who requested the changes? Actually, all these happened due to lack of proper process and practices.

You cannot avoid the request for the change but a perfect integrated change control process is in place then this type of situation can be avoided.

Let’s discuss how these situations can be handled gracefully to avoid scope creep.

How to deal with scope changes?

Considering the above case studies, let’s discuss some of the measures the manager could have taken at that stage which could have to save his project from failing to that miserable situation.

  • Say BIG NO to Gold Plating; always sticks to your scope baseline till the end of the project. There is no guarantee whether the customer will be happy by seeing the additional unasked features, but one thing is sure that he will be happier if you deliver at least what you have promised for
  • The managers should have learned the technique to refuse the client or sponsors for any additional features or changes. It is obvious that you cannot refuse him on his face but you can buy some time to analyze the impact of changes to the scope, budget, schedule and quality of the project. Then get back to him with your analysis report which can give you an edge to present your case
  • Based on the impact analysis, compare the changes with scope baseline and assess the deviations. Do not hesitate to underline the deviation from the project cost, schedule, resources, and budget. Update your plan as per the new changes and ask the required time, cost or resources whatever needed from customer to accommodate the changes
  • Follow the properly integrated change control process. Do not accept any verbal request; the entire change request should be well documented. All the change requests should go through the proper processes and finally take the approval from all the concerned parties before starting the work.
  • Keep the communication channels alive by updating all the stakeholders on the current changes in project progress as an impact of various change requests.


Integrated Change Control Process

It is important to establish a properly integrated change control process in the organization to deal with the change requests. In many organizations, a formal change control board exists to assess and analysis the change requests. The project managers facilitate the decisions but the change control board takes the final decision to whether approving or reject a change request.

The change control process goes through some important steps to validate a change request, those steps are as follows:

  • Identify the impact of change by correctly assessing the change request
  • Unearth the causes of variances and its impacts on schedule, scope, cost and quality
  • Based on the analysis takes the decision whether to accept the change
  • Verify the variances with all the baselines
  • Highlight the deviations from earlier baseline to your sponsors and client, notify them the impact on schedule, budget and other constraints
  • Do not hesitate to inform the client of the modified schedule and budget
  • Communicate the changes to all your stakeholders
  • Take the necessary approvals from the client, sponsors, and other stakeholders
  • Update the plans and share with stakeholders.
  • Never entertain verbal request or approval, everything should be well documented, written evidence is mandatory

You cannot avoid the valid or required changes to the existing scope, but what you can able to do is to analyze the impact properly against all the constraints and update the plan accordingly. So, you can complete the added works along with existing work but with modified schedule without stressing the team. Thus, you can defend the project from any scope creep.

Have you ever accepted a change request just to make your Boss happy (Gold Platting)?

See results

© 2017 Kishor Mohanty


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