What Is Scope Creep? And Why You Should Care as a PM

Scope Creep

Scope creep in project management is a dreaded thing—there are no two ways about it.

Research indicates that the prevalence of scope creep can lower satisfaction, lead to money wastage, and prevent the project’s value from being attained.

In this comprehensive guide, we will decode everything you need to know about project scope creep, starting with the often-asked question:

What is the scope of a project, really?

The scope of a project refers to the boundaries or limits of the project, including what is included in the project, what is not included, and the specific project deliverables and objectives that must be achieved. Essentially, the scope defines what the project will accomplish and what it will not.

What is scope creep, then?

Scope creep is a phenomenon where the scope of a project expands beyond its original boundaries.

This might happen when new requirements or objectives are added to the project without properly accounting for the impact on the timeline, budget, or resources.

As you might have guessed, scope creep can lead to delays, cost overruns, and an inability to meet the original objectives of the project.

This is why it is important for project managers to carefully define and document the scope of a project, as well as establish a process for managing changes to the scope. This strategy can help prevent scope creep and ensure that the project stays on track and achieves its goals within the allotted time and budget.

6 Common reasons for project scope creep

1. Ambiguous or unrefined project scope

A project with an unclear or loosely defined scope is more likely to suffer from scope creep.

If the project scope is not well-defined, it becomes difficult for the project execution team to identify what is in and out of scope and what the project goals are. This can lead to changes in the project scope as the team discovers new requirements or stakeholders’ expectations.

2. Lack of sponsorship and stakeholder involvement

Project sponsors and stakeholders play a vital role in successful project management. Without their involvement, the project team may not receive the necessary guidance and support to keep the project on track.

This can result in scope creep as project sponsors and stakeholders may introduce new requirements or change existing ones without fully considering their impact on the project scope.

3. Requirements and scope not managed

Managing project requirements are essential to ensure that the project scope remains on track. If requirements are not managed effectively, it can lead to scope creep. Project managers must establish a formal process for managing requirements and communicate this process to the project team and stakeholders.

4. Project length

Longer projects are more likely to suffer from scope creep because the project team has more time to introduce changes or new requirements. It is essential to set a realistic timeline for the project and ensure that the project team adheres to it.

5. Not using the correct pm tool

The right project management (PM) tool can significantly reduce the chances of scope creep. Using an agile PM tool that enables collaboration, provides real-time updates, and offers comprehensive reporting can help project teams stay on track and avoid scope creep.

6. Little to no customer feedback

Without feedback from customers or end-users, it is challenging to ensure that the project scope remains relevant and aligned with their needs. It is crucial to incorporate customer feedback into the project scope to ensure that the final product meets their expectations.

Examples of project scope creep

Project scope creep refers to the gradual expansion of a project’s goals, deliverables, and requirements beyond its original scope. Here are some examples of how scope creep occurs:

  • Adding new features to the project that were not originally part of the project plan
  • Changes in requirements or specifications during the course of the project that were not initially defined
  • Over-engineering or over-designing the project by adding too many bells and whistles
  • Gold-plating, which refers to the practice of adding more features or design elements than necessary to impress stakeholders
  • Ambiguous project scope statements that allow room for interpretation and subsequent scope creep
  • Schedule creep is when deadlines and milestones tend to slip and when you don’t end up taking any corrective action to bring the project back on track
  • Budget creep, which involves overspending on project expenses beyond the original budget
  • Technical creep, which includes using new and untested technology beyond the project’s original technical requirements

How to avoid scope creep

Use this 5-step process to avoid scope creep in a project: 

1. Create the project requirements 

To avoid scope creep, it is important to document the various project objectives and requirements clearly and effectively.

Documenting the project requirements involves:

  • Clearly defining the project’s goals, objectives, deliverables, and timelines
  • Reviewing and approving the documentation by all stakeholders to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of what the project entails
  • Using the documentation as a reference point throughout the project to ensure that the team is staying on track

This is where Nifty’s Doc feature can come in handy:

Nifty’s Doc feature can help with the documentation process by:

  • Providing a centralized location for all project documents and requirements, ensuring everyone has access to the latest version of the documentation and can easily collaborate on changes and updates
  • Allowing you to create and organize project documentation, assign tasks and deadlines, and collaborate with your team members
  • Including version control and the ability to track changes, so you can easily see how the project requirements have evolved over time

All these powerful functionalities can help to prevent or mitigate scope creep, provide a clear and organized view of the project’s requirements, and ensure that everyone is working with the same information.

2. Establish change control processes

Within the context of managing scope creep, change control processes are procedures that govern any modifications to a project’s scope, schedule, or budget.

These processes typically involve creating a formal process for reviewing, approving, and implementing changes to the project.

Here are some steps you can take to set up change control processes:

  • Identify the stakeholders who will be involved in the change control process. This includes the project manager, team members, customers, and other relevant parties.
  • Develop a change request form that clearly outlines the information required for a change request, such as the proposed change, the reason for the change, the potential impact of the change, and the proposed implementation date.
  • Define the change control board (CCB), which is responsible for reviewing and approving change requests. The board should include members from different departments, including IT, operations, quality assurance, and other relevant areas.
  • Develop a change management plan, which should outline the steps involved in the change control process, including the submission, review, approval, and implementation of changes.
  • Train all stakeholders involved in the change control process on the new procedures and ensure that the process is consistently followed.
  • Regularly review the change control process to identify areas for improvement and ensure that it remains effective and efficient.
  • Update documentation related to the change control process, including the change request form and change management plan. Remember to reflect those changes in the work breakdown structure as well.

3. Set up a crystal-clear project schedule

Another tried and tested way of avoiding scope creep is by having a well-defined project plan and schedule. Here are some ways to create a clear project schedule and avoid scope creep:

1. Define project scope: It’s essential to define the project’s scope before the project starts. A well-defined project scope statement that outlines the project’s goals, deliverables, timelines, and constraints.

This helps project teams and stakeholders to stay focused on the project’s objectives and avoid getting sidetracked by additional tasks that don’t align with the project’s goals.

2. Use project management software: A project management software Nifty can be helpful in creating a clear project schedule. This tool allows you to create and share a project timeline and track progress against milestones. Moreover, it helps teams to collaborate, communicate, and keep track of tasks and deadlines.

3. Use Nifty’s milestones feature: Milestones represent significant events or achievements within the project, and they help to keep the project team focused and on track.

By setting clear milestones and deadlines, teams can ensure that everyone is aware of the project’s progress and that the project is completed on time.

This is where Nifty’s Milestones feature can help teams to break down the project into smaller, more manageable tasks:

Chart a Project Milestone Schedule
Nifty’s milestone view

With Nifty’s Milestone feature, project managers can also visualize the project’s progress with a Gantt chart, which provides a timeline view of the project’s milestones, tasks, and deadlines:

Timeline view in Nifty can reduce Scope Creep
Milestone view with an expanded view of all tasks

This visualization helps project managers to identify potential bottlenecks and adjust the project’s timeline accordingly.

Overall, Nifty’s Milestone feature is a powerful tool for every project manager to keep their teams organized, focused, and on track to achieve their project’s objectives.

4. Track progress regularly: It’s also critical to track the project’s progress regularly against the schedule and milestones. By doing so, project teams can identify any potential scope creep and take corrective action before it becomes a significant issue.

4. Verify the project scope with key stakeholders

Stakeholders are individuals or groups that have a vested interest in the project, such as customers, end-users, project sponsors, and team members.

Verifying the project scope with stakeholders involves ensuring that everyone agrees on the project’s objectives, requirements, and deliverables. It is essential to have a clear understanding of what the project is supposed to achieve before starting work.

5. Engage & communicate with project team members

Engage & communicate with project team members using Nifty to eliminate Scope Creep
Discussion feature in Nifty to streamline communication

Engaging and communicating with project team members is also critical in avoiding scope creep. A Chat feature such as the one provided by Nifty can help:

  • Project team members execute the project plan and deliver the project’s objectives within the defined scope.
  • Team members understand the project’s objectives and requirements, as well as their individual roles and responsibilities.
  • Facilitate communication among team members.
  • Empower the team to communicate in real time, share updates and ideas, and collaborate on project tasks.
  • Keep everyone on the same page, address issues promptly, and avoid misunderstands.

The benefits of preventing scope creep

Preventing scope creep can offer a range of benefits for a project, including:

  1. Staying on schedule: Scope creep can cause delays as new requirements are added, which can push the project off schedule. Preventing scope creep can help the project stay on track and meet its deadlines.
  2. Staying on a budget: When new features and requirements are added to a project, it can lead to additional costs. By preventing scope creep, a project can stay within its budget and avoid unexpected expenses.
  3. Maintaining project focus: Scope creep can cause a project to lose focus on its original objectives. Preventing scope creep can help keep the project focused on its original goals and objectives.
  4. Reducing stress and burnout: Scope creep can cause stress and burnout for team members who are constantly working to meet new requirements. By preventing scope creep, team members can focus on completing their assigned tasks without the added pressure of new requests.
  5. Improving quality: When a project is focused on its original objectives, it is more likely to produce a high-quality result. Preventing scope creep can help ensure that the project delivers a product that meets the needs of stakeholders.
  6. Enhancing customer satisfaction: By preventing scope creep, a project can deliver a product that meets the original requirements and expectations of stakeholders. This can result in higher customer satisfaction and a better reputation for the project team.

Nifty is the key to all your scope creep problems

According to PMI, 52% of projects completed ended up experiencing scope creep or uncontrolled changes to the project’s scope—up from 43% five years ago. 

To keep the crippling issue of scope creep at bay, project managers must leverage a tool like Nifty.

This powerful tool can help you manage your projects, tasks, and teams more efficiently. It can also help you prevent and manage scope creep by defining the project’s scope clearly from the outset and providing you with the tools to manage and track changes to the scope.

That’s not all. With Nifty, you can create project plans, set milestones and deadlines, assign tasks to team members, and track progress in real-time. This can help you stay on top of the project’s progress and make adjustments as needed to prevent scope creep.

Additionally, you can collaborate with team members and stakeholders through Nifty’s built-in communication tools, which can help you stay aligned on project goals and expectations.

Finally, Nifty can also help you manage changes to the project’s scope by providing a centralized location to track and manage scope changes.

You can use Nifty to document change requests, prioritize them, and communicate them to team members and stakeholders. By managing changes in this way, you can ensure that you stay within the project’s original scope and prevent scope creep.

In summary, by combining Nifty with good project management best practices, you can reduce the risk of scope creep and increase the likelihood of project success. Try Nifty for free and see the difference for yourself.

What is scope creep, and how do you prevent it?

Scope creep is basically a phenomenon where the project’s original scope keeps expanding beyond the initial plan without proper approval or control, leading to additional work, cost, and time.

Here’s how you can prevent scope creep:

  1. Define the project scope clearly and obtain stakeholder agreement.
  2. Develop a change management process to document, review and approve any changes to the scope.
  3. Set realistic project timelines and deliverables, and monitor them regularly.
  4. Conduct regular stakeholder meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page and avoid miscommunication.
  5. Use project management software like Nifty to track progress and identify any deviations from the original plan.

How do you identify a scope creep?

Tell-tale signs that indicate the presence of scope creep include:

  • The project team is working on tasks that are not part of the original plan.
  • The project timeline keeps extending, and the project is behind schedule.
  • The project budget keeps increasing without any justification.
  • The project’s objectives keep changing frequently without proper approvals.
  • The project scope document is not updated to reflect changes, and stakeholders are not informed of the changes.

What are the types of scope creep?

Some common types of scope creep include:

  • Feature Creep: Adding unnecessary features to the project scope that were not part of the original plan.
  • Gold Plating: Adding extra features that are not required but are included to improve the project’s perceived value.
  • Time Creep: Extending project timelines without any justification or proper approval.
  • Budget Creep: Increasing project costs without proper justification or approval.
  • Requirement Creep: Adding new requirements that were not part of the original plan.