How to Manage Scope Creep

How many times have we initiated a project only to find that as we move forward through project planning and into project execution, more and more changes to the project are required? While change is inevitable throughout almost any project’s lifecycle, if it is not properly managed and documented, it will result in scope creep. Scope creep is the uncontrolled addition of work, requirements, or deliverables to a project which fall outside of the project’s defined scope. A project’s scope defines exactly what a project is intended to accomplish to include all of the requirements and deliverables necessary to achieve the desired result. The project scope is the backbone of the project upon which all of the project’s planning activities are based. While changes may certainly be made to the project, it’s the unmanaged and uncontrolled changes which result in scope creep that must be avoided.

So how can scope creep be avoided? What project management tools exist to help us in the project planning phase so we can prevent scope creep from occurring? The key to understanding and preventing scope creep is to realize that the more thoroughly a project is planned, the more prepared the project manager and team will be to avoid scope creep. Fortunately there are several project management tools which help plan, baseline, and manage the project scope as well as manage any requested changes to the scope. These tools are used during the project planning phase and are all components of the formal project management plan.

Scope Baseline: The scope baseline consists of the approved project scope statement, work breakdown structure (WBS), and WBS dictionary. These components allow the project team to establish a baseline against which actual project scope will be measured. It is important that the scope baseline is created through careful and deliberate planning to ensure all project work is captured which supports the agreed upon project scope. The work descriptions must be as detailed as possible because if they’re not, then they’re open to interpretation which invites scope creep. As the project progresses, the team will be able to measure if the project’s work and requirements have been met in order to determine project success.

Scope Management Plan: This plan, also a component of the formal project plan, defines the formal process for how the project scope will be managed and controlled during the project’s lifecycle. It defines authority and responsibility for managing and controlling scope, as well as how scope will be controlled, measured, and verified. By carefully developing this plan and following it closely, it will help the project team avoid the introduction of any scope creep.

Change Management Plan: This plan is an extremely important tool in preventing scope creep on a project. Most projects have many stakeholders who bring many different interests into play. Some may want added functionality beyond what is included in the approved scope baseline. Others may see an opportunity to add work to a project to benefit their organization. By developing and adhering to a formal change management plan, the project team is empowered to consider any proposed change to the project while maintaining the integrity of the scope. If a change is determined to be necessary, it can be carefully managed and communicated and add to the project’s value instead of simply resulting in scope creep.

Configuration Management Plan: This plan defines how changes in project documentation and tools will be managed throughout the project. Configuration management is necessary in order to ensure that all project documentation and tools are managed based on the original project scope and any approved changes to the scope. This proactive approach to managing project documentation ensures that there is consistency between the scope baseline and any changes in project scope while preventing incidents of scope creep finding their way into the documentation.

Requirements Management Plan: This plan defines how project requirements will be identified, analyzed, documented, and managed. It is important during project planning to ensure all requirements are captured. These requirements coincide with the scope baseline and need to be met to ensure a successful project. Failure to capture all requirements or leave requirements poorly defined can result in scope creep as the project moves forward.

We know that through careful project planning we can utilize several components of the formal project plan as tools for preventing scope creep. So once the project moves into the execution phase how can we monitor the scope to ensure we continue working within the approved baseline? Fortunately there are also several project management tools available which aid in this purpose. The first tools are outputs of the Requirements Management Plan. These are the requirements documentation and the requirements traceability matrix.

Requirements Documentation and Traceability Matrix: All project requirements must be documented in order to ensure they can be understood, communicated, and completed in order to complete the project. However, just documenting the requirements is not sufficient for monitoring the project’s scope. There must be a clear understanding of each requirement and accountability or ownership of each requirement. The project manager uses the requirements documentation and traceability matrix to establish understanding and ownership of each requirement and track its status. Work requested or performed outside of the documented requirements and traceability matrix may be an indicator that there is some level of scope creep occurring. These tools provide an organized method for monitoring scope and ensuring all project work supports an approved and documented requirement.

Variance Analysis: Variance analysis is the process of measuring scope performance against the scope baseline. As part of the scope management plan every project should have an acceptable variance within which changes to the scope are not required and outside of which corrective action may be needed. If corrective actions are needed then this may also lead to updating the scope baseline, project plan, or other project documentation which should be done through the change control process. Variance analysis is an effective tool which can be used iteratively throughout the project lifecycle to monitor scope.

We know that project managers and teams work hard to plan for project requirements, milestones, and deliverables while considering all feedback from stakeholders. However, project changes are often needed to include an unplanned event or deliverable or to bring a project back in line to support its original intent. While the project manager wants to avoid unnecessary changes which are often the result of scope creep, necessary changes which benefit the project should be managed through the project’s change management process and incorporated into the project.

When a stakeholder or project team member identifies the need for a change the project manager must have a plan in place to manage the change through a review and approval process and to effectively communicate the change if it is accepted. This process should be detailed in the project’s Change Management Plan. Once the change is proposed the project manager must ensure it is documented and an analysis in conducted to determine the change’s impact on the scope, time, and cost of the project. The proposed change goes to the change control board who determine if the change is necessary and supports the project’s intent. Sometimes the change will require the project’s scope baseline, schedule, or budget to be modified. If the change is accepted by the change control board it is imperative for the project manager to ensure all project documentation is updated as necessary as well as to communicate the change to the stakeholders and project team. This process or carefully reviewing, approving, documenting, and communicating a change is what differentiates managed project changes from unmanaged scope creep.

Managing project scope and preventing scope creep are ongoing tasks the project manager must perform throughout the entire project lifecycle. The scope is the very essence of the project and determines if the outcome is successful or not. Many stakeholders may have many varying interests in a project because of how their work, organizations, budgets, schedules, or resources are affected. Because of this, and the many internal and external influences on projects, great care and consideration must be taken when planning and managing scope. Project managers must understand that all of these competing interests must be considered in order to maintain support for the project. By using the project management tools at their disposal, communicating with stakeholders, and managing scope as opposed to only reacting to scope creep, the project manager can maintain support for his or her project while ensuring all project work directly correlates with the tasks required to successfully complete the project.