Avoid Becoming a Victim of Scope Creep


Successful scope management is a core attribute of an efficient and effective project.  Managing scope means more than just asking for a change order or creating tension with your stakeholders.  It means upstream recognition of the change, managing the change, and recognizing new opportunities.  PMI’s Process Management Body of Knowledge defines project scope management as “the processes required to ensure that the project includes all the work required, and only the work required, to complete the project successfully.”

Understanding the Market Need

You can surely recall projects in your organization that have experienced delays, run over-budget, or failed to meet all of their objectives.  Failed, or more commonly flawed, scope management is the most common cause.  Uncontrolled scope creep – expansion of your original project scope definition – is often at the very top of the list of issues IT project managers struggle with.  Mismanaged scope hurts your bottom line, diverts resources unnecessarily from your primary business operations, and can create more inefficiencies than gains.

Keys to Successful Scope Management

Project scope management addresses what should and should not be included as part of the project.  The cornerstones of successful scope management hinge on the following attributes:

1- A robust project scope management plan. The project scope management plan is a tool describing how the project team will define the project scope, define and develop the work breakdown structure (WBS), and validate and control the project’s scope environment.  The plan examines the organization’s culture, market drivers, and policies that influence how the scope should be managed.  A good plan is often, if not typically, based on best-practices from past engagements.

2- Well defined project scope statement. The project scope statement, drafted after the development of the scope management plan, defines the project boundaries, performance and milestone targets, deliverable and acceptance requirements, assumptions, and other detailed characteristics that, together, form the whole of your project.  Downstream issues, change requests or proposals, and approved change orders can all be benchmarked against the project scope statement to inform strategic decision making.

3- Scope verification conditions for all project deliverables. Scope verification is the process by which project stakeholders formally accept and approve completed project deliverables.  Though this process holds its own importance, the systematic use of codified conditions streamlines the verification process.  Often these conditions appear as part of the scope management plan, though sometimes they can be managed separately.  Rejected deliverables should be documented (along with their conditions for rejection) and inform the occasional review of the verification conditions in light of changed altered environmental factors.

4 – Scope change control procedures to systematically manage scope change.  Invariable things change in your project – organizational direction shifts, stakeholders change, budgets shrink, and business drivers evolve.  Scope change control procedures empower your project to react to change in a managed and predictable way.  Risks are identified, alternatives analyzed, and informed decisions made.

Assessing Impact Reaps Rewards

No matter how well you plan your project, change happens.  Good or bad, internal or external in nature, forces descend on even the best laid plans to disrupt the planned flow of events.  The keys to proactively and positively managing these events rest in your ability to get full information from the outset, effectively use this information to evaluate the change, and then understand the impacts associated with your decision.  The impact analysis is critical key to successful change control.  It illuminates both the positive and negative risks to other areas of your project, potentially leading to unintended rewards and mitigated (or, even better, avoided) pitfalls.

Implementing for Success

Managing scope is difficult in today’s business environment in which so many projects want to “check the box” and maintain progress, focusing on the path that lay ahead.  In many organizations, effective scope change requires a significant mindset shift, understanding the value in taking the time to analyze a situation that could be otherwise spent on delivering project outputs.  Successful scope management will help you deliver a product that meets the business need (by accounting for changes in the operational environment), satisfies your customers (by thoughtfully managing their change request) and your managers (by efficiently managing obstacles in the path to production).  Implementing these four principles in your next project will put you on a path with a much stronger probability for success.