Recently, a colleague of mine was working on a project, and towards the end of the work, he decided to send a sample to the client for review.

The reply from the client came with a list of bullet points of features they needed to add. A few weeks after that, another list was delivered from the client. Eventually, it got so complex that the client requested that the changes be rolled back out of frustration. Some members of the team got so frustrated that they left the project.

Situations like this often happen in projects, especially when the client is trying to beat the competition with new features or the requirements elicitation process was not thorough. When this happens, we call it scope creep.

Tech freelancer, Tom Ewer, defines scope creep as “the process by which a project grows beyond its originally anticipated size”. This definition helps us picture what could happen when a project grows beyond its originally anticipated size: it becomes too enormous to contain.

So, when the client begins to add new features or requirements after the project is underway, watch out; you are about to be overrun. These changes affect the project schedule, budget, costs, and resource allocation and might compromise the completion of milestones and goals; in the end, the project team is expected to complete more tasks, deliverables and milestones with the same resources and in the same time as the original scope.

Change in projects is inevitable, in fact, some authors have identified several reasons why scope creep occurs. Sean Pales, managing director of ProSymmetry lists out the following reasons:

  • A lack of scope definition at the start of the project.
  • A lack of clearly documented requirements.
  • A lack of means to execute those requirements.
  • A lack of communication with clients, coworkers and stakeholders.
  • Changes to the project needs, timeline, budget and other factors.

If the following are adequately addressed, we can avoid being overrun by stakeholder demands. As with everything else that involves humans, there is always that factor that creeps in when everything is laid out perfectly from the get-go.

Clients will always make absurd demands because they thought of a new feature in the middle of the night.

If this happens, how do you ensure that you, your team and your organisation are protected against scope creep?

  • Make sure you understand the client’s vision. This goes beyond just requirements gathering.  Tom Ewer correctly captured when he wrote “…When working with a client your overruling focus must always be on the desired outcome in terms of business goals.” Find out what the client intends to achieve with the project and that goes beyond just asking what the client wants to do. This will involve taking complete ownership of the project, and scoping out the possible outcomes. This should allow you cost appropriately for the project.
  • Create a project scope statement. The benefit of a scope statement is to help you describe project objectives and list the success criteria. It is usually a document that explains to all the parties the project requirements and who is responsible for what. This should serve as a documentation of boundaries to protect your team. The various Stakeholders should be aware of the content of this document and agree on it.
  • Develop a context diagram for the project. Context diagrams are graphical representations of the project scope showing data flows within the system as well as the boundaries of the project. By designing a context diagram, the Business Analysis professional is able to convey the scope graphically and present it to the stakeholders.
  • Write out a change management process. Everyone seems to come alert when there is money involved, especially when the money is supposed to be deducted from them. Stakeholders too. A change management process explains in detail what would happen if any deviation is required outside the scope of the work. This sets expectations from the beginning for all parties concerned.

Finally, in the words of Simon Vincent, founder of Flexx Creative, there could be an upside to scope creeps, if you have put everything in place to protect your team. He states in an article “With a properly written contract/project proposal, added features, or additional work, can produce new revenue.” If properly handled “…Your scope creep then becomes the customer’s cost creep.”


image credit: Markel Direct