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What is Scope Creep and How to Avoid It

The dreaded term “Scope Creep” is heard too often in software development projects. Scope creep can cause significant setbacks in your project.

By Robyn Ong

The dreaded term “Scope Creep” is heard too often in software development projects. Scope creep can cause significant setbacks in your project. This is frustrating for both project teams and stakeholders because it means money lost and time wasted. And while scope creep is not a new concept, it unfortunately continues to happen with nearly every project. In fact, some industry professionals claim that it is unavoidable. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how to mitigate scope creep when it does happen, and the best ways to avoid it altogether. 

What is Scope Creep?

Scope Creep, sometimes called feature creep, happens when additional feature requirements are added to the project beyond what was originally authorized and agreed upon by the project team and the stakeholders.

This could include extensive design changes, additional features and app functions, or new product options. 

Signs of Scope Creep and Ways to Avoid it

Scope creep almost always means additional development time, which results in costly project delays. Here's 5 signs of scope creep to look out for.  

1. Poorly defined scope at the start of the project

Most likely, the major stakeholders will not be familiar with the term “scope management”. They will be primarily focused on the end product and their budget constraints. Therefore, it is critical that the project team helps the stakeholders define the scope before beginning any design or development work. 

It is the Project Manager's responsibility to take the Stakeholder's high level ideas and break them down into detailed project charters with specific product features. Everything should be organized, defined, and authorized before any work begins.

2. Lack of formal project management

Communication is key! Project managers should consistently communicate with the stakeholders and project team regarding the scope management. This means that all scope requirements should be well documented and precisely followed accordingly for the entire duration of the project.

Clear roles and responsibilities should be laid out beforehand and made known to all those associated with the project. A "change management process" should also be decided upon before the final scope document is approved in order to best mitigate scope changes if (and when) they occur. 

3. Inconsistent process for collecting product requirements

Defining priorities and scope requirements calls for a deep analysis of product specifications. Before any work begins, the stakeholders and project managers need to agree upon how the project will be reviewed and measured, as well as how any new requests or features will be handled.

4. Low stakeholder involvement

Depending on the size and scope of the project, you may experience different levels of stakeholder involvement. Some clients may be highly engaged, while others may prefer more of a “hands off” approach. Too little involvement from stakeholders will cause serious delays in the project, as feedback and approvals are needed at various points throughout the process. This is why a strong project charter will be your best friend! Use the charter to clearly define expectations for reviewing deliverables, collecting feedback, and approving changes.  

 5. Project length

The longer a project goes on, the more opportunities for scope creep to set in. Keep your projects short and sweet to remain laser focused on specific deliverables. If necessary, break your larger project into multiple smaller sub projects, or phases. This will give your team the opportunity to formally close out a phase, conduct feedback sessions to learn from mistakes, and to celebrate your win, which helps with morale and momentum. 

Remember that scope creep is common and can happen at any time during the project. But with concise planning during the initial scope, and strong project management team in your corner, you catch any scope creep before it blows your budget or threatens your launch date. Choosing an experienced team can make all the difference!

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