Is your project manager crying in the corner with their torn up schedule spread around them? Is your customer wondering where their promised service or good is? Is your development team running up to you with a great way to make this project even better… three weeks after you kicked off the project?

If you said yes to any or all of these questions, you might have contracted scope creep. But don’t worry! You’re not alone. Every year, thousands and thousands of companies face scope creep, and fortunately, there is a cure. However, it is important to identify the symptoms of scope creep as soon as possible before it becomes a more serious condition.

After all, scope creep isn’t really the problem; it’s just a symptom of bigger problems!

Diagnosing Scope Creep

Before we start diving into the causes of scope creep, it’s important to get everyone on the same page. Scope creep is essentially when a project expands beyond the agreed-upon plan. This might cause an excessive use of time, resources, or money. And since time is money, and resources cost money, and money is, well, money, scope creep adds a lot to costs and can ultimately lead to the project coming to a calamitous end.

Scope creep doesn’t have to necessarily come from “negative” sources, either. It can just as easily happen when you run into unexpected obstacles as it can after a super productive team meeting discussing new ideas. In other words, scope creep doesn’t just happen when your dev team goes rogue. It can happen on everyone’s watch and with the entire team’s agreement.

Remember: scope creep can disguise itself as a good idea, which makes it even harder to diagnose!

What Causes Scope Creep?

You can catch scope creep in a lot of ways, which makes it all the more dangerous to an unsuspecting company. We’ve outlined the most common ways that you can catch scope creep:

  1. You’re not sure what problems you’re trying to solve. Everything you do should be aligned with a goal. We’ve talked about this briefly in a previous blog post, but if you don’t have goals set, it’s easy to catch a serious case of scope creep. That’s because projects that have undefined goals tend to try and be all things to all people. What starts as a good idea can become more and more complicated–and impossible to finish–as team members keep adding features to solve related problems. When you’re ready to launch a project, know exactly what problem that project is trying to solve. Furthermore, make sure that the problem is defined as clearly as possible.
  2. Not everyone is on the same page. Getting your entire team on board with a project as soon as possible is a must to combat and prevent the spread of scope creep. One of the first things that should happen is for your project manager to identify the stakeholders. Then, these individuals should be looped into the process and understand the goal they are working towards and what part they should play in reaching that goal. Not everyone necessarily needs to understand everyone else’s role and part, but they should know without a doubt what is expected of them.
  3. You feel like you have something to prove. Young businesses are particularly susceptible to contracting scope creep because they feel like they need to make a groundbreaking debut. They might even have a great idea, but because they feel that pressure to make waves, they keep adding feature after feature onto their idea. The core idea becomes bloated and unrecognizable, and when the idea finally becomes a reality, it’s a complete mess. Just because you have an idea that you think is revolutionary doesn’t mean it needs to be all things to all people. The best ideas usually address specific needs in innovative ways.
  4. You don’t have a process for project changes. What makes scope creep complicated is that it doesn’t always come from internal sources. If you’re working with a client, for instance, they might request changes that make a project bigger than you had thought. These things happen, and sometimes they can lead to positive changes to a project. However, if you do not have the processes in place to accommodate these changes, that’s when benign changes become malignant scope creep.

Ultimately, scope creep is best combated with good communication, smart goal setting, and a healthy dose of project management personnel. Savvy project managers understand how projects change and how much a project can change while still meeting deadlines. However, sometimes a project manager has to be the one who says no to ideas. This can create an unanticipated side effect; however, sometimes saying no is the healthiest thing you can do.

If you are experiencing scope creep often, then it might be time to evaluate how your team works. Maybe one team has a hard time understanding what another team does. Or maybe what you think is crystal clear goal setting is actually not being received properly. The important thing is to realize that scope creep is manageable, although it’s never completely cured. However, with the proper software, team members, and leadership, your business can still live a healthy, normal life even while dealing with scope creep.

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