Scope creep
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Avoiding scope creep: Tips for keeping your projects on track

When your daily business practice includes a hefty portion of project-based work, knowing how to juggle all the moving parts is crucial. With a well-designed workflow, your project scope stays streamlined and mostly consistent. (A few hiccups are normal.) But if you’re not careful, it’s easy for your project to become a victim of scope creep.

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Scope creep happens when the work breakdown structure of a project’s tasks and activities falls short of the deliverables deadline. This pace adjustment is due to changes out of your control, such as back-ordered essential materials or a crucial team member being out sick.

Understandably, you don’t want these situations to throw your project off trajectory. Yet, it can happen to even the best-laid plans if you haven’t accounted for adjustments. With these tips, it’s possible to keep your projects on track and avoid the dreaded delays of scope creep.

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Tips to avoid delays of scope creep

1. Recognise the common scope creep culprits

Before a project is officially launched, the client and the business should agree on its goals. These targets are typically broken down into milestones, with deadlines assigned to the deliverables.

Once you’ve completed a few of the same types of projects, creating a scope with achievable deliverables becomes relatively consistent. Each team member knows what’s expected of them and how their role acts as a cog in the project’s wheelhouse.

But when someone outside the scope steps in to add new requirements or make changes without discussing them with the team lead, it can cause significant delays to creep in. For example, a client who has agreed on a predetermined goal contacts the company to make ad hoc requests, and the team members now have to adjust their workload to account for more work, changes in deliverables, and new milestones. Not only does this force a reevaluation of the current activities, but it can be disheartening to a hard-working team. For more about handling ad hoc clients, see this article by Accelo.

Keeping the project scope as consistent as possible eliminates this “creep”. However, that’s not always possible, so before the project begins, it’s helpful to recognise the areas where outside changes are likely to occur and have a risk management plan in place to address them.

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2. Document, document, document

In every business, documentation is the key to ensuring your clients and stakeholders are on the same page. By defining the project requirements, you can clearly determine the scope and set targets that meet the client’s goals in the letter.

Write down everything involved at each step of the project and have those involved in the approval process sign their agreement. If there are conflicting goals, get these decisions arbitrated before you take any action to move forward with the project, even if there’s urgency behind the work.

This process can take time, but if there are any issues when deliverables are turned in, you have the documentation to prove you did what was agreed upon.

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3. Determine the processes for changes

So, you’ve documented everything the client and stakeholders want and executed the project’s start. But now, they request changes.

Unless there is a legitimate financial, legal, resource, or other major reason why you can’t accept the changes, it’s wise to be flexible and keep the client happy. It is, after all, going to be their finished work. Still, there needs to be some form of control to avoid project creep.

This control is obtained through your change management plan, which explains to the client the proper channels to go through if they decide something in the original agreement is no longer accurate.

In your change management plan, explain who the client should contact for an adjustment request, such as via direct email or phone call. Then, the request should go to a reviewer, who will consider the scope and timeline and approve or reject the change. If it’s approved, they will add it to the plan at the appropriate point, communicate the new tasks with relevant team members, and track the changes in a log.

Clearly provided to the client and a process for the team to follow, a delineated plan prevents scope creep. No one can step in and make changes without an evaluation first. The client and the team each know the protocol for requesting adjustments, and they understand that these changes are sometimes necessary and sometimes asked too late.

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Conclusion

Finding ways to avoid the scope you worked hard to finalise becoming sidelined is part of a project manager’s job. However, scope creep is a common issue that sneaks up on you when you least expect it. With these simple tips, you can keep your deadlines on task and avoid distractions and delays that can jeopardise the ultimate goal.

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