HOW TO MANAGE SCOPE CREEP

Written by Zach Hansen

It’s inevitable that, at some point in your career as a contractor, you’ll experience scope creep. Scope creep can be a threat to your business if you don’t learn to manage it properly and communicate sufficiently with your clients. Although scope creep is likely to happen, there are ways in which the effects can be mitigated or somewhat controlled. Here, we will go over some top tips that can help you take charge and manage scope creep so it doesn’t have a negative outcome for your business.

What Is Scope Creep?

To understand scope creep, we must first understand what scope itself is. Scope is essentially the overall parameters set for a job, such as a schedule, boundaries, and the deliverables expected. Scope can refer to the parameters of any contracting job, from a simple bathroom renovation to building a structure from scratch. Often, the requirements and parameters that are set at the beginning of a job before planning is completed will change once the plans have been laid out. When the deliverables and details of a certain project expand, but the budget and the schedule for completing the job don’t budge, this is known as scope creep. 

The biggest danger with scope creep is that it can happen little by little and can go relatively unnoticed until it becomes an issue. This is why recognizing and managing scope creep as it happens is so important.

What are the Leading Causes of Scope Creep?

Numerous factors can play into scope creep, but some are decidedly more common than others. The most likely underlying causes include:

  • Finding underlying issues. It’s relatively common to discover underlying problems as work proceeds that weren’t originally planned for. These issues can seriously extend the timeline of a project or increase the need for additional budgeting.
  • Poor Planning. If plans aren’t as accurate as possible, scope creep will be inevitable. Plans are what give the initial information needed to develop a project timeline, budget, and the intended deliverables. If the plans aren’t accurate, everything can be thrown off.
  • Bad communication. If all parties involved in a project don’t communicate, things can quickly go awry. Poor understanding amongst parties can easily lead to scope creep.
  • Changing needs from the client. As work occurs and the project is underway, it’s very common for the client to change some of their needs or desires. Clients also tend to provide feedback or additional information about an aspect of the project as it unfolds, which can then have a direct impact on the scope of the work and lead to scope creep.
  • Bad leadership. Good, clear leadership is critical in contracting work. If there’s poor leadership, it can lead to all sorts of issues that can in turn cause scope creep.

How Can Scope Creep Hurt a Project?

Scope creep can be detrimental, especially if it’s significant and goes unmanaged. Although, as suggested by the word “creep”, it can often be very subtle, scope creep can have dire consequences when it builds up. It can lead to several issues that will overall hurt the project, including:

  • Delays and inability to meet the timeline
  • Unhappy clients
  • Overspending
  • Changes that are not authorized or approved by the client
  • Timing issues that then cause other projects to be delayed
  • The entire project failing because of a combination of these issues

How To Handle Scope Creep

The first step in managing scope creep is to recognize it. If you can recognize the signs before the issues get too cumbersome, there’s a much better chance you’ll be able to nip problems in the bud and save the project. Here are some top warning signs to look out for that could indicate impending scope creep:

  • Red flags during the planning phase or insufficient input from the client
  • Small deadlines being missed as work proceeds
  • Indications that the client is likely to change their mind about deliverables
  • Team members making decisions without  consulting the project manager 
  • “Noise” from the client, such as multiple parties offering input or coming up with ideas

If you notice any of these warning signs, it’s time to step in and manage the situation to stop serious scope creep from occurring. Here are some ways in which you can manage scope creep:

Good Communication

This is critically important at all stages throughout the project and with all parties involved. Make sure to be transparent and upfront with clients and keep open lines of communication with team members.

Track Deliverables

Keep track of the expected deliverables and their timelines at each stage of the project. If you have a close eye on what’s going on the entire time, you’re much more likely to be able to remedy issues.

Continuous Reassessment.

If things start to get out of hand or there are several changes or issues, reassess the timeline or the budget and speak to the client about it if necessary. Close monitoring and reassessment can help you make critical adjustments if need be.

Educate Clients

Clients can’t be expected to know about scope creep or understand how it can affect their project. You’re the expert, so politely educate them and keep them in the loop so they understand what’s going on. Clients are much more likely to be angry if they can’t comprehend the situation or don’t get a detailed explanation of the scope creep and any issues causing it. What’s more, there’s often a valid reason for scope creep that isn’t anyone’s fault, such as discovering a structural issue that was unknown before starting work. If the client doesn’t comprehend this, they’ll be more likely to jump to conclusions and blame you and your team.

Utilize Software

Good project management software can seriously help with project management and tracking any changes that can lead to scope creep.

Scope creep is an inevitability with a career in contracting, but it doesn’t have to have a negative outcome. Learning the best ways to stay on top of scope creep and prevent it from becoming a disastrous issue is a key skill to have as a contractor.