Scope Creep: "The uncontrolled expansion to product or project scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources.” PMBOK® Guide
When to use
Scope creep can occur at any time in the project. It most commonly occurs during reviews with stakeholders or customers. During the review, the stakeholder or customer requests a change to a project goal or deliverable that will require additional unplanned work. Scope creep occurs when the goal or deliverable is changed without adjusting the project schedule or resources.
Scope creep can also occur when project team members add unnecessary work to the project. Often the team members do this because they believe it will make the project results better. However, if the stakeholders have not agreed to the change and provided additional time and resources, the effect is to cause scope creep.
Scope creep inevitably leads to delays and overruns since the extra work requires time and money to complete. Often scope creep is not recognized until the delay or overrun has already occurred. At that point it is too late to prevent the scope creep. The project must either “de-scoped” to fit within the original boundaries or the team must go back to the stakeholders to request the delay and overrun absorbed by the project sponsors.
- Managing scope creep starts at the time of project initiation. A clear set of project boundaries will reduce the likelihood of project scope creep. The In-Frame / Out-of-Frame technique described in the lesson on that topic is an excellent tool for clarifying the boundaries.
- The Project Leader should guard against scope creep initiated by team members at the pulse meetings (see the lesson on Team Meetings). If a task completion is delayed, the Project Leader should immediately check for the possibility of scope creep. If that is occurring, the Project Leader and Core Team member should redirect the task leader to stay within the task scope.
- Following every meeting with stakeholders, the project team should review the action items and direction to determine if there is scope creep. If there is an unfunded request for additional scope, the Project Leader should notify the stakeholders and request a clarification on project boundaries. Either an increase in time and resources, or the removal of the scope direction.
- Scope requests that are not approved by the stakeholders should be recorded on a list known as the “Scope Creep Parking Lot.” If the project is rebaselined, this list should be reviewed and appropriate scope added to the project. At the end of the project, this list is turned over to the project sponsors for review by future projects.
Hints & tips
- Scope creep is a never ending battle on projects. Expect it will happen, so watch closely for the signs and manage it.
- Progressive elaboration, which was discussed in an earlier lesson, is not the same as scope creep. With progressive elaboration, fuzzy details about scope requirements are clarified as the project unfolds. This is not new scope, it is scope clarification.
- It is very hard to tell your managers, “No,” when they ask for additional unfunded scope on the project. Report the request with the impact at the next management review and ask for clarification on boundaries.
- Create a small reserve of time and resources during project planning to be able to absorb small scope creep requests.
This definition is taken from the Glossary of the Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2017.
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