Project Scope Creep

In project management, the project scope is a detailed statement of the work necessary to produce the desired objective. Defining the project scope is part of the project planning process. All stakeholders, from sponsors to end users, have some involvement in crafting and finalizing the project scope. The clarity and completeness of the project scope depends on how thorough the requirements are identified and the final objective described. Any ambiguity in the project scope, in what will be or not be delivered, can allow scope creep.

Project scope creep is an unplanned and unwanted scenario during the project execution phase. It happens when a change is introduced or creeps into the original project scope after the project has begun, resources were allocated, budgets were calculated, and schedules were promised. Based on the original project objective and available resources, tasks are assigned and schedules are created. However, the changes introduced by scope creep results in additional work. Without any corresponding adjustment to resources, schedules, and budget, project scope creep can result in:

  • missed deadlines and project delays

  • increased cost and exceeded budget

  • overloaded resources, poor quality of work, and increased rework

  • project failure.

Project scope creep happens for several reasons. When initial requirements gathering and analysis is incomplete and new information surfaces after the project has started, the proposed solution may be found to be lacking and could need additional work. An individual or group of stakeholders with the right authority, interest, influence, or urgency can insist on introducing changes without corresponding project plan adjustments. Poor communication between the project manager and the team with other stakeholders can worsen the situation.

How to avoid scope creep

One way for project managers to avoid project scope creep is to adhere to a project scope management process. During the planning phase, clearly document all requirements, objectives, deliverables, milestones, resources, schedules, and deadlines, and have the document signed off. Create a process for handling changes and change requests.

During the execution and monitoring phase, regularly review and continuously track project activities, schedules, workload, and objectives for any discrepancies. They could be an early sign of scope creep. Also, communicate regularly with all stakeholders about project status and progress to manage expectations. When given additional requests, communicate if you can’t accommodate the added work. Also, ask for additional resources if changes are unavoidable. Using project management software with planning, tracking, and communication tools is an effective way to manage project scope.

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