Scope creep is one of the easiest ways for project margins to be eroded. Small changes and additions to a project, additional work hours, and shifting deadlines can often happen without a company noticing until the scope of work has grown to the point of being unprofitable.
Project managers should know how to better identify and mitigate scope creep. However, its incremental nature means that it may not be apparent until a project is impacted. Better scope management is possible through the use of a project management tool that can identify creep and facilitate preventative measures before it becomes a billing or timeline issue.
Along with a strong project management solution, the following three steps can help you manage scope creep before it begins and respond accordingly if it occurs.
1. Communicate and Set Expectations Up Front
Every project should have a clearly defined statement of work (SOW) created before any tasks begin, which will help set client expectations from the very beginning. The SOW should have a plan of action that includes timelines, deliverables, responsibilities, and milestones, which have been agreed upon by all stakeholders. A well-defined SOW will help naturally prevent scope creep that comes from poorly-outlined projects and a lack of clarity regarding what will be delivered to a client. It will also help you profitably manage additional work requests by clients that would otherwise lead to creep.
Be aware of what is known as “gold plating” in this stage, which comes from overpromising and setting unrealistic expectations in an effort to impress new clients. While this may help excite clients for future projects, it can easily result in missed deadlines and completed projects that do not match what clients had been led to believe they will receive.
2. Maintain Requirements and Status Reports
Projects and their related tasks should have well-documented timelines, assigned resources, budgets, and deliverables. A project requirements document should also include a section where your team reviews task statuses and compares them against the SOW. Being able to accurately track the progress of these detailed elements will keep your workforce on track and accountable for their various responsibilities while also guarding against scope creep.
Depending on your company’s preferences, there may be some leeway in how much a project scope can change during the process before it officially needs to be addressed. However, keeping track of project progress and having alerts in place when budgets are close to being completely spent will help your team respond in a timely manner.
3. Create a Change Management Process
Project scopes are bound to change. Maybe not with every project, but they will occur often enough that your business should have a process for change management in place and stick to it in each project. When a client requests that additional tasks and deliverables be added to an ongoing project, an established change management process can begin. The existence of an official scope change process should be communicated to clients while defining the statement of work before the project begins so that they are not caught off guard.
Change requests should be documented to ensure that there is no miscommunication regarding what additional work and costs are associated with the change in scope. These requests should be approved by both clients and your company before the additional work begins. Doing so means that the project can successfully expand.
Keeping Your Projects and Clients Coordinated
These three elements will help you prepare for your project, execute your tasks, and field requests for project expansion successfully while preventing scope creep from impacting your margins and resource utilization. However, having well-defined processes and healthy communication with clients is not always enough. Dealing with difficult clients takes detailed strategies and consistent practice.
Read “The Guide to Handling Difficult Clients”