May 2003 | How-To | Ten Tips

Outsmarting Scope Creep

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Scope creep. What is it? Will it hurt you? How can you avoid it? Scope creep occurs when the boundaries of an original project agreement begin to wander. It's not uncommon to venture outside the lines and consider new ideas and approaches, but if scope creep is not effectively managed it can lead to budget overruns, missed deadlines, and even lost customers.

Saia Motor Freight's vice president of information technology, Mark Robinson, offers these 10 tips for dealing with scope creep.

1. Educate your staff. Alerting staff members to the dangers of scope creep will help your project team recognize potential problems early on. Understanding what is involved if one of the parties begins discussing new areas or a direction that may not have been initially agreed upon can often help keep a project on track.

2. Clearly define the project. One of the leading causes of scope creep is underestimating the elements of the project. If the scope of the project isn't clearly defined, it may need to be expanded. If the project becomes bigger based on the addition of new components and needs, the objective may not have been clearly defined at the outset.

3. Gather all relevant information. Asking questions to get a clear direction will benefit all parties. The service provider and customer IT staffs should work closely together to understand the customer's needs and clearly outline IT solution alternatives.

4. Define the objectives and deliverables. Prepare a written, clear, and detailed project definition, including objectives and scope, prior to beginning the actual work. Problems may occur if there isn't a clear definition of objectives and deliverables. If everyone assumes there is an understanding of the project, there is a potential for problems.

5. Assign a project sponsor. If you bring other people into the project after it begins, you should be aware of potential or pending changes. Having a clearly defined project sponsor is key. This sponsor will be the main "go-to" person or champion of the project.

6. Create an approval process. When objectives have been outlined, get the project definition approved by the project sponsors and senior management. Without written or clear verbal approval from the top, the project may be subject to changes without notice. Be sure all parties involved have provided all approvals before the project begins.

7. Stay on track. Following a good methodology is necessary to keep the elements of the project on track. Maintaining clear boundaries, clear interfacing, and clear focus on the scope by following a defined method or model are ways to avoid project confusion and potential questions.

8. Create a good communication process. The larger the project, the more opportunities there are for scope creep. Understand the worth of late suggestions, work toward clear communications among all parties, keep the boundaries of the project clear, and add value without misunderstanding the user's perspective.

9. Understand when change is necessary. It sometimes is necessary to make project changes. When changes do occur, document the diversions from the scope and define them as "nice to haves" or "must haves." A good procedure is to have a written request for change, and a period of time for the other side to consider the request and steps necessary to approve those changes.

Be sure to consider the impact of price and time on the remainder of the project. Keep in mind also that business requirements may change due to fluctuations in the market. Good scope management keeps the possibility of changes in mind.

10. Schedule regular meetings. Schedule meetings between the parties to discuss changes. Make a project steering committee part of the total communication process. A review of the project and the original scope may be necessary.

Scope creep can be the cause of a project failure. However, the scope of a project can be managed without frustration. The more knowledge you have about the project, the more power you have to control it.

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