10 Tips for Avoiding Scope Creep

Insights | 09 April 2014

Before you read further, familiarise yourself with this definition:

Scope is defined as the sum total of the products (tangible and non-tangible) to be provided by a project.

As a Project Manager, your responsibility is to manage and monitor and control scope.

Next ask yourself a simple question: ‘What exactly will this project deliver?’ Without knowing the answer to this, various parties involved in the project will be talking at cross-purposes.

There must be agreement on the project’s scope and you need to take care not to deliver beyond that agreement, otherwise the project may experience delays, overspends and potentially uncontrolled change, i.e scope creep.

So should we simply prevent any change, avoiding scopr creep altogether? Well, in today’s projects, that is typically not an option; we live in a world of ever-changing technology, increased complexity and uncertainty.

Here are 10 tips for avoiding scope creep

1. Check you have clearly defined objectives for the project.

  • Is there a clear and agreed problem statement?
  • Do you know the problem you’re trying to fix?
  • Have the objectives been agreed and clearly articulated with the key stakeholders?

2. Use metrics to ensure clarity

  • Don’t use words like ‘better’, ‘faster’, ‘cheaper’, ‘more efficient’. Whilst they may be good outcomes, they are not measureable.
  • Instead use clear metrics which all stakeholders can understand and can be tested (measured against) to ensure fit for purpose.

3. Use Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)

  • There are many benefits of using WBS, including clearly defining deliverables that are ‘in’ and ‘out’ of scope
  • WBS also have an advantage as they can be used to encourage user buy-in. What are we doing vs what are we not doing?

4. Clearly and consistently identify and document product specifications

  • Ensure requirements for each deliverable are documented and agreed
  • Document and agree the acceptance/quality criteria for each deliverable
  • Allocate a reviewer and approver for each deliverable

5. Ensure you have a documented process for Change Control

  • Follow the process!
  • For those Change Requests that need to have Senior Management approval, ensure you have conducted an impact analysis. This allows the approvers to examine the change requests together with options and recommendations
  • Ensure the change request is formally approved and documented
  • Re-baseline to incorporate approved changes
  • Consider using a support function to help. This could be available through the PMO.

6. Consider a Change Authority/Change Control Board/Change Advisory Board

  • Often it can take a long time to obtain formal change request approvals, which may hold up the project.
  • Having a change authority could maintain the momentum
  • Ensure you have the right people on the Change Authority who can make decisions and can contribute technically and pragmatically

7. Consider a change budget

  • A change budget should be set up for those dynamic projects where lots of changes are expected. Keep this ‘pot of money’ separate – and ring fence it!
  • Remember the golden rule. If a user/customer would like to make a change, they should fund it. Check where the money for the change is coming from. (If a user/customer insists that a change is made, get the funding from them.) Do not use, for example, your contingency reserve.

8. Ensure stakeholder engagement through the project

  • Typically kick-off meetings will help to gain support, buy-in and will also clarify the objectives of the project. Use these to clarify scope – and also agreement on ‘out-of-scope’ items.
  • Get the right people involved in analysing requests for changes, impact analysis and approvals.
  • Communicate the change. (Not all changes are bad, many are very positive and therefore should be communicated as such)

9. Conduct a project Health Check/Assurance Review

  • Where are you now?
  • Where should you be?
  • Is all the documentation up-to-date and representative of the current baseline?
  • Consider an external health check by the PMO – or give PM-Partners a call

10. Educate, educate, educate

  • Does everyone on your project team understand project management, and the definition of risks, assumptions, constraints and change?
  • Do you follow a Project Management Framework/method?
  • Does everyone understand and follow the project management processes?
  • Is everyone clear on the difference between change control (eg variation to agreed scope) and Organisational Change Management?

(We can tailor any course or modules of various courses for delivery in your organisation with emphasis on the issues that affect your employees and specific reference to your organisation’s procedures, policies, industry type and performance requirements.)

PM-Partners group is Australia’s most highly accredited project and PMO partner. We are the trusted service provider to Australia’s leading and emerging companies, deliver over $1.7B of projects each year and have helped 1000s of practitioners achieve their professional development goals.

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