Thank you for the interesting question. Scope creep is, indeed,
something that affects us all, whether on a small scale (a la
redecorating a room in you home) or a larger scale (a "big deal" at
work). I've culled practical advice from a variety of experts, and I
hope the results will be useful to you.
Scope creep is the growth or change of a given project?s requirements.
Put another way, scope creep is what happens when the project
gradually begins to shift from it?s original scope, definition, or
Scope creep is commonly called the leading cause of project failure,
and most people in management agree it?s to be avoided.
A BAD THING
According to an article by Alan I. Zucker, some scope creep is
probably inevitable, because we humans can?t always anticipate all
problems and concerns that may come up. ?Scope creep is an evil that
we created for ourselves?In the old days?common wisdom was, if the
requirements were not clearly defined ?up front.? then the cost of
changes would be high?We wanted to make it perfect with the first
release, because we knew scope creep was ?bad.?? (?Manage Scope &
Compete on Internet Time,? by Alan I. Zucker, ESI Horizons,
To avoid scope creep, says Zucker, we must ?radically change our
thinking about scope. First, we need to realize we are in a new age
and time. The pace of business and technological change is rapid?we
need to recognize?projects are managed as a series of mini-releases
that support an overall business objective. These objectives are broad
visions that adapt to the changing business environment. They cannot
be reduced to a rigid requirements document.? In other words,
according to Zucker, we should accept the fact that nothing will be
perfect the first time out; we should anticipate a series of
?mini-releases? instead of one large or major release, as in the past.
Not everyone quite agrees with this thinking, however. Most experts
instead cite very specific causes to scope creep, thus enabling it to
Perfectionism is widely recognized as a common cause of scope creep,
and, in general, experts tell us that if we wish to avoid scope creep,
we need to realize that ?good enough? is, indeed, good enough.
NOT DEALING WITH CONFLICT
According to an article by Rick Brenner, another common cause of scope
creep is the desire to placate others. ?We?ll do almost anything to
avoid dealing with conflict directly. We'll even expand project scope
to satisfy all conflicting parties. When we placate conflict, we
create a project that nobody can execute.? (?Some Causes of Scope
Creep,? by Rick Brenner, Point Lookout,
Brenner also gives the following common faults that result in scope creep:
To secure resources, a failing project sometimes acquires another
project on the basis of ?natural fit? or ?efficiencies."? But
consolidation isn't free, and the efficiencies are often illusory.
By commandeering more resources, the sponsors or leaders of a project
can enhance their organizational power?
LIES & SELF-DECEPTION
Sometimes we lie to others or deceive ourselves about what's really
involved. We can do this to secure approval for the project, or to
persuade ourselves or
the implementing organization to agree to tackle it?
THE DONALD CROWHURST EFFECT
Donald Crowhurst was a participant in the 1968 round the world
single-handed sailing race sponsored by the London Sunday Times. As
described in a 1970 book by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, his life
pattern was to tackle ever-larger projects, concealing a pattern of
failure. Like Donald Crowhurst, some projects expand their scope to
avoid acknowledging failure. Failure or restart must be realistic
options for any project manager.?
Something else that results in scope creep, according to David Alev,
is the inability to recognize it when it?s happening. ?Change signals
arrive in many forms other than the direct and clear-cut ?You will
also perform such and such.? For example, when you?re asked to go talk
to a person or department who had not been anywhere on your radar
screen before - you can be sure there?s scope change coming about. Or
innocent statements that begin with: ?I wish it did . . .?, ?You know,
it will have to...?, ?By the way, . . .?, ?Come to think of it , ??
are all classic change signals.? (?The Scope Went Through The Roof,?
by David Alev, Consulting Academy,
To counter such suggestions, Alev suggests asking questions: ??Has
this been there all along or is this new?? . . . ?Did I miss that
part? . . .? ?Did you mean to make this a part of our current phase??
. . .?Can we discuss this later as it appears to be beyond our scope
-- as I understand it??? etc.
DEFINE THE SCOPE
But before we can take counter-measures against scope creep, we must
have a clearly defined project. If for some reason the scope of the
project isn?t in writing, it should be. Be as detailed as possible.
Just the act of writing things down will help clarify in your mind
what exactly the scope of the project is. Make sure the goals are not
only clear, but achievable. This plan should include a schedule,
costs, and deadlines. (It?s good to have mini-deadlines, no more than
a month apart; this will help to ensure you stay on track.) Try to
imagine any difficulties you may have during the project, and have a
plan for what you will do if they occur. And don?t neglect to define
However, everyone should realize that *some* scope creep is
inevitable. As stated earlier, as humans we can?t foresee everything
that may affect our project.
A GOOD THING
In fact, some argue that scope creep isn?t always a bad thing. As
Steve Nelson says, ?Scope creep is simply the process of determining
what the client wants. It's exactly what we want?it's just spread out
over time?Clients try out the application and seeing one thing reminds
them of another thing they need. Then that makes them think, ?Hey,
this would be great.? And they go on until all the requirements are
defined.? (?Informal Talks on Software Development,? by Hal Helms,
Secret Agents, http://www.secretagents.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=free.conversation3
) In other words, what is traditionally defined as scope creep can
actually be an aid for getting a great project completed. Nelson,
apparently, uses scope creep to assist in defining the project.
A TIME & A PLACE
However, Nelson realized that scope creep has a proper time and a
place. He suggests that it?s often helpful to create models or mock
ups as you go; this will help you and/or your clients visualize what
you?re doing, and allow everyone to correct issues early on. Once the
mock ups are complete, however, the project should be put in writing
again, and management should stick to it; no changes are allowed after
And so, it?s usually wise to adopt both points of view: Yes, some
scope creep is inevitable and may even help define the project. But
once the project is ?set? in writing, it should stay that way?for the
sake of all involved.
In addition to all the articles cited above, you may also find the
following pieces interesting:
?In Defense of Scope Creep,? by Hal Helms, A List Apart,
?In Praise of Scope Creep,? by Richard Veryard, Veryard Projects,
?Banish the Scope Creep,? by Dale H. Emery,
?Managing Scope Creep? by Jose Aniceto, Suite 101,