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Project Management

Scope Creep: How to Easily Avoid This Common Project Management Pitfall

Learn examples of scope creep, what causes scope creep, and project management best practices to help you avoid it.

Anthony Fasano, PE, is the President & CEO of Engineering Management Institute. He also partners with BQE Software to run the webinar, Scope Creep: Identifying and Reducing this Huge Project Management Pitfall. Anthony helps firms build professional development plans, programs, and tools that help them attract, build, and maintain strong teams and grow sustainably. Here he shares his thoughts on actions to take to prevent scope creep.  

Original blog: Scope Creep: A Common Project Management Pitfall that can be Reduced by Taking 3 Actions. 

Project scope creep occurs when your original project scope expands to include additional features and functionality without the corresponding adjustments to time, budget, or other resources. 

Scope creep is one of the biggest project management pitfalls, the leading cause of projects going over budget, and subsequently, a key driver of reducing company profitability. The good news is, you can take some simple actions to greatly reduce scope creep on your engineering projects. 

Let’s look at the frequent causes of scope creep and the steps you can take to prevent it.   

What Causes Scope Creep?

Scope creep is a challenge for many firms, with 52% of projects experiencing scope creep and 48% failing to be delivered on time.  

It’s often the consequence of miscalculated decisions (e.g., overlooking bottlenecks or bad prioritization) or a lack of decision-making. Once you know what causes scope creep, you can improve your planning process to avoid it. 

To keep your project on time and within budget, look out for these common catalysts of scope creep: 

  • Lack of clarity around requirements or deliverables 

  • Overly optimistic deadlines 

  • Project scope is not defined clearly enough 

  • Lack of task prioritization  

  • Some stakeholders left out of planning  

  • Your team is unclear on the project scope 

  • Client priorities change during the project 

  • Clients try to add more work 

  • You struggle to tell clients no 

  • No change control process 

How to Prevent Scope Creep 

Scope creep can increase budgets, diminish profits, extend deadlines, require more resources, and even decrease the quality of your deliverables. By following these actions, you can avoid issues with changing scope. 

Watch the on-demand webinar “Scope Creep: Identifying and Reducing this Huge Project Management Pitfall.” 

Action #1: Identity All Stakeholders Upfront 

Start a project by identifying all parties that should be included in the planning process. Understanding everyone’s vision, requirements, and expectations can reduce scope struggles, changes, and conflicts in the middle of your work. 

Communication early on helps you gather requirements, prioritize tasks, and create more robust estimates based on internal and external stakeholders’ goals. When everyone’s aligned from day one, it’s easier to say no to new ideas later on that might derail a project’s budget or timeline. The next step is to document this information in a written, formal statement of work so you can point clients toward it when they propose a new direction or try to get more work out of you. 

Action #2: Clearly Define the Scope of Work 

It’s easier to mitigate scope creep when you have a documented plan. While the project proposal can serve as a good scope of work, it's not always the case. You may need to add more details to the general scope of services in the proposal to eliminate any ambiguities. 

Make your formal statement of work document as specific and clear as possible about what’s in and out of scope. Ensure it outlines every step your team needs to take from beginning to end to successfully reach the desired outcome on time and within budget. 

A defined scope of work helps you resist last-minute client requests and deal with unexpected issues. But remember that your documented scope of work is an estimate, and plans change. That’s why you should include some time and resources for changes. 

Preventing Scope Creep Infographic (2)

Action #3: Plan for Changes  

Every project succumbs to some modifications, either foreseen or unforeseen. It’s practically unheard of for a project, especially longer, more complex projects, to completely resist any scope, budget, timeline, or team changes. 

That’s why your plan should include a change control process to follow, so you can amend your project roadmap without losing sight of your goals. Include some carefully plotted steps for modifying the project scope in your plan, so you don’t completely exceed your timeline or resources. 

Devise a change management framework that includes: 

  • Understanding the reasons for scope changes 

  • The chance to decline scope changes 

  • Defining the impact of changes 

  • Planning for implementation 

  • Documenting changes made 

  • Communicating updates 

Action #4: Communicate the Scope of Work to the Project Team 

Once you have a defined scope and change management plan, communicate it to your team members and project stakeholders, including the client. 

Think of the scope of work as a fence around your project that clearly defines what's included in the project. It’s an important step but is meaningless if you don’t share it. By failing to convey the scope of work to your team, you aren’t showing them where the fence is located. Therefore, they will be left to figure it out on their own, and it will be very easy for them to work outside the fence or on items outside the scope of work, resulting in project scope creep. 

Initially communicate the scope of work to your team in a kick-off meeting and provide detailed, written documentation they can reference later. You should do the same with your client and other third parties.  

Action #5: Regularly Monitor Work Against Defined Scope 

With the steps above complete, your project is likely ready to begin. Hold your team accountable by regularly checking your scope document. From day one of the project, ensure that you have a process to review the work being done against the previously approved scope of work.  

How can you ensure that work is only being done “inside the fence”? One of the easiest ways to do this is to hold weekly project meetings where you run through the scope of work and ensure all work is within scope. 

You could conduct this review utilizing the project schedule, assuming it clearly lists all items in scope. This will allow you to ensure you’re executing against the items within scope and that you’re doing so in a way that meets the project schedule. This is important because you could very easily create a plan and share it with your team but fail to monitor that work is within the defined scope, defeating the purpose of your earlier planning.  

Action #6: Take Action as Soon as Possible 

Your weekly check-in meetings will allow you to Identify possible scope creep changes early, but you need to be equally proactive in addressing them. You’ll inevitably receive new client suggestions, feedback, and updated requirements. Following your established change management plan, determine whether you’ll accept or decline these changes.  

Changes need to be heard, documented, and communicated to stakeholders for consideration. The sooner you decide on a change, the less disruptive it will be to your project plan and result. List the potential risks associated with a change and how you can minimize them. 

Action #7: Get Comfortable Saying “No” 

Saying no can be difficult, especially to clients you’re trying to please. But often, declining project changes is in your client’s best interest to achieve their goals and avoid scope creep. If a change request will take a project off track, saying no may be the best way forward. Be as communicative as possible in explaining how their change will negatively impact the project and other valuable ways to move forward. 

Assess how significant the change will be, the resources and budget needed to implement it, and if deadlines have to be shifted. Mid-project changes are when it’s helpful to reference your original scope of work document. You can also compile client requests into a separate project that you tackle once you wrap up the current work.  

Prevent Scope Creep with BQE CORE  

Following these steps can significantly reduce scope creep on your projects, ensuring your firm is more profitable and productive. Try BQE CORE to ensure you do your best work, impress clients, avoid scope creep, and prevent project failure. It’s an all-in-one platform that enables you to complete more agile, informed, and data-driven project work. 

BQE CORE allows you to track scope, progress, and project goals so you spot the early signs of scope creep and avoid it. Utilize project management software, accounting, invoicing, task automation, time tracking, and reporting to hit deadlines, stay within budget, improve project outcomes, and increase revenue.  

Try a free demo today to see how BQE CORE can transform your firm.  


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