Scope creep—the insidious tendency for software projects to grow beyond their original bounds—looms on every software development project. If you’re a project management professional, avoiding scope creep increases the chance of delivering the project on time and on budget. Smaller projects have a much greater chance of success, so savvy PMs split a massive assignment into smaller components.
Scope creep arises naturally. For example, the client wants more functionality for the same price; the project manager wants to hold the line on costs and time delays. Many clients don’t know how to define their requirements, and “I’ll know it when I see it” is a tough criterion to meet.
Here are 8 tips to prevent or at least manage scope creep from taking over your project.
1. Be vigilant from day one. The project manager must handle scope creep and ultimately say yes or no to new requests as soon as they come in. Start this habit at the beginning of a project—and then stick with it every day until the project is completed.
2. Understand your client’s vision. Ending well means starting well. Even before you get to project requirements, understand what your client hopes to achieve from the project. Why is it a priority? Is the plan too ambitious?
3. Understand the project requirements. You want clarity around the goals and objectives of the work in the initial planning stage. Know the exact answers to, What are the deliverables and their functionality? Don’t underestimate the project’s complexity, which must be balanced against the timeline and resources for the work. Break the deliverables into specific tasks. Identify major and minor milestones within the project and put them on the timeline. Review milestones when scope changes are requested; these dates serve to keep the project on track.
4. Include a process for changing scope. Define how the changes will be done, and who will do them. Empower a limited number of people to request scope changes and an even more limited number to grant them. Address the process for getting additional payment for scope changes.
5. Guard against gold plating. This is a tendency by members of the software development team to over-deliver on the scope and add features. Some people just want to please, and it can play havoc with a project.
6. Use your online project management software. Your online PM software is an important tool in managing scope creep. Use one that gives visibility not only to your software team but to your clients as well. If you use LiquidPlanner, get tips on how to plan using an Agile methodology or how to manage Waterfall projects.
Your project management tool can also reinforce your process for handling requests for scope changes once you establish rules. Changes in scope will alter both the schedule and work tasks for project team members. Once this happens, all the changes should roll up through your plan and make the updated project plan visible to the whole team.
7. Know when to say “no.” There are going to be unreasonable requests for scope changes that you can’t green light. Remember, not all scope changes are created equal. Changes to critical path elements (pieces that hold up other work unless completed on time) must be made sparingly and scrutinized carefully.
8. If you can’t say “no”, here are some alternatives.
- Zero sum game. If something new goes into the scope, make sure that something comes out.
- Start a back-log (or second project) for requests denied in the current project. Make this a prioritized list of features.
- Price the scope creep. How much will you charge for added features? This might discourage some of the incoming requests.
Scope creep can actually have an upside for projects with external clients. With a properly written contract, added features can produce new revenue. When the request is made, you calculate the additional hours of work and allow the client to sign off on the requested work. Your scope creep then becomes the customer’s cost creep.
Cutting down on scope creep is directly related to how well you manage your resources–and as the scope changes. To learn more, download our eBook, “5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Effectively.”
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