Don’t Be A (Scope) Creep

Scope creep is the “giraffe video” of project management. Here’s how to deal with it.

A Few Notes On Recognizing and Avoiding Scope Creep

Part Of A New Ongoing Series: Project Management for Non Project-Managers

Now that it’s March and Spring has sprung, we’re in the final month of the first quarter (Q1) of the year. If you’re a small business owner, it’s a great time to ask yourself: am I being a creep? Of course, we’re referring to business projects that suffer from scope creep here, but it’s probably a sound idea to ask yourself that question about your own personal life as well.

Scope creep is often the greatest enemy of progress for small businesses, and is often the reason small business owners have a hard time accomplishing their goals, even though they may have dedicated hours and hours to finishing projects, meeting deadlines or whatever else may be the definition of progress in your business projects.

Scope Creep is Like Giraffe Videos

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, scope creep is (in simple terms) when things that aren’t a part of your original project creep into your project without being officially introduced. This most often leads to project delays, headaches, cost overruns, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In everyday terms, scope creep is the business version of those college nights where your original intention was to study at the library for a few hours one night, but instead you ended up spending two of your three intended hours scrolling through social media, buying snacks, texting your friends and somehow watching giraffe videos on YouTube… but you’re still able to get some studying done, just not as much studying as you would’ve completed if you had focused. Then the test (or deadline) comes, and you’d be scrambling to get ready in time.

Of course, the difference between college and business is that in school- only your neck was on the line if you always finished work at the last minute. Everyone in college does last minute work; for proof, just stop by your local campus coffee shop at late night around midterm time. However, in business, not working according to schedule or plan can directly affect you, your employees, and your clients, not to mention your reputation and quality of work.

How Can I Avoid Scope Creep?

Ensuring your projects stay focused is a consistent task, even though it may seem counterproductive to not pursue other directions. For example- if your scheduled project is a cost audit of all your inventory on hand, it can’t turn into a cost audit of all inventory plus an investigation of how to decrease prices- it’s important to stay on track.

How To Stay Focused:

Accountability: Maintaining a general atmosphere of accountability is important to keeping on task. Even if your business is run by just you, yourself, and you, it helps to have someone, such as a mentor, a mentee, a friend, etc. whom you can talk to help keep you accountable.

Concise, Detailed Plans: A well-planned (in project management terms: a well-defined) project allows for less scope creep, because there is less room for deviation. For example, with the cost audit project that I just mentioned, “do a cost audit” as the ultimate project guideline is a lot less effective than “do a cost audit” followed by a concise and detailed course of action.

Regular Checkups: Having regular, scheduled meetings (along with the occasional unscheduled “checkup meeting”) can be the best tool during a project to discuss progress, unforeseen issues, and scope creep, both positive and negative.

Now wait: isn’t scope creep isn’t always bad? No, it’s not. As new information is gathered and new ideas emerge while working on a project, scope creep will always emerge. In such a case, it’s up to decisionmakers to decide whether or not a potential scope creep is worth spending resources pursuing or not, and if it is, whether it’s worth eliminating another requirement of the project in order to complete the project on time (this is called a “scope tradeoff”).

Scope Tradeoffs

For example, let’s go back to the college study scenario that was mentioned before. Let’s say that instead of getting distracted, you actually spent the first two of your allotted three hours of study time prepping for the exam next week. But let’s also say that prior to the third hour, you receive a text from a classmate reminding you that there was a paper due for the same class in the next class period tomorrow. You estimate that the paper would take you about an hour to complete. If all scope creep was bad, then the sensible decision would be to continue studying and not to worry about the paper. In this case, it’s probably a great idea to take the scope tradeoff (i.e. lower your study requirement from three hours to two) and pursue the paper for your final hour instead.

In a project management sense, it’s a great idea to ask your employees (or yourself) to write down all new ideas and discoveries that arise during a project, then to encourage an environment of open discussion in your meetings to allow for productive discussion and project execution in the presence of scope creep.

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