Beware Scope Creep

Scope creep is a rare term for those unfamiliar with project management lingo: it means exactly what it says.

So you scope out a project: what, how many, by when, for how much, from whom and so on. Then other stuff creeps in – if you let it. The savvy project manager doesn’t let scope creep mess with their projects: it’s a distraction and a detractor from the goal.

Very often, creep gets in the project at the scoping stage. We can all make assumptions that we, and others on the project team, ‘just know’. “Y’know… we just know”:

  • How many different people need to contribute the contents of an annual report.
  • How long it takes to write the copy.
  • How long it takes to re-write it. Three times.
  • How many different photographs need to be sourced, at what price.
  • Where the photos need to be taken.
  • How long it really takes to lay out the annual report.
  • Who needs to proof-read it.
  • How many pages need to be in the finished document.
  • Who needs to approve and sign off on it.
  • How much it costs to print and deliver it.

Before the project management fraternity get on my case, I’ve stopped at 10 points for the sake of brevity, but the rest of us can easily get the idea from this by-no-means-exhaustive list. Tons of creep could get in at any stage, especially if stages – and people – are missed out.

The way I started to learn about this stuff was by having the good fortune to work for a spell with people who did cost reconciliations. At the time, this didn’t feel like good fortune; in fact it was often painful. But the evidence was in those numbers. And slowly we were taught to learn from them, and spot the scope creep, the better to stop it creeping up on us again.

Definitions of project management jargon can be found on Project Management Knowledge, including this one of scope creep.

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