What is Project Scope Creep & How to Avoid It

What is Project Scope Creep & How to Avoid It

Being a website developer is rewarding when you get to work on interesting projects and come up with unique solutions for your clients.

In the end, your hard work pays off well when your client is satisfied. However, not every development project is smooth sailing.

Often, clients make requests that extend the projected completion date of their project and require additional resources to complete.

This is known as ‘scope creep,’ and although it’s not always intentional, it can be challenging to address with clients.

What is a project scope?

Improve Project Scope

The scope of a project refers to the work required to finish a project according to the client’s specifications. The more features a client needs, the larger the scope of the project. In this sense, project scope is what helps you determine the cost of the project.

What is project scope creep?

Scope creep is when the work required to complete a project increases beyond the original agreement without going through a formality that would document the new work as “extra.”

For instance, a client might request a new feature to someone from the development team without filling out a change request form.

The person they speak with might not know a form is needed, and they might add the new request to the project.

When this happens, the development team will be expected to complete the project, including the newly requested features. This will put the project behind schedule, and undercut the fair cost of the project.

Scope creep affects the cost, timeline, and resource allocation of a software project.

Even a small creep can compromise the ability to complete milestones and tasks on time.

Unfortunately, clients don’t always understand that delays and unexpected costs come from a scope creep they’ve unintentionally created. However, accepting a request without advising the client of added fees and delays makes the developer equally responsible for a scope creep. To keep clients satisfied, it’s crucial to stop scope creep and redirect requests through the proper channels.

What causes scope creep?

What causes scope creep?

Scope creep can be caused by several things. If you’ve been a developer for a while, you know that most clients end up needing more work than they originally thought they’d need. This is the most common source of scope creep. Other times, stakeholders and team members add tasks to the project without going through a formal change process.

Sometimes, scope creep is the result of miscommunications or misunderstandings about what a client needs.

However, 95% of the time scope creep will happen as a project progresses and clients or stakeholders want more features or request excessive changes without going through a formal review process.

Why project scope matters

Project scope is directly tied to the amount of work you’ll put into a project and how much you’ll get paid for that work. A project with a large scope will take more time to complete and should command a higher fee than faster, less involved projects. For example, a project with a small scope that doesn’t require any programming will usually cost less than a project that requires extensive, custom JavaScript.

The software development project may not fail, but it can be significantly hampered.

If you misjudge the scope of a project, or if you allow scope creep to happen, you’ll end up doing more work for less money and it will take longer to complete.

Here are 10 ways to avoid scope creep with your clients

1. Thoroughly identify and document the project scope

If you want to get paid for your projects without losing time and money to scope creep, you need to thoroughly identify the scope of every project before providing a cost to your clients.

Project scope is fairly general, so in order to charge a client correctly, you have to break down individual tasks and deliverables to see what’s involved. This requires extensive project planning.

Create a requirements management plan by getting input from everyone who will be making decisions about the project. Find out what your stakeholders, clients, and decision makers expect and document everything in detail. From there, you can determine which requests are possible and which need to be scrapped or reworked.

2. Formalize the change request process

Every website project will change as it progresses – there’s no way around it. To manage these changes, you need a change control process that defines exactly how all changes are to be requested, considered, approved, and added to the project.

It’s common for some team members to approve changes without going through a formal process even when such a process is required. Make sure everyone you work with understands that change request formalities are not optional. Explain that approving a small request can have a major impact on a project.

For instance, a seemingly small feature request might conflict with a development project’s framework. Approving this type of request can force the development team to scrap some previous work and start over, which will increase the project’s cost and push out the timeline.

When working with others, require everyone to use standardized forms when adding work to a project. These forms should be submitted and approved along with documentation regarding how the changes will impact the project. This process is best supported by defining clear roles and responsibilities so that only key people can make decisions and approve client requests.

3. Explain the change request process to clients

The biggest problem with project scope creep is that most clients fully expect their developer to complete extra work as part of the original agreement. When a client is allowed to increase the workload of a project without a formal approval process, they will get upset if you increase the project cost later.

From a client’s perspective, if they weren’t told about an increase in cost when they made their new request, it shouldn’t cost extra and they won’t be happy. This can be avoided by clearly explaining the change request process from the beginning.

Clients need to know that if any new requests cause their project scope to increase, you’ll let them know if there will be any additional costs and an estimate of how long it will push out the project. Let your clients know they can decide whether to move ahead or not based on the information you provide. This will make the client feel more in control and they’ll be less likely to get upset about additional costs.

4. Always adjust the timeline for project completion

Each time a project is changed, the timeline will be pushed out. Some changes will push a project out more than other changes, especially if it requires creating a new foundation first. If you haven’t already created a formal change request process, you’ll need to create one to accurately adjust project timelines.

Always adjust the timeline of a project when new work is added. If you’re working with a team of developers and you’re not calling the shots, you could end up getting taken off a project for not meeting the project deadlines.

5. Create a project timeline by working backwards

No matter how many website projects you’ve completed, every project will be different. Even when a new project requires features similar to another project, the timeline will be much different based on other factors.

The most effective way to create a project timeline is to work backwards starting from the end of the project. For instance, first, you’ll identify all the milestones in the project that will indicate you’re on track to completion. Then, you’ll work out what tasks need to be completed to achieve each milestone. All of this can be easily planned using Gantt chart software.

What Is The Waterfall Approach?

6. Account for breakdowns in your project timeline

Scope creep can seriously impact your project timeline. When building out your timeline for a project, remember to allow extra time for unknowns like interruptions, setbacks, and breakdowns. No web project will be perfectly smooth from start to finish.

Scope creep can be considered a breakdown because it can fundamentally alter a project and set you back significantly. If you don’t allow extra time for breakdowns, your project will get behind.

The challenge with incorporating extra time into your timeline is that clients want their projects completed quickly, sometimes even if it means sacrificing quality and features. If you pad your timeline too much, your client will probably tell you about another developer they know who can deliver the same project faster. If you don’t give yourself enough extra time, one minor issue can set you back enough to make your client upset.

The trick is to find the middle ground by padding your timeline as much as possible, and then maintaining good communication with your clients along the way. The minute you see the project scope increasing, tell your client what’s happening and how it will push out the completion date.

7. Verify each project scope with stakeholders

No project will be clear after the first conversation, so make sure to verify project requirements with stakeholders before starting a project. Communicating requirements, specifications, and features requires continual clarification, which means going back-and-forth several times.

Once you’ve gone over requirements for the first time, share what you’ve understood. Repeating everything back makes it easier to correct misunderstandings before they become an issue. If you misunderstand the initial requirements, the actual project scope could end up being much bigger than what you perceived it to be initially. The sooner you adjust a project’s specifications, the better.

You might run into stakeholders who don’t want to go into details early on, and you’ll need to explain why details are critical at an early stage.

Do your best to help them understand that you need details to create the initial timeline and accurately assess the project scope.

8. Request additional resources or funds quickly

Nothing irks clients more than having their requests approved and then getting a larger bill at the end of the project.

You may have told them in the beginning that changes will incur an extra cost, but they’re still going to be shocked when they get the bill.

The minute a project scope increases, figure out what extra resources or funding you need to implement those changes. If you’re working directly with your client, let them know exactly what their new requests will cost in terms of time and money. If you’re working with other people who have direct contact with the client, communicate clearly to them what you need. For instance, you might need to hire another programmer if the changes can’t be completed by your current programmer.

9. Continually request feedback

Continually request feedback

Feedback is what keeps you on track, so you can’t ask for feedback too frequently. If you work directly with your clients, get their feedback more frequently than you think you should. If you’re working with others, ask how things are going, if they’re stuck anywhere, and if they need anything from you.

10. Don’t be afraid to take charge

Never let clients run the show. They should get what they want, but don’t to agree to everything they request just to make them happy. They may not like it in the moment, but be direct when they make requests.

Clients are notorious for minimizing the impact of their requests. For instance, many clients will ask you do to extra things by saying, “while you’re editing our bog, can you just do X, Y, Z really fast?” They might even say things like, “it won’t take that long,” or “it should be easy.”

To a client, small changes seem simple. They just don’t have the experience to know how each small change affects the whole project. When you take charge, you’ll avoid enabling scope creep by being passive.

Need help with a custom project? DEV.co can help!

DEV.co can help you with all your development needs, whether you’re just starting a project or you’re already working with a client. If you need custom software development work, contact us today and tell us about your project. Our team of full stack specialist would love to work with you to help you transform your company into a digital enterprise!

Ryan is the VP of Operations for DEV.co. He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations--delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.
Connect with Ryan on Linkedin.
Ryan Nead