15 December 2014
My dislike of management speak is well documented here, but I still have to deal with its use on a daily basis and one such expression that has cropped up a lot over the past couple of weeks is 'scope creep', blogs John Bowen
Scope creep is a term that comes from the project management world and I first came across it in my computing days, but it seems to becoming commonly used in reference to contract management.
In project management terms the problem is that the scope of the project is not fully defined before work starts and so there is a steady stream of change extending beyond the date that work on the project was due to have started. Often minor variations are easily absorbed, but anything that fundamentally changes the base of the project presents difficulty, invariably delays completion and sometimes means that you have to start again from scratch. Scope creep in projects is a bad thing.
The issue of scope creep in contract management is based on the same principle; the contract is based on a specification that changes after the contract has started and extends over the contract life, but I would argue that it probably should, so why the surprise? This is not true scope creep because businesses are constantly evolving, so what they think they will need may not be so, and the further you move from the point that the requirement was specified the more likely this becomes.
In the world of computing the way that we dealt with changing business requirements, rather than scope creep, was to take a baseline specification and build in the regular evolution; the three-monthly programme update, for example. That allowed for evolution, not scope creep because the scope of the specification would be properly designed and finalised. We accepted that regular change and development would be required and had a process to manage it.
Where so many contracts go wrong is that they are based on sets of measurement that can't cope with change and so you end up with the farcical situation that so many of us on both the client and supplier sides know only too well.
Contracts need to be flexible and changes to what is delivered over the course of the contract need to be catered for. Clients need to make sure that they go to the market on these terms and the market will follow. Successful contracts come from regular dialogue about what is needed for the client to succeed and the supplier providing ideas on how to meet that need. It isn't about scope creep, it's about doing business in a fast-changing world.
John Bowen is an FM consultant