22 February 2016
Scope creep has become an accepted term in project management and, sadly, it has become one you seem to hear more and more, blogs John Bowen.
It isn't something that you can entirely eliminate, but that is no reason not to be trying, as scope creep will almost always cost more in terms of time and money.
A project is something that is going to take place over a period of time and the longer that time, the more opportunity there is for an organisation's needs and priorities to change. What you decided that you wanted and could afford when you scoped the project may not be viable three, six or nine months later, and so there is always a risk that changes may be requested. That aspect is inevitable and in major projects it should be covered within the risk management process.
A lot of scope creep is caused by an inadequate design to projects, though, and this is where there can be some useful time spent on getting things better specified right at the beginning. If you think through what you want, what the implications might be on the delivery of the organisational strategy, and take a view on the risks of changes coming through during the implementation then you can mitigate the time and financial costs if you have to move away from the original plans.
If there is the potential for a significant change that will affect a project, then you can plan for it in the same way that you would for your crisis and emergency planning. Just as being prepared for the way that you will deal with an emergency, you can plan for how you will react if there is a change to your project. Having a plan in place when you need it saves valuable time in the event that you need to use it.
Having advocated trying to avoid scope creep, it may sound odd to suggest that you plan for it. But we live in a faster-changing world these days and to have locked yourself into a long-term project and then find part-way through that it isn't going to deliver what you now need - or can afford - there is little sense in ploughing blindly onwards. It make far more sense to adapt, and to have a plan in place that sets out how you will do that in the most effective manner.
Uncontrolled, or worse, unexpected scope creep - the sort that has caught you out - is something to avoid, but if managed well, it is no bad thing.
John Bowen is an FM consultant