5 ways to prevent scope creep in projects

In some of our recent articles on how to scope a project and how much should I charge to build a website we touched upon the concept of 'Scope Creep'. In this article we're going to look this in more detail, and suggest five ways you can help to reduce it in your projects.

What is Scope Creep?

Scope creep is the concept of additional requirements being added to a project that were not discussed or part of the original plan. Scope creep can affect costs, time scales and quality, for this reason it is generally considered to be a bad thing. It is however nearly inevitable in most projects, so one of the areas we'll look at in this article is how to manage scope creep when it does come up.

5 Ways to prevent Scope Creep

Define the scope and document it

Taking the time to properly gather requirements and define the project scope at the beginning will ensure that everyone is in agreement on what is considered to be in scope for the project. Discussing 'Negative Scope' or exclusions is also beneficial to prevent late requirements from the client that they hadn't previously considered. Clearly define the scope of work in a document, and once it is complete, get the requirements and scope signed off by all parties involved. A written agreement that everyone has signed will make it easier to manage changes later in the project.

Understand your client

If you have taken the time to gather the requirements and scope the project properly in a document, then this should come naturally. Make sure you understand your client's goals and vision. Understanding what your client is aiming to achieve will reduce the disparity between the product or service they want, and the one you're building. The greater the disparity the more change requests the client is likely to make in order to direct the project back towards their vision.

Outlining the goals and objectives in your project documentation is a good way to discuss and confirm these with your client. Don't make assumptions, ask lots of questions, go into detail.

Be meticulous from the outset

Start as you mean to go on. If during week one you're accepting client requests for features not agreed in the requirements, you can expect the project scope to quickly get out of hand. Ensure that the project manager is reviewing changes as soon as they come in and that these requests are going through a defined process for change of scope (more on this below).

Communication & Transparency

Scope creep often arises due to poor communication and a lack of transparency with the client, these points will help to reduce this:

  • Use the project documentation to make sure the client understands what is and isn't in scope.
  • Discuss with them negative scope and specifically cover any areas they may not have considered that is more obvious to a developer (e.g hosting costs, data migration).
  • Track your work in software and either make this available to the client or give them regular summary updates. If the client has a better understanding of how long things take, it will be easier to discuss changes.
  • Colloborate with the client - question any change requests, are they really required?

Set out a process for change of scope

Despite your best efforts, scope creep will inevitably... creep in. By outlining a process for scope creep at the beginning of the project, it will make it much easier to make decisions with the client. Here's some pointers you might wish to consider when outlining a process for change of scope:

  • What dictates if the work should go into the current or later phase? (e.g. Is it unavoidable? Does the change increase the overall success of the project? Can it wait phase 2 / post launch?)
  • How will changes affect other requirements?
  • How will time scales be adjusted?
  • Cost liability and how will cost adjustments be made?

Summary

Our five points discussed for preventing scope creep all follow a similar theme - detail and communication. Detail in the respect that it's important at the beginning of a project to document the exact requirements and scope, to create guidelines for dealing with change requests and to then be vigilant in following these. Communication is the key to ensuring that both you and the client are on the same page, which will reduce unexpected changes later in the project.

Useful Tools

Writing a proposal

Once you've gathered requirements and scoped out a project, summarise this and add clarification on your work methodology and process in a project proposal. Take a look at this PDF Project Proposal Generator for creating professional PDFs.

Time tracking & Billing

When the project kicks off, keep tabs on how long you're spending with a simple clock on and off project time tracker. This tool links into a PDF Invoice Generator so you can easily bill your clients after.

David Bainbridge

Coveloping co-founder and regular contributor to the Coveloping blog. David is a contract web developer based in Bristol, UK also posting code snippets and tutorials on the Code Synthesis blog.

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