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The Accidental Project Manager – Taming the Scope Creep

// 2018 Oct 21

Part of the series “The Accidental Project Manager”

By Dr. Surya Ganduri, Rutgers University

As business changes or a new stakeholder gets pulled into (or out of) a project — you may be required to have discussions about things that were 90% complete, or possibly already approved. This can kill morale, draw out timing, and completely drain a project budget. The first reaction of the project manager is to build a wall to ward off impending scope creep. But that’s impossible, as we (as project managers) all know. Because the scope creep is not a person or an animal you can tame—it’s an idea that can spin your project out of control.

So, how do you tame scope creep on your projects? It’s your job as the project manager to act as both the project gatekeeper and the cheerleader — to monitor, manage, and report on its progress, and to nobly guard your estimate, scope, and timeline with courage and diplomacy.

YOU HAVE ALREADY GOT THIS

But when you are caught up in that moment, it’s always good to remember that you have got a lot to fall back on, provided you have done your due diligence and have truly read and understood your scope, built a plan based on that scope, and have completely vetted it with your team and your clients.

STICK TO THE PLAN

Don’t let it all go down the drain by caving in to every new issue and request. That first version of your plan is your baseline and it outlines every step you need to take to get from the beginning to the end of your project.

VERSIONING AND REPORTING

Sure, plans can change, but referring to that first plan as your baseline will often help you in arguing the case for more time or more budget when new scope starts to creep in. Not every project change will result in a scope change. Here are some helpful strategies for communicating changes:

  • Provide an updated project plan with your project status report.

Update all impacted tasks and keep notes on extensions in your newest version. And, attach that to your regular status reports.

  • Discuss changes and impacts.

A date is a date. If someone misses a deadline, your next delivery and the final deadline will be impacted.

  • Note or add the change in your project requirements document.

This document is created for your team to review and revise as necesary and check against it throughout the project. Don’t forget to refer back to it and keep it up to date, since there are times when the document can become buried in the project.

  • Be open about your change control process.

This is equal parts setting expectations and creating process.

WHAT IF THERE IS AN ASSOCIATED COST?

People hate talking about money. It’s your job to talk about things that people hate. That’s just how it is for project managers. So, the best way to approach topics like budget overages and scope creep is to handle them head on and document, document, document.

CREEP THE CREEP

A change in scope should never be a surprise to you or your clients. They wouldn’t call it “scope creep” if it didn’t slowly slither up on you. But there’s often that one feature or requirement that starts as a manageable piece of scope and slowly evolves into something else. This, is scope creep.And it’s your job to keep an eye on these things and make sure that they are not killing your budget.

WATCHING SCOPE IS EASY

The best Project Managers take the time to diagnose scope creep, study it, and develop an approach to accept or deny it.  Any project problem — scope related or not — can be resolved with a conversation that references previous work you have done on your project. In fact, all of the time you put into creating an estimate, scope, and timeline will make approaching any problem easier.

Dr. Surya Ganduri is an Instructor/Advisor for the Rutgers University Project Management Certificate Program. The certification is based on PMI’s PMBOK Guide Sixth Edition. For more information, visit Rutgers University Project Management Certification.