How to avoid scope creep in tech projects

How to avoid scope creep in tech projects

Scope creep. It’s the nemesis of project managers and the bane of software developers around the world.

Managing IT projects is a tricky job to start with. It becomes even more so when clients change requirements halfway through the project, or ask for changes that blow your whole schedule out of whack. All the while somehow failing to encompass the added costs.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of a technology project being blown off-course. According to The Standish Group’s CHAOS Summary, 68% of projects either experienced delays or failed to reach completion.

Goes to show that it’s an all too common occurrence, that needs to be managed effectively.

So how can you avoid it? Here we identify the common causes of scope creep and how you can manage and safeguard your project against it.

Common causes of scope creep

The common mistakes that result in scope creep are:

  • Poor requirements analysis: This is when a client only has a vague idea of the brief they’re after; usually typified by a “I’ll know it when I see it” mentality.

  • Not involving clients early enough: On the other end of the spectrum making assumptions about what a client is after then excluding them from the requirements analysis and design phases is a big no no. One that will, in all likelihood, result in change requests further down the track.

  • Underestimating the complexity of the project: Many software projects are completely new undertakings within the industry -  trailblazers if you will. Although exciting to be apart of, it’s easy to underestimate the complexities and issues that may arise if there are no precedents to refer to.

  • Not encompassing a process for changes: Most projects will encounter scope creep in varying stages. This is not a pessimistic view, it’s fact; change requests will always crop up during a project. Not having a process in place to incorporate them is more disruptive than the change itself. The project will be blown even further out of scope through poor communication and through scheduling in last-minute changes.

  • Gold plating: This is the practise of adding new unplanned features to the core functionality under the belief that they’ll add value to the project.

Scope creep usually arises from miscommunication between both parties. As such, good planning, collaboration and communication can safeguard your project.

Controlling scope creep

While it is impossible to completely eradicate scope creep, you can effectively manage it by sticking to these guidelines.

1. Understand the client's vision
The very first step is to understand exactly what the client wants and what outcome they’re expecting. The best way to do this is by sitting down with them. Together, develop a set of measurable business goals, as opposed to a vague outcome like “a new website”. Setting this understanding early on will provide a firm backbone for research and planning features. When you’ve come to an agreed set of goals record these in the project plan.

2. Define deliverables
Once you have acquired an understanding of what the client wants, create a list of the items you need to deliver. Make sure you define your deliverables within the project plan by outlining the functionality of each. In this way your client will know what falls where.

3. Plot out the requirements for each deliverable
This is where you plan the project in depth, so you’re not caught out further down the line. Determine the tasks needed to deliver each deliverable. Then estimate:

  • The time for each
  • Who’ll be building it

Once you’ve identified the effort per task, go back and estimate the time required for each deliverable, along with your project’s deadline and budget. Make sure you include some slack within your schedule and budget to safeguard against any issues that crop up, software upgrades that may be required and any change requests that come through.

If you find that you’ve been given an unrealistic deadline contact the client to inform them. Together you’ll need to work out whether you need:

  • A new deadline
  • More resources
  • Revised deliverables
4. Sign on the dotted line
Once you’ve documented the above, get client approval so they’re aware of what is within the project's scope and budget from the start. Any changes will then be an addition, rather than expected.

5. Plan for changes
This is important, in addition to leaving time for changes make sure you have a formal process for change requests. This will eliminate miscommunication and double handling. You’ll also have everything on record should costs be later disputed. Try to limit the amount of people who can make changes and make sure these are only coming from higher ups within your client’s organisation as they’re the ones that will sign off on costs at the end of the day.

There you have it, a surefire way to protect your business and project against scope creep. If you have any tips or stories of your own we’re eager to hear them!

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