Business Tips··10 min read

What is Scope Creep? Definition and Examples

What is Scope Creep? Definition and Examples

Have you ever been in a situation where you make a promise to someone in the heat of the moment, only to realize how much of a mistake it was later on? Let's say promising to help someone move their apartment, and when you get there, there's a couch the size of a continent, five fridges and around 100 boxes.

This is even worse in work situations, as it can cost you time, money and sanity. It's called scope creep and it happens when you commit to a project that ends up being much more time consuming than you initially thought.

Today, we're going to show you what scope creep is and how to prevent it, as well as some examples to inspire you (about what to avoid).

What is scope creep?

The meaning of scope creep can be understood in several different ways. However, it is generally defined as an expansion of a project's original scope without adequate justification or due consideration for the increased complexity and time required. This can lead to costly overruns, delays, and compromised quality.

Or, in layman's terms: because of poor communication, you agree to finish a project according to the project schedule and project requirements. Once you start working, it becomes clear from the project timeline that it will be impossible to deliver that kind of project in the required time frame.

Project scope creep can happen for many reasons and it can have a major negative impact on your management processes and the final output. Many times, it's because both the client and the company doing the work do not have all the project details to properly create a project plan and determine the requirements of a project.

What does "scope" mean?

There is no one answer to this question because the scope of a project can vary depending on the specific circumstances involved. Nevertheless, in general, the scope of a project typically refers to the specific objectives and goals of the undertaking.

The scope of a project can be divided into three broad categories:

Project objectives

Project objectives are the overall goals of the project, i.e. the project vision. They typically identify what the project is trying to accomplish and should be specific and concise. For example, building a website, developing additional features for a tool, writing a number of articles, etc.

Project elements

Project elements are the specific tasks and activities that are required to achieve the objectives of the project. They should be detailed and specific, and should be arranged in a logical and sequential manner.

For example, when building a website, these elements can be website pages.

Project dependencies

Project dependencies are the relationships between project elements and the need for other elements to be in place before the project can be completed. These project dependencies should be identified and documented to ensure that the project can be completed on schedule and to the correct specifications.

The scope of a project can be modified as necessary to accommodate changes in the objectives or project elements. However, it is important to keep the scope consistent with the overall goals of the project. Incorrectly altering the scope of a project can lead to delays and cost increases.

It is important to carefully review the scope of a project to ensure that it is realistic and achievable. If the scope is too limited, the project may not be able to meet its objectives and it will lead to project failure. If the scope is too broad, the project may become unmanageable and may not be completed on time or within the project budget.

Read on, as this article provides you with a better understanding of the scope of a project and the importance of keeping it consistent with the overall goals of the project.

If you are worried about how you can make changes to your project goals, then here is a reliable creative brief format that you can download today and avoid project scope creep even without using project management software.


Examples of scope creep

Scope creep is a term used in software development to describe when an organization expands the scope of its project beyond what was originally agreed to in the project plan. This can be dangerous because it can lead to over-budgeting, missed deadlines, and decreased quality. And out of all of these, budget overruns are probably the worst.

What causes scope creep?

Lack of clear and concise project goals:

When developers are not sure exactly what they're supposed to be working on, they're likely to start adding features without first thinking about whether they're necessary or desirable.

However, as the project continues to grow, it becomes more and more difficult to determine where the original boundaries of the project lay. This can lead to developers adding unnecessary features, and the project can quickly go out of control with project decisions that no longer align the project vision of what the finished product should look like.

Lack of communication between the developers involved in a project:

When different parts of the project are working on different parts of the codebase, it can be difficult to determine where the boundaries between these different parts of the codebase should be.

This can lead to developers adding new features and functionality without first considering the implications of these additions.

If the project is still in its early stages, it may be easy to determine which features need to be added or modified. However, as the project continues to grow, it becomes more and more difficult to determine where the original boundaries of the project lay.

This can lead to developers adding unnecessary features, and the project can quickly go out of control. Regular communication and proper stakeholder involvement can go a long way to help with avoiding scope creep and seeing the project implementation through.

Here are some more common examples of scope creep:

  • Adding new features to the project without first consulting the original developers.
  • Requiring the project team to work on the project for longer than originally agreed to.
  • Requiring the team to work on weekends and holidays.
  • Requesting the team to work in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Allowing the team to use unlicensed software.
  • Adding new team members without adequately training them.
  • Making changes to the project that were not originally planned.
  • Spending too much money on unnecessary software and hardware.
  • Not following through on commitments made to the project team.

How to avoid scope creep?

There are a number of ways to avoid project scope creep.

Have a clear and concise project charter that spells out the objectives of the project and the specific tasks that need to be completed. These are also called project scope statements and they can be incredibly valuable for both your business and the client. Using project management software can be of help here if you don't want to fall victim to scope creep.

Team members should be aware of the original objectives of the project and be sure that their new tasks and responsibilities fall within those boundaries. Identify the key stakeholders and what each of them will be doing, and then put that in the project documentation.

All new tasks and responsibilities should be put into writing and approved by those who will be affected to avoid project delays and clearly define project deliverables.

The project manager should be constantly monitoring the progress of the project to ensure that the original objectives remain true and that no new tasks or responsibilities have been added without adequate justification.

This task becomes easier when the project manager is able to save time by creating schedules online.

Also, if scope creep is detected early on, it can be corrected by taking steps such as limiting the number of new tasks added for each of the project stakeholders, reassigning existing tasks to better fit the new scope, or canceling the project altogether. While this is not ideal, the relevant stakeholders should find this project status much better than missed deadlines or expectations.

How to fix scope creep?

Project scope creep can be a frustrating problem to deal with. It can happen when a project's original scope begins to expand, and the team can't seem to stop adding new features or tasks.

The first step in solving project scope creep is determining what's causing it. Sometimes, the problem is simply that the project team's ideas are growing too fast to keep up with the available project stakeholders and time. Other times, the problem might be that the original scope was too vague and project success was never destined to be.

Once you know the cause, it's useful to take a step back and reassess the project's goals. If the original scope isn't feasible, then the team might need to adjust its goals. Having a project management team helps here, but not everyone has the project budget for this endeavor. However, you can also do your own project planning with the right project management tools.

If the project's original goals are still too ambitious, then the team might need to consider splitting the project into smaller parts. This will help the team focus on completing specific tasks, and it will also reduce the risk of scope creep.

If all of these measures don't work, then the team might need to hire a new consultant or contractor to help them with the project.

In this case, it's important to be clear about the project's expectations from the outset. When everyone involved in the project understand their roles and what is expected of them, then there will few instances of misunderstandings or disputes along the way.

If you notice scope creep happening on your project, it is important to take steps to address the issue. This may involve renegotiating the original project scope, hiring additional personnel to manage the project, or even shutting down the project completely when necessary.

And if you need more time to focus on your project goals, here is a useful app that will help you keep track of what your project team is up to in real time.

Wrapping up

If you want more successful projects and less scope creep, it all boils down to the planning process and being familiar with your work. Unfortunately, scope creep in project management is one of those growing pains that most businesses have to go through, big or small.

But that does not mean that it cannot be prevented. If you track your time for the work that you do, you will always have an accurate idea of how much time it takes to do something and you'll minimize your chances of scrope creep happening ever again.

Ready to start tracking your time? Want to control process and work on resource allocation and key deliverables in the most efficient way? Kiss unclear requirements and common project management risks goodbye. Manage complex projects and get additional time back with Unrubble to combat effects of scope creep. 

Sign up for your free trial of Unrubble today!

Frequently asked questions

What is a real life example of scope creep?

Let's say that you're building a website for a client and because of poor planning, you let requirement creep happen. The client wants a marketplace feature to be built in, which requires an entire software development team and additional resources that you do not have. Instead of the two months you promised in the original plan, it now looks like those extra features are going to make you deliver the project in five months, at an additional cost. No one wins in this scenario.

What are the different types of scope creep?

There are four main types: business creep, effort creep, hope creep and feature creep. 

Business creep happens when there is a lack of clarity and stakeholders change their minds about the direction of the project, the goals, priorities and more.

Effort creep happens when the entire project seems to be stuck and not moving. The reasons are usually the lack of skills, a change of priorities on your team or too much optimism in your team.

Hope creep is when you as the person in charge of the project lie to yourself and ignore the potential risks, telling yourself that everything will be okay, even though you are clearly going to miss the original plan and goals.

Feature creep (also called gold plating) happens when the client or your team keep adding additional requests and new product features, wishing to make the product better but not really knowing what will work. In the planning stage, this seems fine and dandy and then as you start building, you face the impact of scope creep and fail to deliver the project on time.

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