Home » Blog » Scope Creep in Project Management – How to Prevent it

When you’re in charge of a project, you usually know very well what your team needs to do to satisfy project requirements. But what if your client comes up with a new feature, however small, that you should start working on top of the existing project scope?

What will you learn thanks to this article:

As a project manager, you’re probably familiar with this scenario, as projects often change because of user feedback or dynamic market conditions. That’s natural, and it could lead to very positive outcomes (a better-quality end-product, for example). However, the thing is that these unexpected edits could result in scope creeping to the point where you have very little control over the project’s progress.

Let’s take a closer look at project scope creep and discuss how you can deal with it in your project management career.

What is scope creep in project management?

The scope of the project

First of all, what’s the scope of the project? A scope in project management is understood as all tasks, processes, activities, requirements, and deliverables of a project. Simply put, it is all the work that is demanded to complete a project.

Bad project management practices and poor communication can destroy any scope management plan
Project scope is the part of project management life cycle

Project scope is part of project planning. The result of this phase of the project management lifecycle is the Project Scope Statement. It’s a documentation of a project’s scope (also named a “scope statement” or “terms of reference”) that contains an established checklist of exact

Once the project scope statement, it’s time for a phase called project scope management plan. It outlines the whole processes involved in implementing the project and serves as a guideline to keep the project within defined expectations and limits. 

Scope creep in project management = move beyond assumptions

The easiest way to describe scope creep is to say that it is adding features and requirements that are beyond the agreed-upon project scope. Both parts of this definition are important because project scope’s change or expansion is not necessarily the same as scope creep.

On the contrary, change is a completely normal thing in project management. The scope creeps when changes are not agreed on, and the increase in project requirements is uncontrolled.

Project management software mitigate scope creep

A definition provided by the PMBOK® Guide (5th edition) states that scope creep is the uncontrolled expansion to product or project scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources. This description emphasizes a crucial factor that should help you imagine the potential consequences of scope creep. I’m talking about how these new features in the project scope are not adjusted to the timeline, resources, or budgets. It essentially means that any (or all) of these variables could go very wrong and sink your project.

Now that we’ve defined scope creep let’s discuss its main causes.


What causes scope creep in project management?

Scope creep is likely to be caused by a combination of the following factors:

Poor project scope. This is usually the main factor that contributes to scope creep. When your project’s scope is vague or non-existent, how can you control it? Having a clear scope statement is not the ultimate solution to this challenge, though. You need to validate the scope and sign it off with all project stakeholders. 

Yet another problem may occur when you don’t consult the requirements with the right people on your team. For example, some requirements may turn out not to be technically viable even when your scope is clear, and your client has greenlit it. This is why it’s essential that you:

Want to learn more about this process? Check out our guide to project scope management. It will help you with managing scope successfully.

Scope creep is also likely to happen when you don’t have established procedures on dealing with change requests. Or perhaps you have set some change control rules, but the stakeholders aren’t aware of them. In the next section of this blog post, we’ll talk a bit more about managing changes so that they don’t derail your project.

One of the less expected causes of scope creep is when your team members are directly influenced by the client to add a new feature or expand an existing one. Such external pressure can be difficult to notice for project managers, especially if team members don’t communicate it transparently.

Yet another possible danger is when stakeholders show varied involvement in the project. Imagine a situation when your client is not paying that much attention to the project scope during the requirement gathering stage. Perhaps they are busy with other things or simply aren’t really engaged in the project. Once they see the first results of your work, however, they suddenly become more involved and start to come up with new features or redefine project goals. You can imagine how this could easily lead to scope creep.

Finally, we have to mention external influences, which are often out of your control. It’s difficult to get ready for unexpected scenarios, but, as a project manager, you should have some contingency plans prepared. They will help you to manage changes even if they take you by surprise.

As you can see, there are many possible causes of scope creep—our list is definitely not exhaustive. What you need to keep in mind is that scope creep will also happen due to a combination of different factors. That’s why it’s useful to know how you can potentially avoid scope creep whatsoever.

Good whole project plan includes excellent project schedule that assumes unauthorized changes

How can you prevent scope creep in project management?

For starters, let us just say that scope changes aren’t something you should avoid at all costs. If you work in an agile environment, then you’re probably expecting changes to happen. What you want to mitigate is the result of your scope’s uncontrolled growth. Let’s go through some strategies for preventing scope creep:

Some project managers may feel that “creating a clear scope of the project” is often easier said than done—and they would have a point. For many projects, especially innovative endeavors, you may not be 100% certain as to what the finished product will look like. This is the case for many software development projects, where changes are often introduced based on user feedback and tests. Project teams face yet another challenge when they decide to use cutting-edge tech or experimental solutions.

This doesn’t mean, however, that scope creep is bound to happen in these scenarios. You can still increase your chances of building a reasonable scope by starting with the so-called project discovery phase. It’s a period during which you can test hypotheses, challenge assumptions, or build prototypes. All in order to validate your ideas and check if the proposed solutions are viable.

Great project management cannot avoid scope creep of a particular project

My project’s scope has increased uncontrollably. What should I do?

We’ve just discussed several best practices for avoiding scope creep, but what if you’re already experiencing it? Perhaps it started from seemingly minor change requests, or maybe the stakeholders have been expecting additional features since the project kickoff. Managing scope creep is possible, and here are a couple of options for you.

First of all, scope creep may feel disheartening, but this is not the time to become passive and defeated. Projects that experience scope creep may still turn out fine.

Make sure you take a closer look at all change requests and analyze their consequences carefully. Evaluate how changes will affect the budget and the timeline of your project. Even if your team has already implemented a given change, it is still valuable to investigate its potential impact on the rest of your project.

It’s also a great time to pay some attention to resource forecasting. Change requests may have affected this aspect of the project as well. Do you have enough available team members to deliver this project? Will you need to hire/outsource some people? Take employee availability and team workload into account (read about workload management). You don’t want to overutilize your team members and potentially even burn them out because of the scope creep.

Another strategy for dealing with scope creep is to de-scope some of the initial requirements. If your project backlog is prioritized, you should be able to identify elements that could be swapped with the newly added ones. As a result, you may buy some extra time and costs for delivering the project. 

As change requests keep pouring in, your team may be a little disoriented about project expectations. This, in turn, may lead to gold plating and spending even more time on certain tasks. You should double-check that each of the teammates understands the new project requirements.

Don’t forget to look at the big picture of your project. The scope creep affects it as well. Perhaps it now makes sense for you and project stakeholders to discuss creating a sub-project(s) or launching an MVP? One of the downsides of scope creep is that teams lose momentum, and projects take longer than expected. Delivering a part of your project’s scope as a separate release may help regain that momentum and make your team feel more accomplished. There are also business benefits to this approach: releasing an MVP (minimum viable product) early on may help your client test the product and get early success among customers.

Finally, even if you’re experiencing scope creep, you should still regularly monitor your project’s health. Project reports will help you to evaluate team performance and calculate the effects of the growing scope.

Good project manager is prepared for change management process

Read more project management resources

Scope creep is not a rare phenomenon. As a project manager, you’re almost certain to face it at some point in your career. Half of the respondents surveyed by the Project Management Institute in 2018’s Pulse of the Profession survey have experienced scope creep in the past 12 months. In 2020, the newer edition of this report showed that companies that are more mature in their capabilities are less affected by scope creep than organizations with low maturity (30% to 47%).

These insights are not surprising, because scope creep, while potentially damning, is manageable, especially by well-versed project managers and executives.  We hope that this blog post has helped you discover ways to manage scope creep for your team’s benefit.

Want to learn more about project management? Why don’t you check other resources for project managers we have published:


Prevent scope creep in project management thanks to resource management software

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