Reasons for Scope Creep

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on May 11, 2009 in: Project Management

“Onomatopoeia” (pronounced “on-oh-matta-pee-ya”) is when the word for a sound closely resembles the sound itself. The word “hiss” hisses just like a real hiss. The word drip seems to drip from your mouth like a real drip. Buzz and murmur are two other words that are “onomatopoeic” in nature.

In a way, the word “scope creep” is sort of like onomatopoeia, except that it’s not named for a sound. Just like the word mucus and fungus sound gross (and, indeed, ARE gross), scope creep feels as disgusting as it sounds.

There are so many reasons that scope creep can happen and nearly every project faces it. Here are a few reasons I’ve seen in my experience:

LACK OF AWARENESS – When a dozen or more people are sitting around a table and working on a project, chances are only one or two actually had their hand in creating the scope of the project. So when someone else says, “it would be a great idea if we also did [insert massive unbudgeted addition to project here]” and everyone else votes in agreement, it’s not a surprise that the scope expands out of control.

BEES IN BONNET – This is the law of the squeaky wheel. Highly vocal and highly influential people (who might or might not be involved in the project) have a bee in their proverbial bonnet can strongly influence the direction of the project. They don’t have to be in the project, they just have to be highly vocal and/or highly influential. (Heather’s Law: The more vocal AND influential the person is, the more likely the scope will creep in their direction).

NO NORTH STAR – Projects that start without a clear goal are obviously doomed for scope creep. But I’ve seen projects with well-developed goals face scope creep because those goals were created around shifting objectives. This is particularly true when a company is trying to respond to shifting marketplace trends: They create a project around one trend but then the trend itself shifts while the project is underway. Hello scope creep!

This is certainly not an exhaustive list and you can probably list many more situations. These are three scope creep threats I’ve had to work against on recent projects. In the future I’ll talk about ways to address, reduce, and even eliminate scope creep.

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