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Project Threat #1 – Scope Creep

As explained in my previous article (The need for Project Management Professionals) a project is defined by the triple constraint, namely scope, time and budget. These three factors not only explain the project but also quantify its success or failure. In the next series of articles we’ll explain the main threats affecting each of the constraints. In this edition we will deal with the dreaded Scope Creep. Scope Creep is considered to be one of the principal threats to all projects. Much like Godzilla it is an ever present monster that, if not contained, can leave a trail of destruction throughout your project. However all is not lost. The Project Manager is well equipped to keep Scope Creep under control.

Scope Creep is the tendency of a project scope to grow beyond the original set of expectations. At the beginning of a project, the team is likely quite focused and certain as to what the goals are. As the project progresses, that understanding can change as the team and client become more involved in the project. The risk to your project is that with an uncertain set of goals there will be no consensus as to when the project is actually complete. This will lead to both timeline and budget over-runs (as they are tied to scope via the triple constraint). In short your project will likely fail. That may sound defeatist however given the criteria of scope, time and budget it is the most likely scenario.

So can this be avoided? Are all projects doomed to fail? The answer quite frankly is no. A trained Project Manager will keep the triple constraint in balance at all times and gauge all his plans and decisions against it. Specifically to address Scope Creep the PM will utilize a Scope Statement to document the goals and deliverables at the onset of the project. This document, once written, is provided to the Client for review and sign-off. Once accepted by the Client it becomes part of the project record and ought to be checked throughout the project life cycle to confirm that those true goals are being met. When the PM feels the project work is complete the Scope Statement becomes a very useful tool to confirm that with his client and team.

Andrew Epp, PMP, P.Eng.