Infographic: 4 ways to avoid scope creep (or get rid of it)

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If unexpected work is piling up, you might be experiencing scope creep. Learn here what scope creep in software development is and how you can get rid of it.

You start a project to deliver a new piece of software. A few weeks go by, and you think it is progressing quite nicely. Then the customer submits a new set of requirements, and as it turns out, the software you are developing is not what they wanted at all.

So, you redo the project based on the new requirements. Then, lo and behold, the customer says you are moving too slowly. Sound familiar? If so, you recognize the frustration of scope creep and how it can derail a whole project. Here is how to prevent scope creep from creeping away with your next project in hand.

4 ways to avoid scope creep in software development (or get rid of it)

What is scope creep?

A project’s scope is simply its parameters. This includes any major deliverables, timelines, and project boundaries. In short, it is a set of expectations that define what your project is and is not.

Scope creep is when small, sometimes continuous requests for changes to the project pile up and suddenly, you realize that the project you initially defined is no longer the project you are working on. It is referred to as “creep” because the changes are so small that you do not notice them at first (they creep up on you).

The problem is that over time, scope creep completely changes the nature of the project. Both sides wind up frustrated and unsure of what the final product is meant to look like.

Causes of scope creep

Scope creep has many causes, but they usually boil down to the same suspects:

  • Poorly defined requirements
  • Added features made by the team, that were not required by the client
  • Not involving the user/team members/client early enough
  • Not understanding what the client wants
  • Lack of change control
  • Poor communication
  • Misunderstanding the complexity of the project

Unfortunately, scope creep starts on day one. How you start the project will determine whether or not the scope stays under control.

How to avoid and get rid of scope creep

Everyone has a Scope Creep horror story, and they usually end the same way: frustrated team members, irritated clients, delayed deadlines, and a final product no one can agree on.

The good news? Scope creep does not need to define your project, and even if it does creep into your project, you can still boot it back to the curb. Here are a few tips to start on the right foot (or get back on track).

1. Prioritize communication

4 ways to avoid scope creep in software development (or get rid of it)

In case you could not tell, this entire process relies on one key factor: clear communication. Communication has to be your priority in dealing with a client, no matter how big or small the project. As soon as communication falls by the wayside, you create the potential for misunderstanding, and that way lies frustration.

When you set up the project with your client, set up a clear communication system. A communication point-person is a good idea (just make sure that person can be available when needed). Set up clear expectations for communication and spell things out more than you think you need to.

2. Set crystal clear project requirements

Most Scope Creep issues have their roots in the same problem: lack of project clarity. Specifically, the lack of clear project scope.

If you do not define your scope from the beginning, both sides will have different expectations about what the scope entails. This is how you get incremental changes over time that change the nature of the project, or change requests that do not seem to make sense in the context of the scope as you understand it.

Sometimes, even if you both understand the scope the same way, lack of clear project requirements leaves the client free to request changes as they change their mind, which creates the same issue all over again.

The best way to tackle this problem is to get crystal clear on expectations from day one. You should have exact, concrete answers to the questions that define your project, like “What are the deliverables and what are their functionalities?”

Once you know what you are after, get it in writing — this will ensure that both you and the client are working with the same set of expectations.

3. Set a clear schedule

Part of setting precise requirements is setting a clear schedule for the project.

4 ways to avoid scope creep in software development (or get rid of it)

Again, this comes back to a problem of expectations. If the client’s idea of the project timeline does not match yours, someone is going to be frustrated.

The good news is that you can clarify the project schedule while you are specifying the project requirements (hint: this should happen on Day One). Use the requirements to work with the client and create a detailed task list, illustrating:

  • What needs to be achieved
  • How it will be achieved
  • The agreed-upon timeline for it to be achieved

This is often done in the form of a Gantt chart, but you can use any tool you want.

4. Set a change control process

Unfortunately, setting precise requirements is not enough to face the scope creep. You also have to set up a change control process.

Inevitably, clients will change their minds at some point. This is especially true of clients who did not know what they wanted when they started the project. However, making a client happy by saying yes to every request is not the best way to begin with — this is how Scope Creep begins, and it is a one-way ticket to runaway project requirements and frustration.

To simplify the process, the team and the client should both agree on a clear system and process to submit project changes. A change control process is simple: someone suggests a change, it is reviewed, rejected, or approved, and (if approved) incorporated into the plan.

The key is to institute rules for who gets to review changes and their process for doing so. A team manager is a good candidate for this role. That way, a client cannot submit “a little request” to a team member — they have to go through a change control meeting before the team goes ahead with anything. This also gives the team manager a chance to communicate whether timelines will change based on the request.

One last thought: do not let scope creep ruin your project

Scope creep in software development projects can undoubtedly be frustrating, but it does not need to throw your project off track. If you find that scope creep has wandered into your project, take a step back, assess, and start communicating — with your team, with your manager, and with your client.

Taking into account the four tips I shared with you will help you managing the scope creep your project might have. The sooner you clarify the issue, the sooner you can get your project within scope and back on schedule.

Is there any other tactic we can apply to avoid this? Let us know.

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