Best Practices for Project Managers Trying to Avoid Scope Creep

As a project manager, you will have to deal with scope creep from time to time. Scope creep can happen when a client or stakeholder tries to add new deliverables or tasks to your project beyond the agreed-upon scope of the project. While, from a stakeholder perspective, the small changes or requests may seem like a small ask, scope creep can lead to the unraveling of a project when these new requirements lead to missed deadlines, inflated budgets, longer timelines, or client dissatisfaction.

Scope creep can happen when deliverables are not clearly defined or tasks become more complex than anticipated. However, it is possible to avoid scope creep if you take these critical insights into account at the outset of a project.

Write Expectations Down to Set Them in Stone

It helps to start a project with a clearly defined contract or set of expectations that the client and/or every stakeholder signs off on. Having your project and its moving parts written down, examined by stakeholders, and agreed to in advance makes you less likely to get pushback in terms of a client or stakeholder not understanding the original scope. It also gives you a document that you can turn to that can help illustrate how going off-book will affect Part X, Y, or Z of the agreed-upon deliverables.

Take time at the outset to dig into the expected deliverables, timelines, duties, milestones, and responsibilities of all parties involved. Make the contract or outline a collaborative process to engage with everyone. This ensures a solid foundation that will get you started and help carry you throughout the project’s duration. 

Have a Plan B (or C)

Projects never run precisely as anticipated. As you build out your plan, be sure also to make room for contingencies. This is important, especially for addressing scope creep, and will ensure that all stakeholders, from the outset, understand who will be in charge of reviewing requested changes and how much runway timelines have. If extra work is the potential to cost a certain amount, it’s a good idea to have that stated. Discussing Plan B and other contingency plans beforehand makes it easier to provide solutions to problems when they arise.

Keep Communication Lines Open

While the project manager, ultimately, is responsible for the project in its entirety, if a change in scope does happen, you’ll need to be ready to jump in and showcase how such a request will impact budgets and timelines. While you may be the project manager, the client or CEO will ultimately have to sign off on the project changes. You will have to be ready to accommodate that. However, communicate early and often if you see problems bubbling up. Finally, be prepared to show how the change in direction will affect various other project areas and what that means to the timelines and budget.

It’s also important to communicate up and down the line. Keep your team in the loop so they can also prepare for changes and make adjustments to their workloads.

Be the Middle Man

You should be the point of contact between the stakeholders and your team. If a stakeholder or client begins to direct requests directly to any team member, it’s time to intervene politely. You can ensure the project does not veer off under your nose by being the gatekeeper. You can also protect any team members from the pressure of wanting to “please the client” at the expense of their scheduled work.

It’s Okay to Push Back

As the project leader, it’s essential to look at additional requests and gauge how much value they add to the overall project. If the change likely hurts the final project or the work of your team, in the long run, you may have to say no. However, “no” must come with an apparent, concise reason. Make sure if you are pushing back, you are presenting your case with evidence and suggestions on how to best push forward to protect the integrity of the project itself. 

Don’t Stonewall. Give Options.

When a client makes additional requests, it’s important to remind them of the original scope. However, stating “it’s not possible because X” isn’t going to wow your client. Once you’ve shared the original scope and reiterated the agreement in terms of time and budget, it’s time to give them options. For example, you may let them know that you can accommodate the extra work (with an adjusted budget and a new timeline) or keep moving forward and revisit the request after the central portion of the project is closed. Find ways to give your client or stakeholder what they want without disrupting the project or distracting your team.

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