Some Causes of Scope Creep
by Rick Brenner
When we suddenly realize that our project's scope has expanded far beyond its initial boundaries — when we have that how-did-we-ever-get-here feeling — we're experiencing the downside of scope creep. Preventing scope creep starts with understanding how it happens.
Mort finally got to the punch line. "We just didn't anticipate the difficulties of the consolidation," he said, "and now it looks like we'll have to take a three-month hit."
Just last quarter, Jack had okayed the consolidation of Marigold into Metronome, based on the promise of schedule savings from eliminating duplications and from better coordination. Now he sat stunned, wondering how they had reached such familiar territory so quickly.
By consolidating the two projects, Jack had unwittingly expanded their scope, because the combined team suddenly had a new task: consolidation. They became victims of a problem that afflicts many projects — scope creep.
To manage scope creep, begin by understanding its causes. Here are some of the more common sources of scope creep.
- The unknown
- Projects are ventures into unknown territory. Sometimes we underestimate the complexity of the problem we've tackled.
- We sometimes forget that good enough is good enough.
- Placating conflict
- We'll do almost anything to avoid dealing with conflict directly. We'll even expand project scope to satisfy all conflicting parties. When we placate conflict, we create a project that nobody can execute.
- We sometimes forget
that good enough
is good enough
- To secure resources, a failing project sometimes acquires another project on the basis of "natural fit" or "efficiencies." But consolidation isn't free, and the efficiencies are often illusory.
- Career advancement
- By commandeering more resources, the sponsors or leaders of a project can enhance their organizational power. Senior managers must learn to recognize these tactics, and approve scope expansions only on the basis of sound management principles.
- Lies and self-deception
- Sometimes we lie to others or deceive ourselves about what's really involved. We can do this to secure approval for the project, or to persuade ourselves or the implementing organization to agree to tackle it. Lying to others is unethical. When it occurs, the perpetrators must be held accountable. Deceiving oneself is tragic.
- The union of all misunderstandings
- If scope isn't clearly defined at the outset, misunderstandings result. When that happens, to preserve consensus that the project should continue, we might have to expand the project scope to include the union of all initial understandings. Making things painfully clear at the outset is worth the effort.
- The Donald Crowhurst effect
- Donald Crowhurst was a participant in the 1968 round the world single-handed sailing race sponsored by the London Sunday Times. As described in a 1970 book by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall, his life pattern was to tackle ever-larger projects, concealing a pattern of failure. Like Donald Crowhurst, some projects expand their scope to avoid acknowledging failure. Failure or restart must be realistic options for any project manager.
Do you know which of your projects are afflicted with scope creep? How did they get there? Top Next Issue
If you're dealing with scope creep, The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst is a captivating read.
For more about scope creep, see "Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep," Point Lookout for July 18, 2012; "The Perils of Political Praise," Point Lookout for May 19, 2010; "More Indicators of Scopemonging," Point Lookout for August 29, 2007; "Scopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional," Point Lookout for August 22, 2007; "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Strategy," Point Lookout for June 29, 2011; and "The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration," Point Lookout for June 22, 2011.
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Project Management
- Flanking Maneuvers
- Historically, military logistics practice has provided a steady stream of innovations to many fields, including project management. But project managers can learn even more if we investigate battlefield tactics.
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: Part I
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we "know" just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: Part I
- The Critical Path of a project or activity is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. If you're responsible for one of these tasks, you live in a unique political environment.
- The Politics of the Critical Path: Part II
- The Critical Path of a project is the sequence of dependent tasks that determine the earliest completion date of the effort. We don't usually consider tasks that are already complete, but they, too, can experience the unique politics of the critical path.
- Nonlinear Work: When Superposition Fails
- Much of the work we do is confounding, because we consistently underestimate the effort involved, the resources required, and the time required to get it done. The failure of superposition can be one reason why we get it wrong.
See also Project Management for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- MITRE, in Bedford, MA: October 21, Monthly Meeting, Boston SPIN.
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- Managing Virtual Meetings for Real Results
- Leading or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: