4 Steps to Keep Your Project in Scope

Sep 5, 2014
5 Min Read

Your project is underway, and one of your stakeholders decides to change things up. How do you prevent the situation from spiraling out of control? The key is to manage it from the very beginning.

One of the many challenging things I experienced in my former life as a digital marketing account manager was scope creep. Scope creep occurs when you’ve already started a project and someone requests a change or a new direction that impacts your process, timeline, and costs.

Those who manage projects and constantly fall victim to scope creep don’t have the best reputation: whether it’s your fault or not, delivering a ballooning project six months late and $500K over budget just doesn’t look good. So not surprisingly, keeping projects in scope is a topic that comes up a lot in the project management forums on LinkedIn. Thanks to my own years in the trenches and smart advice from other PMs, I’ve come to realize that controlling scope is all about advance planning and meticulous documentation. Here are four steps to undertake in that vein.

Outline Your Purpose

When everyone is on the same page regarding why you’re doing the project and what you’re expected to achieve, you prevent surprises later on. Before you do anything else, get your purpose and anticipated results down on paper and share them with your sponsor and all relevant stakeholders. One of the most common causes of scope creep is misunderstanding, or various parties with different ideas about project outcomes. So now is the time to invite detailed feedback, and don’t proceed with development until everyone agrees.

List Your Deliverables

Projects can’t be all things to all people, so you’ll need to plan carefully and prioritize your focus. Think about what output or functionality should be delivered when, as well as aspects like timeline, budget, development approach, quality assurance, and launch. List them in order from most critical to least critical, and get sign-off from your stakeholders so that everyone understands the method behind your madness.

Create Your Workflow

Once you’ve nailed down your deliverables, assign specific work tasks and an appropriate team member to each. Using a software program like QuickBase, develop a critical path of tasks and sub-tasks – noting when a task is dependent upon another’s completion. List project milestones of which your stakeholders should be aware, and in your timeline leave plenty of cushion room for the unanticipated setback. When in doubt, allot more time than you think you need as it’s better to be finished early than late.

Present the entire workflow to the higher-ups and reiterate that if the development process strays from the plan or changes are requested once a task has been completed, you will face time and cost implications.

Insist On Change Forms

Ensure that all of your stakeholders and team members are well-acquainted with the change form, or document that clearly details a requested change and how the change impacts the timeline and project costs. The change form is an effective method for assessing whether it’s worth it to make a change or whether it should be tabled. It should be introduced at the beginning of your process, and you should not consider a requested change without having one in hand.

Although some scope creep is inevitable, much can be prevented with systematic documentation throughout the project development process. This is a perfect example of when some additional work upfront pays off big time in the long run.

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