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Scope Creep in Project Management, Reasons and How to Manage the Project Scope?

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In every project, the scope is usually defined at the initial stage of planning. The scheduling of activities, time of completion, resource allocation, etc. are planned based on the scope of the project. Therefore, determining and managing the scope is most important and essential part of the project management. Sometimes, the scope of project varies as compared to what is planned at initial stage. Here, the term ‘scope creep’ comes into picture.

What is Scope Creep in Project Management?

Scope creep may be defined as the deviation in the initial scope of work. The deviation may be due to many reasons. If the scope is not defined clearly at the planning stage, then there may be a variation in the scope during the execution of the project. Sometimes, the changing requirements of the stakeholders may also cause scope creep. In some cases, due to unforeseen site conditions (particularly in the construction projects), the scope creep may occur.


Let us take a case of highway construction. Concerning agency of the government decides to take up a project of bituminous work to be done on an existing road. A contract has been signed between the agency and a construction company for this work. During the preparation of DPR, the consultant has taken the provisions of subgrade preparation, bituminous works and road safety but has forgot to make provision of cross drainage works, like, culverts and drains. During construction, the need for cross drainage works was observed by the officers of the concerning department and they decided this extra work to be done as a variation in the original contact. The variation of this extra work for construction of cross drainage items from the original scope of work is called the scope creep. In this case, we can see that since the information regarding site conditions were not captured by the DPR consultant, it led to scope creep in the form of variation. This variation resulted in increase in cost as well as time of the project.

Scope creep may sometimes be a reason for project failure it the scope is unclearly defined at the planning stage, but all scope creeps are not always bad. The change is inevitable and in some cases, the stakeholders decide to make some changes in the requirements which may be genuine and good for the project. Whatever may the reason of the scope creep, the important thing is to manage the changes and the scope creep.

Reasons of Scope Creep

There are numerous reasons of scope creep, but some reasons are prominent and are responsible for scope creep in many projects. Below are given most common reasons of scope creep:

(a) Poorly Defined Project Scope

Understanding of the requirements and scope is crucial for the success of the project. The project manager as well as the client should meticulously work on defining every requirement and project scope at the initial stage. If the project manager fails to understand the requirements clearly, the final project outcome may vary substantially as compared to what is planned.

Sometimes, the clients are equally responsible for the scope creep. It the clients will not have a clear vision of what they want, it may lead to confusion among the project team and scope creep. Therefore, defining and understanding the project scope is very important for the success of the project.

(b) Changing Requirements of the Client

As discussed in the above point also, the changing requirements of the client are a major cause of scope creep. If the clients themselves do not have a clear vision about their requirements, they may confuse others also. The project timeline, scheduling, resource allocations is determined on the basis of scope of the project. The changing requirements of the client will cause variation in scope, which may lead to cost and time overrun and sometimes may also lead to project failure. It is the responsibility of the project manager also, to collect all the requirements form client to avoid scope creep.

(c) Poor Scope Management

Despite all the efforts made to fix the project scope, there may be variation in it due to various reasons. The change is inevitable. It is the responsibility of project manager to manage the changes. Agile methods of the project management are specially designed to work in a frequently changing project environment. If project manager is skilled enough to manage the changes and put an organized system for it, the uncontrolled changes may be avoided.

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Nine Most Popular Project Management Methodologies

(d) Lack of communication Between Project Stakeholders

This is a major cause of scope creep and is common in many projects. If the clients and other stakeholders fail to respond quickly to the emails or phone calls of the project team, the decisions are pending and ultimately the project scope may vary.

Sometimes due to lack of input from other stakeholders, the project team take decisions themselves and it may lead to many unapproved changes.

(e) Gold Plating

Gold plating is addition of extra features that were not included in the initial scope. Sometimes, the project team add extra features to the project scope just to make the client happy or to demonstrate their project management abilities. This may lead to scope creep. Clients may appreciate gold plating but sometimes this may be unpleasant for the clients to see these unapproved changes. Therefore, the gold plating should be avoided by the project team.

How to Manage Project Scope?

There are many ways to manage the project scope. Some of them are discussed below:

Creating a Project Scope Statement

Creating a project scope statement helps a lot in managing the project scope. It provides a roadmap to achieve the project deliverables. The project scope statement has following elements:

  1. Project Objective
  2. Product Acceptance Criteria
  3. Project Deliverables
  4. Project Constraints
  5. Assumptions

The project scope statement communicates project objectives to all the stakeholders and thereby reduces any potential confusion later on.

Defining Scope

Defining scope at the planning level is very important for scope management. It acts as a baseline for the project manager around which further planning is made. If the scope is defined, then the project team will know how much the scope is varying. The project manager may take approvals for changes accordingly and can manage the scope changes effectively. Defining the scope may be challenging for the project team. The team may take help of some tools like Context Diagram, Use Case Diagram, Product Backlog, etc. to clarify the scope.

Establishing a Change Management Process

Despite having fixed the project boundaries, changes are inevitable due to various reasons. Change management is also an important part of project manager’s job. The project manager should follow the below mentioned guidelines to manage changes effectively.

  1. Properly define the project scope.
  2. Keep the things simple, as much as possible.
  3. Defining the change management process, i.e., how the change requests will be communicated, who will approve the change requests, etc.
  4. Document and communicate the scope change process to all the project stakeholders to avoid any confusions later on.
  5. After defining and communicating the change process, now it time to take action. Monitor the changes closely and manage them as per the process defined.

Understanding Stakeholder’s Requirements

Understanding the stakeholder’s requirement is crucial. A good project manager knows its importance and makes every effort to understand the stakeholder’s requirements. Below mentioned tools may help up to a great extent in understanding stakeholder’s requirements.

  1. Organizing workshops
  2. Stakeholder Analysis
  3. Stakeholder Interest and Impact Table
  4. Interest- Influence Classification

Employing Technology

Employing new technology can help manage scope changes. There are many project management software and tools available now a day, that should be used to manage the projects. These tools can help the project team by giving a clear picture of variations.

Learn to Say No

The unrealistic demands by project stakeholders should be resisted by the project manager. Sometimes some change requests are made by the stakeholders, when the project progresses substantially. The project manager should say no to these change requests, if the situation demands so. In case the change requests are to be accepted, a cost increase and time extension should be demanded by the project manager accordingly.


Scope creep is the deviation in the initial scope of work. The project manager should try to control scope creep, because if remain unattended, it may lead to project failure also. Sometimes, the changes are inevitable due to various reasons. In such cases, proper change management mechanism should be established by project team and the changes should be managed according to the established procedure. The project manager should be skilled enough to understand stakeholder’s requirements and to understand the potential reasons of scope creep. Project creeps are not always bad. Sometimes, it is necessary to make changes in the project scope for the overall benefit of the stakeholders. The project manager should handle such change requests by taking appropriate measures, as discussed above.


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Rajesh Pant
Rajesh Pant
My name is Rajesh Pant. I am M. Tech. (Civil Engineering) and M. B. A. (Infrastructure Management). I have gained knowledge of contract management, procurement & project management while I handled various infrastructure projects as Executive Engineer/ Procurement & Contract Management Expert in Govt. Sector. I also have exposure of handling projects financed by multi-lateral organizations like the World Bank Projects. During my MBA studies I developed interest in management concepts.
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