A sure-fire way to know that you’re at risk for scope creep is if you don’t have any documentation. There are times when it is tempting to begin a software project with only an idea of your functionality, and of course if you are prototyping to explore what’s possible, this methodology can provide information from which you can form an effective strategy. However, if you’re already working towards a specific end product, generalized end goals are not sufficient and shouldn’t be considered requirements. Requirements consist of all components that are essential to your application and nothing else. This means you won’t be able to properly define your requirements without an in-depth requirements analysis. Only after application requirements have been fully investigated and defined can you be free from this very common avenue that leads straight to scope creep.
“Requirements consist of all components that are essential to your application and nothing else.”
Not Involving the Users Early Enough
“You have an audience for your software product – what makes you think that you know them better than they know themselves?”
If customers are absent from the early phases of your project, you have just identified a major scope creep risk. You have an audience for your software product – what makes you think that you know them better than they know themselves? Customers are your primary gauge for which features you put into your software, therefore they should always be part of the requirements analysis. But don’t stop there, include customers in the application design phase too. With design being highly valued these days, it’s easy to add unnecessary design features to your application. Involving users as early as possible will help you nail down your design strategies and keep scope creep at bay.
Underestimating the Complexity of the Project
What you don’t understand will likely extend your scope and come back to bite you in the budget.”
Often software projects are undertaken that require functionality or strategies in which the entire team has little to no previous experience. This is a danger sign for scope creep. When projects are complex, dealing with things like database interaction, mobile implementation, or innovative app features, it’s easy to get lost in the mire of what is not well understood or not known at all. Make sure you are doing your homework and looking closely at your project, gathering all pertinent information about the nature of the application you are working on. What you don’t understand will likely extend your scope and come back to bite you in the budget.
Lack of Change Management
You can always expect change to happen within a project. It’s not whether change happens, but how you manage it when it happens, that matters. If you don’t have a defined strategy in place to handle changes from their inception to their completion, get ready to deal with scope creep. You can tailor a detailed change control process that works for your unique project, but you can also consider a basic formula of: document, review, approve, implement and monitor, which will be effective to mitigate change and protect you from scope creep.
“It’s not whether change happens, but how you manage it when it happens, that matters.”
“Even when out-of-scope software features seem promising, they are not guaranteed to lead to any increased level of success, and they are guaranteed to use up resources along the way.”
Let’s say you’re an above average project manager with an above average team – you’re a prime candidate for experiencing the temptation to exceed project scope intentionally because you believe that value is being added. Use extreme caution! No one wants to be the person who directly ushered in a violation of scope that turns out poorly and leads to negative outcomes. Even when out-of-scope software features seem promising, they are not guaranteed to lead to any increased level of success, and they are guaranteed to use up resources along the way. We all want innovative software but if you want to avoid scope creep, stick with the plan and keep your software features coming only out of your needs analysis.
The Top Three Ways to Avoid Scope Creep
Now you’re ready to identify scope creep from its most common causes, but what are some pre-emptive ways to organize your project so you won’t feel its wrath? Here are the top three ways to stop scope creep from crushing your software project:
Document your work requirements
It’s essential for your software project to have a documented list of priorities and approved deliverables. However, to really put the guard up against scope creep, go a step further and outline the individual work requirements needed to produce each deliverable. With this level of detailed documentation, you’re leaving no gaps where deviations to scope can creep in.
Break the project down into major and minor milestones
Don’t simply keep a generalized schedule. If you want to meet your schedule, you are going to need to be specific with both major and minor milestones. As a rule of thumb, don’t make milestones span more than three months. Remember to leave room for error and delays when setting milestones and, if necessary, re-evaluate deliverables.
Once a schedule has been created, assign resources and determine your critical path
Consider using a work breakdown structure or a visual chart such as a project evaluation and review technique (PERT) to get the best handle on the full scope of your project. Critical paths often change over the course of your software project, so it’s important to perform a thorough evaluation before commencing with development. Once you’ve produced the map, use it to assign resources appropriately and determine when deliverables must be completed.
Don’t fall victim to what so many others have. Scope creep can be a project killer but it doesn’t have to kill yours. Whether your project is large or small, taking the time to make detailed plans will go a long way to ensure the success of your project.