How to Avoid the Slow Death of Scope Creep

Scope creep can be a silent killer for projects, leading to increased costs, missed deadlines, and dissatisfied clients. In this article, we delve into the perils of scope creep and present practical strategies to avoid its detrimental effects.

We’ve all been there, and hey, we might even have the T-shirt to prove it! You know how it goes: you establish the initial scope of work with a client, agree on its principles and dive right in. But before you know it, those little changes start sneaking in. Slowly but surely, they start piling up. Yup, you’ve got yourself a case of scope creep. 

Previous industry studies have shown how much scope creep and management processes can significantly impact profit. Thus, it’s clear that having a robust scoping process is the way to go.

Scope creep has become a bigger problem over the past decade. According to the Project Management Institute’s Pulse of the Profession survey results, 52% of projects completed in the previous year had experienced scope creep. That’s a jump from 43% reported five years prior. And unfortunately, things aren’t getting much better.

Avoiding scope creep is a total must if you want to keep those profit margins healthy. 

Early Planning Saves Time and Money

At Tangram, we have accumulated a wealth of experience assisting agencies with their business analysis. One of the most important things to achieve for your agency is eliminating scope creep. So often, we witness low margins, and more often than not, it comes down to a failure in the original scope of work process.

Here’s the thing: too many agencies still need to rely on outdated quoting templates and data. They end up charging fixed prices agreed upon ages ago. Or worse, simply guessing how much work is needed. Trust us; it pays off to take a breath, plan things out, and document every detail of the project before you throw a quote at the client. Investing that extra time upfront can save you in the long run. You’ll see positive impacts on timelines, budgets, and, most importantly, your bottom line.

plain house vs mansion

Here are some tips that will assist you in mitigating scope creep and ensuring accurate scopes of work:

1. Always define project objectives clearly

Begin by establishing clear and measurable project objectives in collaboration with your clients. Ensure that you and your team fully understand their goals and expectations to create a solid foundation for scoping the project.

2. Gather thorough requirements

Ensure you invest sufficient time and effort in conducting comprehensive discovery sessions with your clients. Ask detailed questions to understand their needs, and ensure that you document all the requirements. The more you know upfront, the better you can accurately define the scope.

3. Define distinct milestones

Instead of tackling the entire project, break it down into manageable phases or milestones. Doing so allows for better planning, control, and monitoring of the project scope. You can then clearly define each phase’s deliverables, timelines, and budgets.

4. Create a detailed scope of work

Now create a comprehensive scope of work with the information you have obtained in the previous steps. Clearly detail the agreed objectives, deliverables, timelines, and milestones. Also, include specific details about what to include and what is out of scope. Ensure it is reviewed and approved before starting the project.

Woman drowning in client change requests

5. Implement a formal change request process

Implementing a process will enable you to control any deviations from the agreed scope. Any requests for additional work or changes should be documented and evaluated to adequately forecast the impact on the project timeline and budget. Always inform clients of the impact before proceeding. Thus helping manage expectations and preventing scope creep.

6. Maintain open communication with clients & colleagues

Nurturing open communication lines with clients and colleagues plays a pivotal role in preventing scope creep. When communication falters between the agency and the client or within the agency team, the door is left open for misunderstandings and wasted time. It is crucial to consistently keep clients and the entire project team in the loop regarding job progress, obstacles encountered, and any change requests. Fostering an open dialogue environment enables both parties to address any concerns promptly. This transparent approach effectively reduces the risk of misunderstandings and insidious scope creep.

7. Always monitor the project’s progress

The best way to monitor and track project progress is to establish robust project reporting. Here’s where project management tools and techniques shine, enabling you to stay on top of the budget, timelines, and resource utilisation. By measuring the project’s status against the defined scope, you gain valuable insights and can swiftly take necessary corrective actions whenever issues arise. This proactive approach ensures that your project stays on course and remains aligned with its objectives.

8. Always ensure clients fully comprehend the perils of scope creep

It’s vital for clients to fully grasp the implications of scope creep on project timelines, budgets, and quality of work. Educate them about the impact of changes on the overall project plan and emphasise the importance of a controlled approach to scope management. Such an approach empowers clients to make informed decisions and fosters collaboration in keeping scope changes aligned with project goals.

Communication is a key component

9. Keep a paper trail: Document all changes and agreements

Maintaining thorough documentation of all scope-related discussions, changes, and agreements is a game-changer. It’s your trusty reference point, ready to sort out any disputes or clear up misunderstandings that might pop up down the road. Maintaining this organised record establishes a solid basis for smooth communication and ensures that everyone stays on the same wavelength throughout the project.

10. Conduct a Post-Project Review

When you reach the finish line of a project, remember to take the time for a comprehensive post-project review. It’s your chance to uncover valuable insights and pinpoint areas for improvement. You can fine-tune your scoping processes and level up your project management practices by embracing the lessons learned. Embrace this opportunity to learn, improve, and grow with each completed project.

With these handy tips in your toolkit, you can slash the risk of scope creep and nail those accurate scopes of work, giving your agency’s margins a major boost. By staying on top of scope management, you’ll breeze through projects, ensuring successful outcomes and keeping your agency’s bottom line in tip-top shape. It’s time to rock those scopes and supercharge your agency’s success!

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Helen Johnson
+61 404 458 797


Christian Arpe-Hansen
+45 31 36 66 03