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Everything to Know about Scope Creep Risk

The meaning of scope creep, causes and how to mitigate scope creep during a project.

1. What is Scope Creep?

Scope Creep in construction refers to uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope, often without appropriate adjustments to time, costs, or resources. This typically occurs when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled.

2. What does Scope Creep mean?

'Scope Creep' means the addition of new features, requirements, or tasks to a project beyond the original plans and agreements. These changes can lead to increased costs, extended timelines, and strained resources without corresponding adjustments in budget or schedule. The term 'Creep' is used because generally the addition of scope requests from Project Owners and Stakeholders is small and compounding overtime, and all the little things add up!

Scope creep is like a climbing plant. It happens slowly over time and before you know it, it is out of control!

3. Scope Creep Example

An example of scope creep in construction could be a Project Owners and Stakeholders who after construction has begun, requests additional features like higher-grade materials, additional rooms, or more complex architectural designs that were not part of the initial plan. Creeping!

The Denver International Airport (DIA) is quite famous example. The airport project attempted to create a fully automated baggage handling system and had over 2,000 design changes. The project failed, around 16 months later than scheduled and 250% over budget.

4. The History of Scope Creep

Scope creep has been a challenge in project management across various industries, including construction, for as long as complex projects have been undertaken. It often stems from evolving client demands as humans always want cool stuff and see opportunities to get it. This is often made worse with incomplete initial requirements, or market changes influencing the project scope after it has commenced.

5. Causes of Scope Creep

Scope creep can be caused by several factors:

  • Enthusiastic Project Owner: Project Owners and Stakeholders who are out of control and want cool things added.
  • Ambiguous Project Requirements: Lack of clear, detailed, and documented project specifications.
  • Poor Communication: Inadequate communication between stakeholders, leading to misunderstandings and mismatched expectations.
  • Lack of Formal Change Control Processes: Absence of robust mechanisms to manage changes in project scope.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: Changing inputs or decisions from stakeholders that lead to adjustments in project plans.

6. Likelihood of Scope Creep

The likelihood of scope creep is high in projects where initial scopes are not clearly defined or controlled. It is particularly prevalent in long-term projects with many stakeholders and complex deliverables. As such, we recommend a likelihood rating of 'Likely'.

7. Consequence / Impact of Scope Creep

The consequences and impacts of scope creep include budget overruns, project delays, resource depletion, and potential compromise on the quality of work. It can also lead to stakeholder dissatisfaction and increased stress for the project team. As such, an impact rating of 'Moderate' is suitable.

8. Scope Creep Clauses in Construction Contracts

There are no clauses for scope creep specifically in construction contracts, but there are mechanisms that control changes to scope or changes to the contract that result from Scope Creep. They are:

  • Change Orders / Variations: Detailed processes for managing changes in the project scope, including how changes must be documented, approved, and implemented.
  • Scope Definition: Clear, detailed descriptions of project scope and deliverables to establish firm boundaries.
  • Stakeholder Roles and Responsibilities: Defined roles for all stakeholders in decision-making processes related to scope changes.
  • Limitations and Exclusions: Specific limitations or exclusions that define what is not included in the project scope to prevent unwarranted expansions.

9. Mitigations and Treatments for Scope Creep Risk

Effective strategies to manage scope creep include:

  • Good Project Management: Implementing a culture of governance and control when it comes to scope changes, so that changes are processed through proper channels and consider the overall impact.
  • Design Engagement: Ensure Users Requirements and Stakeholder Requirements are gathered early through consultations, to ensure everything is document early in order to provide proper cost estimation and budgets.
  • Stakeholder Engagement: Regular engagement with all stakeholders to align expectations and promptly address any requests for changes.
  • Comprehensive Documentation: Maintaining thorough documentation of all project activities and changes.
  • Change Control Mechanisms: Establishing a formal change control process that includes impact analysis and approval for scope changes.
  • Training and Communication: Ensuring all team members are trained in scope management and effective communication techniques.
  • Reporting: Consider incorporating scope and change topics into your Project Status report or Monthly Reports using charts, tables and visualisations to help keep this risk front of mind and easy.

10. Risk Management and Reporting of Scope Creep

As we've seen above, there are alot of considerations when it comes to Risk Management of Scope Creep. Implementing Risk Management and Reporting controls will make managing Scope Creep easy, and ensure success of your Capital Project.

  1. Risk Management Plan: Download a free Risk Management Plan Template and put a Risk Management process in place.
  2. Risk Register: Download a manual Risk Register Template or use an automated Risk Register solution to track all risks, causes, consquences and mitigations.
  3. Reporting: Create automated Risk Reports, Project Status Reports or Dashboards for communicating with stakeholders. If you need a free Report Template, you can find some examples here.
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