A Comprehensive Guide to Managing Scope Creep

What is Scope Creep?

It is the process by which a project grows beyond its originally anticipated size. Or in simple terms we finalize a project’s terms with a client and we get to work and over time, the project gets bigger and bigger, but the pay stays the same. This is referred to as scope creep and it’s a revenue killer. Also known as feature creep, focus creep, creeping functionality and kitchen-sink syndrome — scope creep can sneak up, morph and destroy a project. Only backlash for avoiding scope creep that we will get is from poor quality clients (i.e. those who want a free meal), and we shouldn’t be working with them anyway. Meanwhile, the good clients (i.e. those that we do want to work with) will benefit from our focused and professional approach to project management and delivery. It truly is a win/win situation.

How to Manage Scope Creep

1. Identify stakeholders’ needs — talk to all the key stakeholders of the project and document all the client’s requirements. This may be a time-consuming task but getting clarity on the client’s vision early on will give us a better picture of the project scope.

2. Define Deliverables — Once we have all the client’s requirements we should define our deliverables and get them approved by the client. Deliverables should be general descriptions of the functionalities expected from us in the project. Any recommendations from our side can be put forward to the client and incorporated in the deliverables after mutual consensus. We should always be critical of the client’s ideas. Being critical does not means telling the client his ideas are awful but rather improving/refining the client’s idea. Two minds are always better than one.

3. Deliverables to actual task lists — Deliverables should be broken down into actual work requirements and a tasks list should be created and all these requirements should be detailed and specific taking in all considerations.

4. Major and Minor milestones — The project should be broken down into major and minor milestones and a detailed project schedule should be created. We can also show the project schedule to the client to confirm that all the key project parameters are listed in the schedule. This will also enable the client to understand exactly what they’re getting for their fees as well as give them a clear understanding of the scope of the project.

5. Steps to follow while preparing the Project Schedule

  • Define activities — identifies the tasks on a project
  • Sequence activities — defines the relationships between project tasks. All the task dependencies must be clearly defined
  • Estimate activity resources — defines the resource pool needed to execute the task
  • Estimate activity durations — estimates the number of work periods to complete the tasks with assigned resources
  • Contingency Finally we should remember that sticking to the schedule will not be possible in cases of large and complex projects and thus we should plan for contingency.

6. Develop a process for changing scope

  • Everything related to changing the scope of the project should be clearly defined
  • Who can request a scope change and who can grant it should be defined in advance.
  • What constitutes “edits” and what constitutes “scope creep/additional work” should be clearly conveyed to the client in written.
  • If we use any project management software such as JIRA or Trello which has change functionality then we should use it

7. Pricing — Our Pricing strategy for the scope change should be clearly defined first-hand. Charging extra for scope creep will prompt the client to assess his needs carefully before the project begins and thus reduce the probability of scope creep. This also lets the client know that they can have pretty much whatever functionality they want if the are willing to pay for it. One of the best ways to discourage add-on work, is to use a premium rate for additional work. While the growth of a project during its lifespan is often unavoidable, we can encourage our client to prevent such an outcome by establishing repercussions (i.e. a higher price).

8. Gold Plating — This refers to the team over-delivering on the scope and adding features. Gold Plating should not be confused with delivering higher quality than expected, instead it is developing/designing features that we were not asked for. We should always strive to achieve a higher Quality than expected of us, but not the scope. We’ll not be rewarded for overdelivering on our project scope. Instead, we’ll be bombarded with unrealistic expectations. It won’t take long for our clients to expect extras for free. Even Social Research points out that breaking one’s promise is costly, but exceeding it is not worth the effort.

Some other ways to reduce scope

1. Be the first to mention extras — Sometimes, we’ll notice that a project will benefit from something that wasn’t included in the original contract. For instance, we might finish a layout, only to realize that a sidebar or a dropdown would look great. If that happens, we can approach the client and mention that we think a sidebar would be a nice addition, and we can add it for X amount of money.

2. Know when to say “NO” — There are going to be unreasonable requests for scope change that we can’t give the green signal to.

3. If saying “NO” is not possible, we can at least ensure it is a zero-sum game for us, if something new goes into the scope then something must come out as well.


With a properly written contract, and specific terms mentioned for additional features, scope creep can generate additional revenue for us. In this case our scope creep becomes the cost creep for the customer.

If Scope Creep can not be avoided

Let us assume we do not charge anything extra for additional features asked by the client from us. In that case we can include that feature in the bill, time allotted for that feature and accordingly the amount to be charged for that feature. We can cross this amount in the invoice and put zero in its place letting our client know that we offered him this service for free this first time. This will make the client more mindful asking for additional items the next time and convey to the client our generosity.