How to Stop Scope Creep from Destroying Your Process in 4 Steps

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Proverb.

As a Project Manager (PM), I plan everything. Every call has an agenda with meeting notes to follow. Everyone’s time is accounted for. Every project is laid out carefully to make sure everything is on time and budget.

But - it’s impossible to plan for everything. Inevitably, there will be changes, and if a change is significant enough, there could be a potential for scope creep (AKA the ultimate nightmare for PMs who love to plan everything). If you’re a planner like me, don’t stress, there are ways we can effectively manage (or stop) scope creep.


Statement of Work and Project Scope

At Liquid, each project has a statement of work (SOW) that outlines all the project deliverables, assumptions, expectations, project method, terms and conditions, scope (project hours and budget), and invoicing details. The SOW is a legal document that explicitly states what’s covered and that anything additional will be treated as a scope change, requiring a new contract.


Introducing: Scope Creep

Larger projects, like website redesigns or landing pages, may have a lot of moving parts (like design QA, development, and content entry) happening in tandem, which could be difficult to manage. Some reasons for this include unclear deliverables, change in deliverables as the project is in progress, multiple stakeholders providing conflicting direction, unmet expectations, extended revision cycles, legal review, shifts in priority, unplanned time off, technical issues, and lack of communication.

Any of these could lead to an extension of the initial agreement (scope creep). While you can’t plan for everything, there are some ways to prevent or manage scope creep to minimize project impact.


1. Start off on the Right Foot

Instead of addressing scope creep in the middle of a project, you can stop it before it starts. By presenting a clear process and getting team buy-in early, you’ll be off to a great start. Establish internal and external expectations: how will you be communicating and how often? What’s the most effective way to present new ideas or raise concerns? How often are meetings? Who’s in the meetings? Are the project stakeholders in all deliverable check-ins? Set a schedule with key milestones and make sure there’s enough flexibility to shift as things change, because they will.


2. Manage the Project Closely

Even if you allow breathing room in the schedule, it’s essential to monitor the project status early and often. Compare task (and budget) progress to the baseline scope – is the project on track from an hours and timeline perspective? If not, determine the cause and create a list of potential solutions. Do you need to adjust/combine/cut tasks to reach the same result? Be sure to include the full project team, so all stakeholders can contribute.


3. Adjust Your Workflow

If you’re starting to see multiple impacts to the scope, you may want to look at your workflow. How can you adjust your current process to make the project more efficient? Do you need to meet more or less often? Do you need to change up who’s in the meetings to have certain focus groups or calls? Should you change communication channels? Check in with the project team and client stakeholders to ensure everyone’s aligned to the proposed changes and any potential impact.


4. Keep Your Momentum

If you’ve established a process, checked in on it, and even set up a change management process, and there’s still scope creep, just.keep.swimming.

No matter what, it’s always best to communicate transparently and document all meetings, progress, and next steps. If scope creep happens, don’t stress. Schedule a check-in to establish a new baseline and any remaining ‘must haves’ to complete the project. Reset expectations for timing and scope impact, and (if needed) be ready to set up new communication methods, meeting recurrences, and deliverable reviews. The changes may lead to a scope change and timeline delay, so it’s important to be sure the entire team and stakeholders are looped in and on the same page.


Don’t Let Scope Creep Manage You

Embrace that change is inevitable. Plan for it the best you can. When you can’t, try these tips to manage the impact. While this list isn’t comprehensive, it is a starting place to help plan for the unexpected, as best as you can.

Have you experienced scope creep? We’d love to hear from you on what you’ve tried and how it’s worked out.

Check out some of our project successes here.