Thursday, August 4, 2016

Scope Creep

            Around 10 years ago I was living and working internationally with refugees who were displaced from a neighboring country. I was helping facilitate language programs for them and also building an internal network for their transition back into society. We had a small group of 10 managing this specific project with various stakeholders involved. While the altruistic goal of service was commendable, the definable objects of the mission were lacking and scope creep began to sink in fast and often with the team I was working with. One of the greatest factors that contributed to scope creep in this situation was a misguided plan. The overarching vision was clear, but definable objects within a realistic timeline lacked. Looking back I can see how the major factor that contributed to scope creep was vague plan. Portny et al., (2008) states that, “the first step toward a successful project is to develop a plan that allows the project team to do the work required to produce the desired results in the available time for the available resources” (p.377). One way that our team should have addressed this issue was through updating the plan as the project progressed. It’s called scope “creep” because it slowly changes the direction of the project before anyone can really notice it. This is why a detailed plan needed to be in place and constant evaluation needs to occur so that addendums can be made. Greer (2010) makes a similar point calling for the project manager and others to “update the project scope statement and overall plan. Make an addendum or a complete revision, if appropriate, of the project schedule, work breakdown structure, scope description, and so on. Make sure you note all of the conditions that led to the change, the people who discussed alternatives, and the people who selected the recommended alternative. Document it—get it in writing” (p.36).
            Another major factor that contributed to scope creep was the aspect that the team didn’t plan for it to happen. Portny et al., (2008) states that, “avoiding scope creep is not possible. However, monitoring it, controlling it, and thereby reducing some of the pain is possible if the project manager follows a few guidelines” (p.347). The best approach is to set up a well-controlled, formal process whereby changes can be introduced and accomplished with as little distress as possible (Portny et al., 2008). The team didn’t define the outcomes so that when the change and scope creep entered the project the group was surprised it was there and didn’t know how to handle it. Every plan that is enforced needs to factor some form of flexibility and change. Portny et al., (2008) states that, “project managers give themselves the greatest chance for success if they confront head-on the possibility that some things might change. They need to prepare at the outset for how to minimize any associated negative consequences and maximize any positive consequences” (p.377).  


Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (n.d.). Monitoring projects [Video file]. Retrieved from


  1. Garth,

    I can definitely understand how working on a project with consist change can be aggravating at times. As you stated, it is hard to adjust and keep things working in the right direction if contingencies are not planned for and and cause even more time to be wasted if not handled accordingly. I definitely think you are on the right side of the track with how you discussed the plan that should have been in place. It makes it even harder when new tasks keep getting added to the overall project but the project doesn't evolve with the changes. It's like have room for two extra people in the car but trying to force an additional six people in there. It just isn't going to work so we just need to adjust or reevaluate the plan, as you suggested, so that proper adjustments can be made and not have a devastating affect on the overall project.


  2. Garth,
    It sounds like part of the issue with this project was that there wasn't a designated project manager tasked with overseeing many of the common project management tasks. Being part of a larger group of people trying to manage a project certainly comes with challenges, as you saw. Portny et al (2008) discuss the difficult role of selecting a project manager but insist that a designated project manager (carefully selected) can ensure that the project goals are met because they can utilize effective project management techniques while displaying leadership and influence over people and organizations. Do you think it would have been helpful to have a designated project manager as opposed to 10 pseudo-managers?

    Best, Dennis

    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience Garth! Your project seems very involved and I imagine many on your team were very committed to achieving positive results. However, as you point out the was an overarching vision, but the definable objectives were wanting. While I don’t fully understand your experience I know, as a teacher, sometimes we want to give more and more for the sake of those we serve. This often ends with a commitment of additional time and out of pocket resources to accomplish expanding goals. However, taking a step back, it is, as you suggest, necessary to have a clear plan to insure vital and specific goals are accomplished. Dr. Stolovitch (Laureate Education, n.d.) suggests identifying key tasks and prioritizing them. This makes sense to me, so if time and resources become scarce, major tasks may have been already been accomplished or addressed. However, Portny et al. (2008) write, “Great project plans often fall by the wayside when well-intentioned people start to do what they feel is necessary to achieve the best possible results (p.321).” As you point out, even with a clear plan, the project must be systematically monitored and adjusted to catch and account for changes that equate to scope creep.
    Great post Garth!

    Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (n.d.). Creating a resource allocation plan [Video file]. Retrieved from

    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  4. Hi Garth. Having a realistic timeline and a guided realistic plan is crucial. You said that updating the plan as the project progressed was one way to address the issue and I agree. We as PMs have to know that things will change, that scope creep is unavoidable, so we have to we have to plan accordingly and put aside some contingency and have a plan for that at all times.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.