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Do Not Let Scope Creep Ruin Your Next IT Project

Today’s business technology is both powerful and restive. No matter how ‘feature rich’ a software solution or hardware asset may be, there is always another upgrade around the corner. In other words, it is just a matter of time before your company’s next information technology (IT) project.

When that day arrives, watch out for ‘scope creep.’ This term refers to the tendency of a project’s objective (or ‘scope’) to gradually expand while the job is underway. As a result, the schedule may drag, and dollars may go to waste.

Common culprits

A variety of things can cause scope creep. In many cases, too few users give input during the planning stage. Or misunderstandings may occur between the project team and users, obscuring the purpose of the job.

Excessive implementation time hinders many projects as well. As weeks and months go by, business processes, policies, and priorities tend to change. For a new system to meet the needs of the business, the project’s scope needs to be executable within a reasonable time frame.

Ineffective project management is another common culprit. Scope creep often arises when a project manager underestimates the complexity of the tasks at hand or fails to adequately motivate their team.

Five steps to success

To stop or at least reduce scope creep, follow these five steps:

  1. Distinguish ‘must-haves’ from ‘nice-to-haves.’ Draw a red line between the functionalities your business absolutely must have and any added features that would be nice to have. Schedule the prioritized requirements in the form of phased deliverables during the project’s life cycle. Then, add ‘nice-to-haves’ to the final phase or, better yet, defer them to future projects.
  2. Put agreed-on deliverables in writing. Use a Statement of Work document to clearly outline the stated project requirements. Be sure to cover both those that are included and those that are not. Have everyone involved sign off on this document.
  3. Divide and conquer. Segregate the project into small, manageable phases. As it proceeds, continue to review and sign off on each phase as it is delivered, following an adequate testing period.
  4. Introduce a formal change management process. If someone demands a change, ask them to rationalize the request in writing on a change order form. Then analyze the potential impact, estimate the added cost and time, and obtain consensus before proceeding. Adhering to this step typically eliminates many low-priority demands.
  5. Anticipate some scope creep. It is a rare project, if any, that proceeds exactly as planned. Allow for some scope creep in your budget and timeline.

Head-on approach

Improving your company’s technology should be cause for excitement and, eventually, celebration. Unfortunately, it too often brings anxiety and conflict. Tackling scope creep head on can help make sure that your IT projects go more smoothly. Our firm can help you assess the financial impact of any technology solution you are considering and, if you decide to proceed, set a budget for the job.

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