Published in Project Management

How to Avoid Scope Creep in Project Management

Scope Creep in Project Management

Get the best tips for managing your agency from COR´s Blog!

Avoiding Scope Creep in Project Management

Sometimes it doesn’t pay off to be a yes man. Don´t let this happen to you!

It happens all the time: A client’s business changes or a new stakeholder gets pulled into a project, and you’re forced to discuss things that were 90% complete or possibly already approved. This type of thing can kill morale, draw out timing, and completely drain a project budget.

When running a business, it’s important to manage and avoid scope creep. While it’s not uncommon for a client to request additions or changes to a project, and saying yes can be an automatic reaction, extra work can quickly add up and lead your project into a scope creep.

Your first reaction might be to build a wall to ward off impending scope creep. But that would be impossible because this is not an animal you can tame – it’s an idea that can spin your project out of control.

So how to handle scope creep in your projects? It’s your job as the project manager to act as both the project gatekeeper and the cheerleader, to monitor, manage, and report on its progress, and to guard your project estimate, scope, and timeline with courage and diplomacy.

Before we explain what scope creep is and how it affects a project, let’s start with a simple definition of project scope.

What is the project scope?

It refers to, all the work required to complete a project. Scope defines boundaries you set around your project to meet project goals on time and within budget. These boundaries define what will be delivered by when, how you’ll get the work done, and what project success looks like.

You can use a work breakdown structure (WBS) to help you identify all the individual tasks, activities, and deliverables of your project. Then you’ll need a scope statement, which is a project planning document where you define the scope of your project.

What is Scope Creep in Project Management?

Scope creep is when the project changes way beyond what everyone agreed upon. The PMBOK Guide defines scope creep as “ when additional scope or requirements are accepted without adjusting the corresponding schedule, budget, or resource needs” (PMI, 2021).

These unforeseen changes are the causes of scope creep which can lead to missed deadlines, financial losses, increased timelines and budget, client dissatisfaction, and an overall burnout of team members.

When deliverables are not clearly defined, stakeholders are not involved or supportive, or tasks turn out to be more complex than originally thought, then we say our project is at risk of scope creep. Part of a successful client-consultant relationship is proper management of the scope of a project.

On the other hand, you could end up with a project with lots of approved, considered changes, that never end because every time you think you have finished, a new project requirement such as a new product feature arrives in your inbox, and you have to keep on working.

Scope creep inflicts damage to your project in several ways, usually because work increases, but not the budget or time frame. Scope creep is notorious for stressing out the project team and its functionality because those change requests push projects over uncomfortable limits which were not planned affecting budget and talking time and focus away from the original deliverables.

So let’s put that into practice and what scope looks like in the real world. Let’s say our project was originally agreed upon on three deliverables, but now it’s grown to 5 because a stakeholder asked for a change. That would be a simple example of scope creep in project management. Some others you might encounter range from:

  • Additional new features on the overall project.
  • Scope changes on the project schedule.
  • Budget reductions.
  • Deadline changes.
  • Misunderstanding of the scope.

Understanding all the different ways project scope might go sideways can help you identify and address scope creep as it arises and adjust plans or expectations as needed.

How to Avoid Scope Creep

Any additional feature can trigger the causes of scope creep and stress for any manager out there. Always remember you have a lot to fall back on.

Do your diligence by taking your time to read and understand your project scope, build a project plan based on that scope, and completely vet it with your team and clients.

The initial steps of a well-constructed project management process will truly carve a path to success for you and your project.

No one should expect you to have every detail committed to memory – especially if you’re responsible for more than one project. So take your time instead of jumping to provide an immediate answer, and always remember a solid response is going to have the best impact.

1. Create a backup plan

Projects rarely move from start to finish without a few bumps. As part of your initial preparation, put a backup plan in place. Define a process for addressing scope creep: discuss who will be responsible for reviewing and approving new requests and trace a methodology of work, define how long timelines can be extended, to avoid future overruns and the cost associated with extra work.

Having these kinds of conversations before you begin your project will help you avoid potentially awkward interactions down the line, ensure the client is mindful of your time, and keep your compensation in check.

2. Communicate clearly and often

Poor communication may come at a high price, at the end of the day, you are responsible for all project work. If a change in scope comes up, take the lead and meet with your client to discuss how the change fits into the overall project, and how it will impact timelines, the number one reason that causes scope creep. Provide your professional input, and work together to make a decision, and carry out a course of action.

3. Always have a written contract

A clearly defined written contract is an important part of setting expectations at the beginning of a project. It will be much easier to identify and manage scope creep by documenting the details of the project before you start work.

Discuss project deliverables, timelines, milestones, duties, and responsibilities both for you and your client. Collaborate to outline a clear plan of action that will help you both meet the project objectives. As you gather a list of requirements, be sure to speak with all stakeholders involved to ensure you don´t overlook any client expectations.

4. Host a kick-off meeting

Once you have a detailed scope of the project and a backup plan in place, start your project with a kick-off meeting. A kick-off meeting allows you to get all the project stakeholders together for one last review before the project begins. During the meeting, review roles and accountability, workflows and project milestones, and define a process for checking in and reporting on project status.

5. Re-baseline your projects schedule or project plan

Projects rarely move from start to finish without a few hiccups. As part of your initial preparation, put a backup plan at once. Define a process for addressing scope creep: discuss who will be responsible for reviewing and approving requested changes or additions, how long timelines can be extended, and the cost associated with extra work.

Having these conversations before you begin your project will help you avoid potentially awkward interactions down the road, ensure the client is mindful of your time, and keep your compensation in check.

6. Provide options for additional work

When a client approaches you with additional requests, start by reminding them what your original scope of work entailed, and present them with two options. You can either add on the requested work for an additional expense, or you can proceed with the agreed-upon scope of work. This gives the client a simple choice, and you won´t lose out on your own time and compensation.

Scope creep can create a stressful work environment, and take the fun of doing what you love. Take the time to develop a well-defined project, put a backup plan in place, and continually communicate with your client to proactively manage the first signs of scope creep.

7. Know when to say no

Sometimes, a change request may come up that clearly does not add value to the project or may even have a negative impact on your work in the long term. In this situation don’t be afraid to say no. Clearly present your case to your client and discuss the best way forward.

If a client is set on making specific changes, consider compiling their requests into a separate project you can begin once your current project is complete. This will enable you to stick to your current agreement rather than continually making changes along the way.

8. Avoid scope creep traps

We’ve seen them all from the scope creeps where there are little phrases like “Well while you’re in there” Or, “While you’re doing that could you do this too?” Or “ All you have to do is” They seem to have a simple solution for everything, although they’ve never done it before. The best one though is “ Hey, it will take only a second”.

Based on what assessment? Based on someone who doesn’t know the time that things take? So these are the little traps you’ll often find coming out from your client.

9. Set priorities

Have your change control board evaluate and prioritize the changes. This happens when we usually see multiple groups, sometimes with your project and you have different stakeholders from different business units who bring changes to you, and then it’s a squabble. Let the change control board decide which changes need to be approved. Let the change control board do that, otherwise, you’re going to be in a bad position that you don’t want to be in.

10. Request additional Funding or Resources

Now that the changes have been approved, you’ve been re-baselined. But sometimes for some people, it’s hard to go back and request additional resources, the funding you need to make those changes happen. If you agree upon this but you don´t go back and ask for the people, the funding, the resources that you need in order to do those changes, again, we’re back here in the statistic.

How to manage scope creep on your projects

Scope creep may happen, whether you foresee it or not, but when it does, it’s important to document everything and communicate with your team and stakeholders.

So let´s take a closer look at how to address it when it finally pops up on your projects.

1. Prioritize communication

As the project manager, you’re the communication bridge for all the actors that are involved in the project work. If the project scope starts to shift, be proactive, and raise a red flag to your clients and stakeholders. Discuss how the change affects the project and budget.

2. Track scope changes through versioning and reporting

Not every project change will result in change. The unexpected thing always arises when you least expect them to appear: someone might get sick, a stakeholder went missing and can’t provide his or her feedback, or an incoming mother license. You get the point.

If plans change, be sure to keep track of those changes. Don´t ever try to slip in a timeline update without notifying everyone involved. Always try to communicate in different ways.

Here are some helpful tips that can drive you to successful communication changes:

Provide updates in project status reports

Always report on the current timeline status in your regular reports, so it’s a perfect opportunity to share updates you’ve made on your current plan. You might end up choosing to replicate the note made in your plan or even attach the plan for review and discussion.

Note or add the change in your project requirements document

This document is created for your team to review and check against throughout the project. Don´t forget to refer back to it and keep it up to date since the document can become buried in the project at times.

Provide an updated project plan

Update all impacted tasks, and keep notes on extensions in your newest version. For instance, if a client misses a milestone and a deadline is extended, make a note in the planned task. Most planning software includes handy notes fields.

After you‘ve updated everything and double-checked your dates, make a new version and save the old ones in a safe spot.

What to do when a project is over budget

People always hate to take about money. It’s up to you to talk about things that people feel uncomfortable about. That‘s the whole point of being a project manager.

The best way to approach these kinds of topics like budget overages and scope creep is to handle them and document them to the point of exhaustion, that’s the way it is done! But it often doesn’t just that with it, it starts with a simple conversation.

Never let a change in scope be a surprise to you or your clients. They wouldn’t call it scope creep if it didn’t slowly slither up on you.

Of course, some requests might be out of boundaries, you must address them immediately. There’s often one feature or requirement that starts as a manageable piece of scope and slowly evolves into something else.

That is a few words is just scope creep done by the book. It’s your job to keep an eye on eventualities and make sure it’s not killing your budget.

Mitigate it by communicating with your team

Use your documentation and status reports as we’ve said earlier.

The first step would be to reassess the budget and note where the work is trending. Take a look at the project hourly estimates and effort, then check in with your team to let them know if there’s an overage. If so, you need to make your clients aware right now.

Even if they’ll hit the target, let know your clients if there is a risk anyway. Show them you’re thinking ahead and in the present tense budget-wise. The best way to do this is to make it formal. Creating a risk section in your status report might come in handy so you can write potential issues and discuss them with your clients.

Discussing the issue might be uncomfortable at first, but it doesn´t have to be at all. Calling things out early will give you time to think about a mitigation plan and discuss it with your clients. Not waiting until the last moment will help everyone involved devise a reasonable approach to the change.


Have always your scope and baseline schedule to back you up. A well-researched and planned discussion surrounding the scope creep risk will help you, your client, and the potential issue at ease. Anything can be sorted out with planning and discussions at the end of the day.

What are we going to talk about in this article?

You may also be interested in

marketing & advertising Report
Marketing and advertising agencies are a hub for talent. since not all agencies are the...

COR Works Wonders for Every Role in your Agency

Manufacturing agencies are always looking for ways to maximize their production process and delete inefficiencies...

1 out of 2 Agencies Do not Know their Production Capacity

marketing & advertising Report
Introduction  Metrics are being overlooked in an industry that needs them. Most companies aren’t defining...

Sneak Peak: Diving Deep into the State of the Marketing & Advertising Report

automating processes
Advertising automation is a technology that manages the marketing processes and multinational campaigns, across multiple...

What’s the Importance of Automating Processes in the Advertising World?

change management
Change is a good thing, or that’s what they say. It’s also a permanent reality...

Change Management for Creative Agencies

work overload
Learn to see the signs of work overload and how to combat it before it...

Work Overload – How to Keep your Team Fresh and Out of Burnout

It’s an unfortunate reality: you have unprofitable customers who are diminishing your value as a...

Do you Know How Much a Non-Profitable Customer Costs you?

Cannes Lions Festival
Bringing the creative communications industry together to learn, network, and celebrate. History of Cannes Lions...

Cannes Lions Festival 2022: Winners

organizational tips
It’s quite a frequent thing to hear that creative people are disorganized. Scientists have even...

How to Organize your Tasks Make your Creative Agency Grow in the Attempt

Future of Agencies
The ongoing turmoil of the global pandemic, and economic uncertainty have created a challenging business...

Let’s Shape the Future of Agencies Together!

Subscribe to COR news with a simple click

Schedule a demo!

For a personalized experience, tell us more about you and your agency

Get Project Management tips
delivered straight to your inbox!