5 Steps in Managing Scope Creep

Let’s face it; “S#@% Happens!” Whether you are ‘Dreaming’ of a project (Client), ‘Designing’ a project (Architect), or ‘Building’ a project (Contractor), nobody can know exactly what the final outcome will be or all of the situations that will occur along the way. Therefore, no matter what we plan for, something about that plan will change. Many will say that this is reason not to plan. I would say just the opposite. This is exactly the reason to plan, and the more detailed the better. Having a plan allows you to know when something is deviating from what was anticipated (Planned), and how best to respond to it.

Scope Creep is the name given to a normal occurrence in the evolution of the design and construction process. There is nothing inherently bad about Scope Creep. The bad connotation it has is more the result of our traditionally poor management of it. Whether the change is the result of naturally occurring development of the design and construction process, or simply the whim of a client to do something different than originally envisioned, identifying and managing the change is exactly the same.

Following are a few steps that help identify and manage project deviation.

Develop a Plan
A workplan is a simple, even if detailed, representation of the steps necessary to deliver a specific project.  Much like the definition of a contract, a workplan isn’t a workplan if it doesn’t include Scope, Schedule, and Fee (or Costs).  Taking the appropriate time to breakdown your view of a project (deliverables, milestones, tasks, deadlines, processes, etc…) will not only give you the best possible understanding of that project but will set the roadmap for actually delivering the project, including the inevitable management of deviations.

Manage the Plan
Once a workplan is completed and a project begins it is important to monitor the workplan on a regular basis.  The frequency can vary depending on the size, complexity, and duration of the project.  Whatever the appropriate interval, a regular review of two key elements of the workplan will allow you to quickly determine the degree to which the project is proceeding in accordance with your original thinking.

  1. Schedule: Visualize a vertical line down your plan on today’s date and ask is everything the line crosses, in fact, to the level of progress expected?
  2. Costs: Are my costs in accordance with what was projected? If the answer to both of these is YES, then there is no need for further action with the workplan. Your review is done!

Identify Deviations from the Plan (Change)
If the answer to either of the questions above is NO this is an indication of some deviation and that some aspect of the project is not proceeding as planned.  At this point, further review of the workplan and potentially other elements (i.e. additional reports, meetings with team members, etc…) must take place to further understand not only what the exact deviation may be but also the causes and implications.

Who Owns the Change?
In most projects, there is an agreement between the Design professionals (US) and the Client (THEM – including all those with whom he is contracted).  In my simple way of thinking, any deviation from the original plan is the cause of either Us or Them.

For example – Us: Poor quality deliverable, wrong team assigned, incomplete work, missing deadlines, etc.  Them: Not providing necessary information, providing wrong information, taking too long to provide information, not providing necessary approval, just wanting to do something different, etc.

In the process of identifying the deviation, you must also identify if its cause belongs to Us or Them. This conclusion will determine how to proceed.

Gaining Approval for the Change
If Them: –

  • Promptly communicate to the client the nature of the issue and promise to follow up with options and impacts
  • Work with the design team to identify options and associated cost & schedule impacts
  • Present options to client and gain approval to proceed and, if appropriate, be compensated
  • Amend contract
  • Adjust workplan
  • Proceed with the change

This simple process of Creating a Plan, Managing the Plan, and Communicating with the Client can make the otherwise dreaded world of Scope Creep very manageable.


About Bob Stalilonis

Bob is the Senior Solution Architect at Deltek with 34 years of AE industry experience. He has both his CPA and MBA. Additionally, Bob is a speaker on AE best practices.
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