Recognizing and dealing with Scope Creep

Workflow, business operations, COVID, Work from home

Author: Matt Irving

Published: 2/7/2021


Scope is one of the most important aspects of project and operations management. It essentially defines the jurisdiction and expectations of the individuals assigned to any given task or project. Scope can be defined at nearly every level of the organization. Some examples of scope levels are departmental scope, organizational scope, scope of practice, team scope and divisional scope.

Even the most well-defined scope with the most seasoned team can fall victim to scope creep. Scope creep occurs when the original scope is expanded upon. This typically results in greater costs, tighter time constraints and more stress for the team. You also risk upsetting customers since scope creep could result in an unprepared team pushing through product development without adequate resources.

Your team, department or organization is an ecosystem. This ecosystem, much like any other, contains living organisms and natural resources. There are checks and balances within the system that help maintain its health and ensure longevity. Whenever a foreign organism enters an ecosystem, that ecosystem must adjust. And if it does not, it will eventually cease to exist.

The illegal pet trade is a common vehicle for the introduction of foreign species into established ecosystems. Green iguanas are an invasive species that is running rampant throughout South Florida. Although it is well adapted for the year round hot, humid weather, it was never supposed to be there. People imported them as pets and when they got too large or difficult to care for, they were cast out into the wild. Now Florida’s native plant and wildlife must adapt to accommodate an organism they were not prepared to deal with, and the ecosystem is suffering as a result.

Scope creep = Illegal Pet Trade. And the resulting tasks (Green Iguanas) that your team must now deal with, will place a strain on the ecosystem within your organization. If possible, do your best to avoid this by meeting with stakeholders early on to manage their expectations.

So, what do you do if the scope of your task or project has grown? Scale appropriately! This is of course assuming you have accepted the changes. To accommodate the new scope, you’ll first need the blessing of the person or persons in charge of the resources you need. Once you’ve identified and quantified the resources you’ll need, it’s time to put them to use.

It’s important to not only consider the financial resources needed to accommodate the new scope but the human resources as well. You may need to reach out to another department or even hire temporary employees.

For certain clients and projects, being agile and flexible is a must. The uncertainty of projects and tasks with fluid scopes will undoubtedly cause stress for team member so keep a careful eye on morale. Chaos breeds depression and can severely de-motivate employees. Keep this in mind whenever your scope is being tampered with. Learn to recognize the symptoms of scope creep and your company’s ecosystem will thrive.