How Can Scope Creep Derail Software Projects?

Your software project started out on a smooth path, with a reasonable budget and timeline, but over time, things changed. The scope evolved in some dramatic ways, so now the budget and timeline no longer suit the original endeavor. This is what sits at the core of scope creep. It’s a stealthy process that tends to go unnoticed. Even more frustrating: it could have been avoided in the first place. But to prevent scope creep, it’s vital that you understand its primary causes. Only then can you implement measures that will streamline operations, while preventing uncontrolled shifts impacting nearly every aspect of your project.

How Does Scope Creep Occur?

Scope creep is the uncontrolled, gradual, and surreptitious expansion of an IT project. This results in a nebulous scope that fails to align with the pre-established timeline, budget, and expectations. The phenomenon is a major contributor to project cost overruns, which typically hover around 27 percent, according to a study in the Harvard Business Review. A study of nearly 1,500 IT projects revealed that one in six projects saw budget overruns of 200 percent and a time frame overrun exceeding 70 percent.

It’s important to differentiate between scope creep and an intentional, planned initiative. It’s not uncommon for a company to expand a project to include additional elements. This can be a positive occurrence. But the differentiation lies in the acknowledgment and awareness of the shift in project scope. This subsequently spurs a change in budget allocation and time frame. Scope creep is very different, as it tends to happen before you know it and there are generally insufficient accommodations in terms of the project’s schedule and allocated budget.

When a Lack of Change Controls Cause Scope Creep

Change controls are key to avoiding scope creep. You need protocols that govern the way in which you implement and oversee alterations during the course of a project.

Even with the best planning, you generally cannot avoid minor mid-stream changes. This is why a strategic change control system is vital. This protocol ought to include:

  • A way to thoroughly document requested changes;
  • A protocol for obtaining approval from all necessary parties;
  • A process for determining what, if any, logistical issues must be addressed;
  • An established method for notifying affected parties about an approved change and all that it entails;
  • Adjustments to the schedule and timeline; and
  • Adjustments to the project’s budget.

Implementing a systematic approach to change controls is extremely important for avoiding scope creep, as this ensures that all alterations are intentional and well-executed.

Scope Creep as a Result of Poor Planning

You wouldn’t attempt to build a house without thorough land surveys, architectural drawings, and detailed blueprints; the same applies to IT projects. Comprehensive planning is required, including:

  • A detailed and specific overview of the project scope;
  • Actionable, step-by-step plan of attack, divided into phases or stages;
  • Timeframes for the various phases; and
  • Budget allocations for each stage.

Once your team has the essentials in place, develop more detailed stage- or step-specific plans that clearly articulate the process, scope, and timeframe for each segment. A phased approach is vital, particularly for large projects which would otherwise become unwieldy and virtually impossible to monitor in any sort of meaningful way.

Planning is critical to preventing scope creep, as you’ll have a pre-established protocol that will be used to meet set objectives. A defined, detailed IT project road map gives you an exact course of action, and all changes must be implemented using a pre-established change controls protocol. With this strategy, any slight shift or creep quickly becomes apparent, allowing you to address the issue before it becomes a serious problem.

Scope Creep as the Result of Poorly-Timed QA Testing and User Trials

For IT development projects that require extensive QA and UX testing, it’s essential that you perform trials early and often. When performed at strategic points, this testing gives you an opportunity to pinpoint and address issues, issues that would trigger a major domino effect if identified at a later phase.

Perform UX testing infrequently or too late in the game, and there’s a far greater chance of seeing gradual, unplanned shifts in project scope in an attempt to resolve the identified problem areas. The natural consequence is scope creep. To avoid this, QA testing and user trials must be performed at strategic points (which must be identified in project plans.)

Working with an experienced, well-organized team will also reduce the chances of gradual scope shifts. At iTech, our tech professionals understand how and why these shifts occur, so we can ensure you’re never faced with this frustrating and potentially costly challenge. We utilize a unique approach to IT staffing known as insourcing, where a cohesive, highly-trained team is temporarily embedded within your company. This places us in a position to guide your in-house staff as we work to avoid scope modifications and the unexpected overruns that inevitably result. Contact iTech today to learn more about our innovative IT staffing solutions.

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