Moira Alexander
Contributing writer

7 tips for containing project scope

Jan 31, 2022
Project Management

Curtailing scope creep is always top of mind for project managers. Hereu2019s how to ensure your project meets its intended purpose, goals, and scope requirements.

Overflow  >  Pouring more binary water into a glass than it can hold causing overflow.
Credit: rclassenlayouts / Aleksei Derin / Getty Images

Project managers know that defining a project’s scope and developing a scope statement is just a starting point. The next part, containing the project’s scope, is much more complicated — and no less crucial. It’s estimated that 52% of all projects face scope creep at some point. Such uncontrolled growth can jeopardize your project’s chances of completion and success.

Although companies with mature value-delivery processes are less likely to encounter issues such as scope creep, unforeseen crises such as what we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic have complicated the scope of even the most seemingly straightforward projects. Current working environments have experienced increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, prompting organizations to reassess underpinning business cases, reset processes for delivery, modify projects and programs, and rethink their approach to selecting and delivering projects, according to KPMG.

With this in mind, what can project managers do to contain project scope and reduce scope creep even during times of crisis? Here are some tips.

Assess project scope with an eye on the present and future

Whether you think your project will be impacted by significant external change or not, it’s best to reassess an entire project under the current or potentially changing environments. While COVID-19 is a crisis at an extreme level, it has taught us valuable, long-overdue lessons around the value of adaptability and resilience. One such key lesson is that changes, internal or external in nature, that may seem to have limited to no impact on a simple project might generate significant unintended consequences down the road.

Explore and identify potential emerging risks

There are constantly emerging risks, and although some may seem to impact only certain business sectors, they are likely to have a ripple effect. Think of every risk as though it is part of a far-reaching web. Follow it from one end point through to your sector, company, and projects. Make sure not to make any assumptions about a potential impact until you’ve been able to clearly determine there is no indirect impact, regardless of how seemingly slight.

Revisit delivery timelines frequently

Since the pandemic’s start, virtually all projects have suffered delayed timelines. Whether due to resourcing issues, or likely logistics and supply chain setbacks, project managers are likely to encounter issues with delivery timelines. The key is recognizing the need to revisit timelines more frequently and make the necessary adjustments and communications quickly.

Be transparent with sponsors and stakeholders about scope impact

A good project manager knows that keeping stakeholders and sponsors informed of changes is essential. It’s better for the success of a project if they know where things stand rather than receiving negative news well down the line when it’s too late. If you think something may impact the scope of a project (your fault or not), it allows for some recourse. They’re more apt to take it in a better stride, and it helps everyone stand a greater chance of making the right decisions to reduce the impact of any scope creep.

Get in front of change requests

Change requests are fairly common, but how quickly a project manager gets ahead of these requests can often make all the difference in keeping scope contained. Avoiding or delaying change requests can create much more severe consequences. Once changes appear or even have the potential of appearing on your project’s radar, make it your priority to get in front of things to reduce the impact on scope.

Monitor scope as if it is a problem already

Monitor, monitor, monitor the scope of your project. You can’t monitor it closely enough, especially during uncertain times. It’s only in doing so that you’ll be able to see the slightest changes and potential risks that might become a nightmare later. This gives you ample time to devise a plan to address factors that can become a thorn in your side and cause you tougher and unnecessary calls down the line.

Recognize when you need help — and get it before it’s too late

One of the mistakes many project managers make is thinking they will be seen as unqualified or incompetent if they ask for help. Nothing is further from the truth. Before you’re a project manager, you’re a person — and as such, you can’t be expected to know everything all the time. Stakeholders and sponsors will respect you for asking for help, especially if it helps to contain the project scope. It simply shows that you can put the health of a project and its stakeholders ahead of your ego.

While these tips may seem obvious to some, they can be challenging for new project managers or even seasoned ones to keep in mind as the current project and work environment changes. Remember that containing project scope is all about planning ahead and keeping diligent when monitoring and acting on change.