A Practical Approach for IT Governance

Managing Scope Creep

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In a study I did two decades back (my Ph.D. thesis attempted to identify techniques for managing project costs), I had discovered that Scope Creep was the single biggest determinant in cost over-runs.  Wikipedia defines scope creep  as follows:  Scope Creep (also called requirement creep) in project management refers to uncontrolled changes or continuous growth in a project’s scope. This phenomenon can occur when the scope of a project is not properly defined, documented, or controlled. It is generally considered a negative occurrence, and therefore should be avoided.

Two decades later, I am a bit puzzled by this naïve observation.  Scope Creep can drive costs higher, but to label it as negative may or may not be right.  The rationale for my observation is that there are three dimensions of a project: quality, cost and risk.  Quality subsumes scope, alignment to objectives, and many other attributes.  In a sense cost subsumes schedule (I will let the reader argue this epistemology), and risk subsumes other forces such as compliance or competitive drivers for the project.    Optimizing a project on these attributes quality, cost and risk, is a huge challenge.  My preferred order (the one I followed when developing the CIO Dashboards) is Quality, Risk, and Cost.  Placing emphasis on quality almost always entails scope changes as it is very difficult to a priori define all the requirements in advance.  Therefore Scope Creep in itself cannot be bad – it depends.  If the changes provide better value and alignment to business needs, then it may in fact be a positive thing.  A bold observation challenging the tenets of existing Project Management guidelines, but I wanted to begin my 2013 blogs with a bang.  To be fair I must acknowledge that spiraling scope can be dangerous, however, properly managed scope changes can enhance the quality of the delivered product/project.

Written by Subbu Murthy

January 7, 2013 at 9:35 pm

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