Five Prerequisites for Eliminating Scope Creep

Many project managers out there are very concerned with managing scope creep in their projects. For many, the ideal project is one that doesn’t change once it’s planned. For others, it’s one with tight change controls a.k.a. contracts that legally limit change. The problem is these mechanisms and methodologies strangle agility — the organization’s ability to adapt to changing, customer needs or exploit emerging opportunities in their market. It achieves stability at the expense of customer collaboration and favors following a plan rather than responding to change.  It locks them in to decisions made at the point of least understanding i.e. at the beginning of a project.

There is no such thing as scope creep. There is only deeper understanding.

This is important. Scope creep is negative while deeper understanding is positive. One is to be avoided while the other is to be sought out.

Such thoughts seem utopian in software development. Some would grumble, “I live in the real world where scope creep is inevitable. I don’t have time or patience for California dreaming.” I don’t normally quote the bard, but one passage from Hamlet presents itself as appropriate:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Dream with me for a moment. Presume the following:

  1. You and your client trust each other enough to collaborate frequently
  2. If you have fixed delivery, you flex on scope
  3. If scope is fixed, you flex on delivery
  4. You build what you know is valuable for your customers
  5. You don’t ship $#^!

One is required for two and three. Four and five build up number one. It’s a harmonious cycle that is true to the spirit of the Agile Manifesto and one to which Scrum gives form. It’s a pattern you and your organization could follow if you’re willing to put in the hard work.

You may have inherited a world where scope creep seems inevitable, but you don’t have to bequeath it to others.


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.