What Is Scope Creep in Project Management?

Have you ever experienced scope creep in your work? You probably have but may not be aware of it. It happens to everyone at least once in a lifetime. It doesn’t matter if you’re a project manager, team member or a freelancer working on your own.

What is scope creep in project management? Why does it happen? Is it really that bad? You will find everything about scope creep in this article.

What Is Scope Creep?

Project management is an extremely important aspect of every work. And it is concerned with many aspects such as delivering a project on time, managing a team, proper resources allocation, and many others.

Yet often, numerous significant elements of the management process are not taken into consideration by many people. Often, because project managers are not aware of these aspects, they don’t have enough experience or lack professional management skills.

One of the components that pay a huge role in project management or product development is scope creep.

What is scope creep and why is it so important? Let’s begin from providing the right definition as characterized by dictionary.com:

Scope: “extent or range of view, outlook, application, operation, effectiveness, etc.”

Creep: “a gradual or inconspicuous increase, advance, change, or development”

Scope creep: in general, these are all the small changes that evolve around the project and eventually result in a different outcome than was intended in the beginning

Thus, scope creep in project management may cause frustration and disappointment. This is because the project’s financial value is not met, money is wasted, and the team is no longer motivated. This is a serious problem that needs to be taken care of. But before you do that, it’s important to get to the core of it.

Why Does Scope Creep Happen?


The question of why scope creep happens is crucial to the proper understanding of the entire management process.

In fact, everything starts at a very basic level – the planning and control process.

Scope creep results by the cause and effect relationship. To help you understand, here are two short examples of why, how, and when scope creep takes place.


A project has to be delivered. A team is given a budget and end date. Things seem to be going the right way. But then, change requests appear, new features are added to the product. The project team or project manager has to take certain decisions on how, who, when, etc. These decisions result in small changes and unplanned implementations. Since there is nobody to take care of the project’s plan and change control protocol, things are not going as planned. The project is getting bigger. Scope creep happens.

Consequently, the delivered version of the project or product is different than the one which was planned.

Sometimes the result may be positive but usually, it ends in a failure of the entire project.


Jon is a freelancer – a graphic designer. He bills clients by the hour. Recently, he signed an agreement with Amazing Company to create a set of 20 graphics. Jon set a specific rate for his services and estimated total costs for $300. But in the middle of his work, Jon realizes, he will soon exceed the estimates. Additionally, the Amazing Company is constantly changing its vision of the graphics. They send change requests without consulting it with Jon.

As a result, Jon ends with a large scope creep – not enough money, time and other resources. Poor Jon, why did it happen? Could it have been avoided?

Let’s find out.

The Main Reasons Behind Scope Creep

There may be many causes of scope creep. And it’s not always easy to identify them. To find them and address correctly, the project manager has to reevaluate the scope statement and go through all changes. It’s a painful and long process that takes a lot of work.

Here are some of the most common causes of scope creep that contribute to the failure of the project. Watch out for them and you will successfully deliver every project.

Lack of project plan

This is the basic yet often ignored aspect of project management that contributes to the scope creep. First and foremost – you need a plan with a scope statement.

A good scope statement should answer all possible questions – what, why, how, when, what for, who for, how much, etc.

But be careful. In the project, you need to strictly adhere to the scheme you set at the beginning. Changes, new features, tweaks can be added after the successful delivery of the project.

Have every step written down and perfectly planned. Keep the change control process documented in case of any problems. You can always go back to it and analyze what went wrong.

Remember – every small, unplanned change either in project or project team can cause large, irreparable scope creep.

Sponsor’s view

Sponsors very often have the vision of their project in their head which may not always be relevant to reality. They expect the team to deliver a product that may be complicated and hard to create. Which, of course, is possible but requires the strong engagement of both sides. Also, the deadline set by the sponsors may not be proportionate to the time and work needed for the project to be finished.

Sponsors may not be aware of the fact of how much work and resources is necessary to finish the project. That’s why it’s important to communicate the vision with project stakeholders and sponsors. It will help avoid scope creep.

Project scope and requirements

The project scope is part of the planning process.

To prepare project scope, first, you need to determine a list or documentation of all elements that need to be considered – goals, tasks, costs, deadline, resources, and deliverables. Then, you can allocate the work to the right people.

Another crucial element that will help you avoid scope creep are requirements. You and your team need to know specifically what are the needs of stakeholders. Beginning from features the product should have, what it shouldn’t have to the color range and size of every element of the product.

What’s also important is managing scope in project management with change control protocol. Every little change request should be noted, improvements and tweaks need to be monitored. All that to make sure that the project is going in the right direction.

Lack of a predefined strategy and scope of work may cause considerable scope creep.

? To get a detailed insight into project scope creep and change management, see the PMI case study

Lack of project stakeholders involvement

According to the PMI report, one in four organizations (26%) reports that inadequate sponsor support is the primary cause of failed projects.”

A project can’t be good if sponsors or stakeholders stay away from it. Especially if they keep sending change requests without consultation with the project manager. They should always take part in the project in order to bring a clear vision into it but also to stay updated on the progress.

It’s extremely important to communicate with stakeholders before the beginning of the project and during every stage of its development. It prevents miscommunication and conflicts.

Only by working together the project can be successful.

Duration of the project

Time is always one of the main causes of scope creep. To avoid it, set a specific (and realistic) date for the completion of a project. Don’t change it, no matter how much your team or stakeholders beg you to. It is one of the best ways of avoiding scope creep.

The shorter the date, the more work has to be done, people get stressed, there is chaos, and the final product lacks in features and quality. On the other hand, the longer the date, the more extensive the project becomes. People add minor changes, want to enhance the product, or quite the opposite – employees don’t spend time on polishing the final product.

Create a schedule with specific dates for every task and stick to it. Find a balance and you will avoid scope creep.

Underestimating project’s complexity

Sponsors and stakeholders or the team may assume that the project is going to be easy. It may turn out that it’s not and that’s where problems start. People don’t think about possible risks and complications.

That’s why having a good plan, project scope and specific schedule is crucial. It decides about the success of the project.

Poor resources

Time, money, equipment, software, proper technology – lack of these resources may cause the failure of a project. Project managers often don’t realize their importance and end with large scope creep.

But resources also include people – the team, both as a group and individuals, and project managers. Lack of skills and proper training, and employee turnover lead to bad performance and as a result, scope creep happens. Note that the employee turnover itself drains the organization’s budget. And the money could be allocated to the project instead of HR processes.

In project management, resources are like gold. You can do everything with it, but if you don’t have it, your possibilities are limited.

Managing Scope Creep

The easiest way of avoiding scope creep is to consider the above-mentioned aspects and include them in the project plans. If scope creep happens, don’t panic. There are 5 steps you need to take. They will help you keep the project steady and finish it with positive results:

  1. Start from the beginning. Analyze your plan, all change requests, and implemented changes. That’s where change control process and documentation are helpful
  2. Gather your team, all project managers and stakeholders or clients in one room. Remember, communication and collaboration are crucial to success. Talk, debate, and exchange ideas. Try to find a solution together
  3. Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your team, collaboration with stakeholders and sponsors but also strong and weak elements of the project and product. Use strengths to eliminate weak spots
  4. Carry out risk analysis
  5. Analyze change control process, how, why, and when changes happened

Scope creep management process is not easy but with the responsible approach and teamwork, it can be victoriously carried out.

Also, don’t forget about the right tools for project and change management – time tracking software, to-do apps, task and project management software, Agile solutions. They will help you monitor all processes and make sure the project is going according to the plan.

Don’t be like Jon, avoid scope creep!


Once you know what is causing the problems behind the scope creep, you should be able to avoid it in your projects. If you want your work to be delivered successfully, you should take into consideration all the abovementioned aspects. Of course, you shouldn’t avoid any changes and positive risks at all since they may be good for your project. However, it is important to analyze the negative risks and consider the possibilities to be successful.

Have you ever experienced scope creep? How did it look like and how did you manage it? Let us know your methods of managing scope creep, we’d love to hear from you!


 Last edited February 2020


What Is Scope Creep in Project Management?

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