How to Avoid Scope Creep and Keep Your Projects on Track

Last updated: April 15, 2023 ·

How many times have you had stakeholders make feature requests mid-sprint? While these requests aren’t exactly uncommon, they can become a major source of frustration and tend to extend both budgets and deadlines. The good news is that there are some strategies that you can use to prevent or mitigate the effects of scope creep.

Let’s take a closer look at scope creep, its common causes and four strategies to help mitigate its effects on your projects.

Scope creep often arises from poor communication, sparse requirements and large projects, but there are some ways to prevent and mitigate it. Share on X

What is Scope Creep?

Scope creep happens when new unexpected requirements are introduced after everyone has agreed on a certain project scope. For example, a stakeholder that agreed to a set of features to be delivered at a certain time and cost might see the project mid-cycle and request that another feature, or multiple features, be added to the mix.

These changes affect budgets and/or timelines. Either developers will require more time to build the new feature(s) or new developers will be needed on the project to complete within the original timeframe. While scope creep tends to start out small, it often snowballs into project requirements that are very different than the original expectations.

There are several reasons for scope creep:

  • Poor Communication: Scope creep can arise from poor requirements gathering in the discovery phase or breakdowns in communicating project requirements to developers.
  • Large Projects: Long projects tend to experience scope creep over time because stakeholders have more time to refine their ideas and predictions become less accurate.
  • Sparse Requirements: Poorly written requirements can be a source of scope creep when stakeholders have something different in mind.

Scope creep is often measured using a metric that can be quantified over time. If there are 20 features in a backlog and one of them changes, there is a 5% variation in the scope over that specific period of time. You can then define levels of concern based on these variations, such as 0-5% being a warning and 10-15% as being at a high risk of failure.

Start with the Right Idea

Many software projects fail because they don’t effectively address a customer's pain point. Before these projects fail, they tend to experience a lot of scope creep as stakeholders adjust their vision in different directions to try and save them. In fact, frequent and dramatic changes to a project’s scope are a common sign that it lacks product-market fit.

Download our Checklist of Software Planning Tools to help you prevent scope creep through better planning and communication.

These problems can be avoided with adequate customer discovery and idea validation. Using a design sprint or similar techniques, stakeholders should take the time to understand the target customers through customer interviews and prototypes. These activities will help develop a clear set of requirements at the start of a project and minimize scope creep.

For example, an empathy map helps stakeholders explore a customer segment in order to understand their feelings and motivations. After developing a hypothesis based on these activities, user interviews can help validate those hypotheses before spending the time and money to build the actual product—creating a more clear-cut vision.

Define Clear Requirements

Software projects should have a clear scope of work from the onset in order to minimize scope creep. After validating the idea, create a clear-cut development roadmap that outlines the project objectives and tasks to keep everyone on track. These roadmaps should be detailed enough to avoid misunderstandings and provide step-by-step guidance.

In some cases, businesses may prefer to hire a consultant to develop a roadmap as an unbiased partner. Our Custom Development Roadmap service covers everything from identifying the end user's needs to building a solid tech stack and anticipating obstacles along the way. Unlike many competitors, we strike a balance between business and technology requirements.

When converting a roadmap into features, many companies have embraced behavior-driven development, or BDD, as a way to ensure business and technical teams are on the same page. The two teams meet and come up with concrete examples of functionality in an English-like language that is readily converted into software tests.

Effectively Manage Changes

Change is inevitable in software development. In fact, the second principle of the Agile Manifesto says to welcome changing requirements, even late in the development process. The difference between scope creep and welcomed changes is that welcomed changes are part of the development cycle and are guided by customers rather than stakeholders.

Effective software businesses establish customer feedback loops to guide change over time. Rather than changing the scope mid-sprint with guesswork, Agile development teams gather new requirements through customer research and feedback and then incorporate these data-driven changes into future planned development cycles.

Each new feature should go through a well-defined process before it’s added to the development backlog. As mentioned earlier, business and technical teams should meet to discuss the feature in detail and create specific requirements. The feature should then be prioritized and estimated before it’s pulled into a sprint.

Augmenting Your Team

Scope creep is an inevitability in most projects, so it’s important to set expectations across the team. If something unexpected comes up, you can ask developers to re-estimate the changes and communicate the impact on the timeline to stakeholders. Alternatively, you can add manpower to the team, as needed, and adjust the budget higher to compensate.

Don’t forget to download our Checklist of Software Planning Tools to help you prevent scope creep through better planning and communication.

A common challenge is deciding between hiring and outsourcing development work. Of course, hiring comes at a higher upfront cost and adds a lot to the overall project cost. On the other hand, outsourcing tends to come with its own set of communication challenges that can slow down the development velocity or reduce software quality.

Team augmentation is an effective way to address scope creep through temporary manpower. For example, our Team Augmentation service adds senior-level developers to your existing team on a temporary basis to address unexpected feature requests. They can tackle everything from basic web applications to nuanced embedded systems.

The Bottom Line

Scope creep is a common occurrence in the software development process. Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent or mitigate the impact of scope creep, including idea validation, clear requirements, better communication and team augmentation. Sharkbyte can help you create better roadmaps or augment your existing team with senior-level talent.

Contact us today to schedule a free consultation!


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