If product development was a horror movie, scope creep would be the undying creature living in the basement waiting to devour promiscuous teenagers.  It can be conquered, but it’s not going to be easy. In project management, scope creep is the uncontrolled changes or unchecked growth that leads to an inflating budget or expansion of the project well beyond your planned goals.  It happens gradually (that’s the creep) and is one of the leading causes of project failure.

So call a priest and sharpen your stakes, as we discuss 3 ways to send scope creep back to Development Hell where it belongs.

1.      Don’t run through the woods in high heels. (i.e. Be prepared)

You’re being chased, you think you’re going to get away, but the heel on your shoe breaks.  Now you’ve twisted your ankle, and before you have time to scream “I thought I was the Final Girl!,” you’re eaten alive.  You weren’t prepared, and preparation is vital in product development.  Maybe instead of stilettos you should have brought sneakers.

Preparation is going to help you identify and put a stop to scope creep before it gets a chance to overwhelm your product’s development.  You have to thoroughly understand you project’s vision and you have to ensure that your developers do as well.  There should be a detailed overview before work begins covering essentials like budget, deadline, feature delivery, etc.

The functions of your product need to be broken down into clear work requirements and these requirements have to be prioritized.  Everything needs to be thought of in advance.  A project schedule should breakdown major and minor milestones that will serve as goals.  But remember, nothing here is rigid, there needs to be room for error.  If not, it could make scope creep that much worse.  When you’re well-prepared, you can tackle the inevitable adjustments because poor change control will always sink your project.

2.      Don’t have premarital sex or use drugs (i.e. Stay in control)

The party has kicked off, everyone’s having a blast.  But, you’ve had one too many drinks and pretty soon your inhibitions are gone, you’re hooking up in the guest house and doing blow in the bathroom.  Danger’s the last thing you’re worried about… until it’s buried an ax in your head.  You’ve taken on too much, you’ve lost focus, and you’re paying the price.

One of the main causes of scope creep is an overwhelming flood of big ideas that aren’t rooted in functionality or appropriate for your budget.  Not every idea can or even should make it into the final product.   Every decision has to be justified.  If a feature is wildly out of proportion with the rest of the budget, it probably has to go.

Remember that changes and additions can come with a price.  What seems like a great idea can often make you a victim of scope creep.   All functions should be manageable, useable, and affordable.

3.      Don’t split up to check out the noise (i.e. Communicate)

You’re in a nice safe group — a big group full of big, strong people.  Someone mentions splitting up to search for your lost friends, and you’re all picked off one by one before you can even register what a stupid plan it was to begin with.  Stick together, there’s strength in being able to communicate freely.

When you’re not in contact with your developers, you don’t know what’s going on and scope creep can make its way in.  You should want to be a contributor throughout the entire development process and update regularly.  The dialogue between you and your developers is a valuable relationship.  You want your developers to challenge you.  If they aren’t being critical, they aren’t being honest.  When communication is open from top to bottom, nothing slides under the radar unchecked.  Scope creep can be spotted before it’s ever a problem.

You Can’t Kill It, You Can Only Hope to Contain It

You can do everything right, but you’re still going to experience a bit of scope creep during your product development… it’s just part of it.  Fortunately, as a product owner, it’s something that will be well managed if you’ve chosen the right development team.  They’re kind of like your project’s Van Helsing.  An agile approach coupled with years of experience should have no problem staying on top of creep and keeping your budget and project in line.

Image by: epsos.de


CEO and Co-founder of Rootstrap Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Rootstrap, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.