Scope Creep (Is the New Black)

August 24, 2012 Jami Woodson

This post is the first in our Devil in the Details series on the One North Latitude 41 blog. In this series, our project managers and account leaders will share practical tips, tricks and advice on how to keep your interactive efforts smooth, sane and successful. The One North PMs have been through a project or two, and we’ve seen strategies that make projects successful – and ones that don’t.

For our first post – we’ll tackle Scope Creep. Everyone knows scope creep is the number one enemy of a well run project, right?

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.

In Googling ‘Scope Creep,’ I found the results to be overwhelmingly negative. In my real world experience, however, I have found that scope creep is not always a bad thing, and in fact, it’s a normal and helpful part of any website project. I’m sure that just about every PMI-trained project manager would gasp at my heretical view. So let me start with a personal story – one that is about as far off the web as you can get.

Two years ago, my husband and I embarked upon a bathroom remodel. At first, we tackled the project ourselves and with gusto.

“We’ll lay the tile ourselves!”

“We’ll learn how to drywall!”

“We’ll save a ton of money!”

Alas, a few weeks later (and one incredibly unhelpful review of ‘Drywalling for Dummies’), we caved and brought in the experts. I explained everything we wished to have included and asked for a cost. After some feeble negotiation (we were, after all, desperate to get our bathroom back) we agreed upon a cost for the described work. Things got underway.

As our project progressed, I remembered our electrical outlet conundrum: We had one. One electrical outlet. For the whole bathroom. One. If we ever needed to plug anything else in while I was drying my hair, I could expect a trip out to the garage to reset the circuit breaker. (We also couldn’t run the microwave at Christmas…separate issue.) It would be helpful to have another electrical outlet. We were re-drywalling anyway, so we had quick access to the wiring. I asked our contractor to add it in; he said yes and let me know the additional cost. Done. Did the world end? Was our project a failure because I allowed the creeping scope monster into my bathroom?

Of course not. The bathroom is perfect because I allowed the scope to change.

My point is this: I didn’t really think about needing this feature until the project was already underway. In many cases, it’s impossible to know every single feature you’ll need during the scoping and estimating phase. It’s completely normal to stand in the middle of your project, look around and realize a few things that will make life easier when it’s complete. What better time to add it in than when you’re already under the hood - while you have quick access to the wiring?

Let’s state the obvious – in many cases, yes, there is cost associated with additional scope. However, it’s probably less expensive now than it will be in six months as an add-on feature.

And, yes, there may be a timeline adjustment for your additional scope. However, and this is another post for another day, sometimes it’s better to take the time your project needs to get it right. You’ll be happier when it’s complete.

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Jami Woodson Head of Digital Project Management
+1 469.744.7366

As Head of Digital Project Management, Jami guides clients through complex digital experiences, answering client concerns and challenges along their journey. Before becoming a One Northerner, her first job out of college was as a middle school English teacher. She still has a great fondness for sentence diagramming.

  • Favorite movie: “Of Mice and Men” (the version with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich)
  • Favorite book: "A Prayer for Owen Meany," John Irving

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