3 June 2021

Managing scope is an integral part of Project Management and is a Key Success Criterion for the project.

Scope creep, also known as requirement creep or feature creep usually starts when the project is underway. In simple terms it means adding to the scope or requirement beyond what was originally agreed, over the lifecycle of the project. 

The PMBOK® Guide describes scope creep as “adding features and functionality (project scope) without addressing the effects on time, costs, and resources, or without customer approval”.

What causes Scope Creep? 

Scope creep is typically caused by key project stakeholders changing requirements after the scope has been finalised or sometimes by internal miscommunication and disagreements. At times, the change requests appear to be small, and instead of following the change request process or adding it to next iterations, project teams tend to act on them. Project teams also like to add “greater value” to the deliver and that often happens by adding unrequested functionalities. 

According to Project Management Institute (PMI):

“IT managers often fail to negotiate more time and budget when requests for additional functionality are made, and the scope creeps.” 

LinkedIn colleagues cited reasons for scope creep that include: 

  • Lack of clarity and depth to the original specification document. 
  • Customers trying to get extra work “on the cheap”. 
  • Design and development of product before an in-depth requirements analysis and cost-benefit analysis has been done. 
  • Ambiguous or unrefined scope definition.
  • Poorly defined initial requirements. 
  • Lack of any formal scope or requirements management.
  • Lack of sponsorship and stakeholder involvement.

Why is Scope Creep a problem?

Lets look at one of the biggest project failures in history due to scope creep:

In 1995, Denver International Airport planned to automate the handling of baggage through the entire airport, the system proved to be far more complex than some had original believed.  The problems building the system resulted in the newly complete airport sitting idle for 16 months while engineers worked on getting the baggage system to work. The delay added approximately $560M USD over budget and performed a fraction of what it was designed for. Changes in requirement and Underestimation of schedule and budget were the main factors causing this massive project failure. 

Denver Baggage Handling System
Denver Baggage Handling System (

The project failed due to scope creep, caused by the following reasons: 

  • Failure to address the project scope’s complexity:

The initial proposal by the bidding companies addressed that the project is way too complex and could not be completed within 2 years, the city ignored those recommendations and went ahead with a different vendor who also advised that timeline need to be increased to 4 years. Neither the original scope or the timeline was changed even after multiple recommendations. 

  • Failure to involve necessary stakeholders from the project kickoff:

The airlines excluded from any decision-making process. They were asked for feedback midway through the project and they posed additional requests (scope creep) that required redesigns of already completed pieces of work leading to major waste of resource and time. The requests were not optional features for the airlines, and the project team was forced to redo their work. 

How to manage Scope Creep?

Change is inevitable — customer needs evolve over time and delivering a project that answers their needs often means altering the scope. Scope creep is, therefore, a reality that every good project manager should expect and plan for.  

  • Clear, well-managed, scope is a key element to project success. Creating a project charter that succinctly documents the vision, high-level project requirement, business requirement and out of scope can provide clarity around the project scope. 
  • Using scope models early – on the project like Business Process Models, Context Diagrams, Use Case Diagrams, SIPOC Charts, etc. are simple tools to visualise the project requirements and clarify scope with the sponsors and stakeholders. 
  • Project Managers need to say No as much as they say Yes to avoid scope creep. The PM needs to negotiate an extension to delivery date or reduce the scope for a fixed date delivery.
  • Changes to scope needs to be managed with a clear change management process and should be signed off by all stakeholders. This ensures that sponsors and stakeholders are aware of change management process and helps with the scope management. 
  • Breaking down massive projects into smaller subprojects. Smaller projects have tighter deadlines and less room for scope deviation. 

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