Top 7 Causes of Scope Creep in Software Development Projects

Software Development

Involvement in large projects can be a stressful time for project managers, particularly if the job the client needs pushes the bounds of what you are comfortable dealing with. This problem can be exacerbated by the phenomenon of scope creep, which can drastically change what might have been a relatively simple project, resulting in time or cost overruns, and even, ultimately, project failure.

Scope creep can be dangerous for any project, but for software development, it can be particularly deadly. Since there is such a reliance on the original scope of the project, changes in the project scope can have far-reaching effects on the end result and the project that is delivered to the client.

What Is Scope Creep In Software Development?

New software development generally happens as a result of a customer request or existing market need. One of the first steps in the process is identifying how the software will fulfill this request or need, and more to the point, how it will function. This is generally considered the “scope” of the project. This is usually planned out and estimates created, then the client and the developer agree on the terms of development.

Scope creep happens after the project schedule is approved, the development begins, and has been progressing at a more or less anticipated pace when the client then realizes they forgot to consider a core piece in the product features. This will generally alter not only the timeline of the project plan but also the cost. This is also known as feature creep in some situations.


How Does Scope Creep Cause Project Failure?

While not all scope creep irreparably damages a project, it is not only possible but common. Since scope creep can be so unpredictable in how it manifests, it inherently has the potential to cause a negative impact to the current project, up to and including failure. It could be that an important deadline is missed, or the project simply runs out of money and gets stuck in development limbo.

An Example Of Scope Creep

The attempt at building a baggage automation system in the Denver International Airport is one of the most infamous examples of scope creep in the modern era. It even became so notorious that since the abandonment of the project it has become fodder for entire case studies about how not to manage a project. Not only did it last years longer than anticipated, but it more than doubled its initial budget with cost overruns.

7 Causes Of Scope Creep In Software Development Projects

Lack Of Clarity Or Detail In Original Scope

One of the essential parts of project success is clarity. If you don’t have your scope clearly defined and outlined from the beginning, it can be really easy to lose track of the scope and have some serious disruptions later on. It’s crucial that your project is clearly lined out right away, with as much detail as possible. The project team and the client need to be on the same page before getting started. Poor communication between the parties involved can be the biggest obstacle to a successful project.


Underestimation Of Project Complexity

Whether your project is lined out clearly or not, miscalculating the expected timeline can become problematic. If you finish sooner than planned, that’s fine, but when a team simply did not adequately project how complex the solution was going to be, that’s when trouble can arise. Additional time costs the client money and extra effort from the entire team.

Lack Of Client Approval Or Agreement

Another factor that can lead to scope creep is not having the approval of the client on any aspect of the overall project. They should be aware of the exact scope, otherwise, you run the risk of the client changing their mind on aspects of the scope later on.

Ineffective Leadership

Even with a clearly outlined project scope that the client has signed and agreed to, many still try to change it by making requests and even demands. One of the reasons that scope creep happens in the first place, is that someone tells the client that a change can be made to the original plan with less impact on the project than it will end up having.

If you are the project manager, be sure you stand your ground once the scope is decided. Small changes can be dealt with sometimes, but large changes in scope can spell disaster.

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Lack Of Communication With The Client

It is far too common that once a scope has been decided and agreed upon, the client is left in the dark until they receive a deliverable. Getting feedback from the client periodically can ensure that the project is progressing in a direction they approve of, and acts as an assurance against drastic reimaginings or changes in scope later on.

Not Being Proactive Enough

Issues and challenges are going to come up, especially in software development. This only underscores the need to be entirely transparent with the dev team and the client, so that when problems arise they aren’t hidden from people instrumental in solving them.

Forgetting The End-Users

This software is ultimately going to be used, or at least maintained, by an end-user of some sort. Failing to involve them at critical junctures of design and functionality is only asking for major updates and revisions later. By getting user input early and often, the scope of the project can be continually and effectively managed.


How To Manage Scope Creep From A Project Management Standpoint

Scope creep doesn’t have to mean the death of your project, on the contrary, many times a little bit of scope creep can help projects to find new and more elegant solutions. At the core of the creep, however, is always going to be unexpected change, and the success of the project is going to hinge on how those changes are managed.

Be sure you stay watchful for evidence of scope creep, particularly when you feel you may be the only one seeing it. Don’t wait to address it either, remember one of the main causes of creep is failing to be proactive when potential opportunities arise. Remember that the objective is always to deliver the optimal product possible, and if that requires a little adjustment to the initial bounds of the problem, your solution should adapt accordingly.

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