Preventing project scope creep

Part of my personal development is to up skill myself in ways that are good for the team and the university, today I looked at scope creep.

In my career of making things for people, one of the more frequent questions asked of me is “how long do you think it will take?” and I find that one of the hardest things to predict.

Last year I had the honour to work on the IVT project Open wide and step inside with my colleagues here at TELMeD and the dental community outreach team. I was asked at the first meeting I attended “Do you think you could do it in a year?” of course I answered “yes”, I learnt this from my father “always say yes then use your skills to work it out after”. In a situation like that all I can do is think on my feet. I was using all my mental knowledge of past projects to come to a conclusion. I didn’t have time to consider all the issues and difficulties that could befall us on the journey.

There are many things that will hold back a project one of which is “me” or rather my sense of detail. One of my beloved bosses said to me “if i asked you to paint me the Sahara desert you would do it by grains of sand…..” I am also known for rabbit holing, going off on a tangent and gold plating! luckily I’m not the only problem, the customer also has a part to play in projects going awry, and they are known to be, last minute additions, could you just move it one pixel to the left, could you add this feature, not fully understanding the ramifications of an apparent small change that could have massive repercussions in time and budget.

Something that the course really struck home was this statement “Customers rarely know what they want until the project is well under way”. Looking back on the projects I have undertaken this makes real sense, as it has led to scope creep and all the implications of that such as budget, time and development of future projects. At the start of every project I have always made a breakdown of the project tasks so that the customer knows what they are paying for, after going through this course the main point I learnt is, breaking it down further would help me to keep control of the project.

What I also learnt very recently is if a customer is not sure about what they really want; let them know that there is a change request process. As it will help me and the client to understand how the change will affect the rest of the project with regards to deadlines and cost.

Project management maturity

The course also talked about project management maturity. This initially sounded a bit degrading, but on further consideration I now see that project management maturity doesn’t relate to how I conduct myself at work but to the degree of formality and optimization of processes.  It formalised the processes by breaking it down into 5 levels.

  • Level 1 Initial
  • Level 2 Repeatable
  • Level 3 Defined
  • Level 4 Managed
  • Level 5 Optimizing

This helps tie the whole process together as they all affect each other. During our discussions with the community engagement team, we had to address and prioritize several requirements. This allowed us to determine the relative importance of requirements against criteria such as, reflection of stakeholder value, business or technical risk, implementation difficulty, likelihood of success, policy compliance, relationship to other requirements and urgency.

Building a work breakdown structure or WBS

A WBS is a place where you can write down 100% of the work to be done. Work that has been done but isn’t in the WBS is potential scope creep.

What does it do? It has many benefits some of which are

  • Never forget what is included
  • Helps everyone feel part of the project
  • Gives you a basic project plan
  • Let’s you see what needs to be done
  • Lessens the risk of missing something out

In our project Luke and I worked with Wendy, Sarah and Nicki to create a storyboard which gave us our outline for the WBS document, based on the activity and purpose of the scene, scene duration, dialogue, body movements, props, lip sync and background music.

We were then able to plan out the next 12 months activities on the white board next to my workstation, with approximate times. I have to say I found this a bit scary, as if I say I will do something by a certain date or time I like to adhere to that, and looking at the schedule I couldn’t in all honesty say that I would be able to stick to it. In some ways I felt like I was setting myself up for failure, but as the project went on it really helped everyone to see if we were on schedule. It’s not all about me!

Activity sequencing

One of the benefits of WBS is that it let’s you see how the many parts of the project are related and gives you a preferred path to follow that is most efficient. The most important relationship was to build the project in a way that allows for future development as a game that could be used on computers, laptops and mobile devices so that it is a truly interactive experience.

The hard logic is the foundation of the project, things that have to be in place before the project can start. Our hard logic was the computers, programmes, a technologist and the IVT availability.  Once our sequence was determined, we could now estimate the resources we needed and calculate the duration required to complete each task and activity.

Triple Constraints

Managing triple constraints: Scope, Schedule, Cost.

Make sure to prioritize which area is most important to the customer so that they know what, when and how much. It’s very important to keep an free flowing dialogue with your client, that way nothing is forgotten or inappropriately prioritized. I personally pride myself on letting the client know what’s happening, I believe it’s the make or break for any relationship and can even be the thing that can attract further projects.

We found it very helpful to have regular meetings to discuss what was going well and what was going less well, that way we could keep an eye on scope creep as it arose and find a way to deal with it. These type of meetings may happen more frequently so I found it helpful to keep the meetings short and to the point.

Risk management

Rarely everything goes smoothly, so accepting that there are going to be difficulties gives you a chance to look at the potential risks, address them and find alternatives if need be in a structured and systematic way. This gives you an idea of the impact on all other aspects of the project.

We discussed how I should share the information I had gained about how I was modelling and animating, also making sure the files were available to everyone.  So that should something unforeseen happen to me then others could carry on with my tasks. For us this was most important as I had a serious motorcycle accident and was off for six months!! So sharing my knowledge was of the utmost importance.

Open communication

We are now using team management software to log our hours and document our progress and processes, all our project work is open to assessment. This is really helping for when I don’t have the bigger picture, my manager, who does, can help focus me on the most important areas if I am going off track.

Give an inch

In my experience clients will generally want more from you than was in the initial project breakdown. They will also think of things to add in to make the project better, again this cause’s scope creep. The course gave me some great coping strategies for these situations. The longer you let the client add little bits to the project the more they will see it as an ok thing to do. Have a process that formalises change requests such as a pre-formatted document that they can email to you.  My memory is awful so having the change request written down also helps keep track of what needs to change and when it was requested. That way nothing is left to chance and you can always refer back to it later. Importantly these small changes may make a larger impact to the rest of the project so make sure that you consider how the effects will ripple out before adding to the scope, schedule and budget.

Having a change request system in place helps to manage your customers’ expectations and makes sure that the time it takes to make the change is costed in.

Just say no

Sometimes a request will make such an impact on the schedule or budget you will have to say no. Looking at the request it may be that it will be that it can be addressed as a separate project, or another developer can be costed in. It is a quality to flexible and adaptable but not where it adversely affects the future of other projects, the team and the school.

Coping strategies

Problems arise when the customer lacks understanding of how the product is created or what the processes are during development.

  • Keep sharing information
  • Documenting processes, will allow for thorough evaluation and good decision-making that both the client and the project team can benefit from.
  • Too many cooks? A single point of contact on the client or project side is important as it is far too easy for communication to get confused if there are many people involved at the point of contact.
  • When your team has a project manager and the customer side is lacking that single point of contact, request a champion from the customer side.
  • Make sure there is a document that explains the role and responsibility of each member of the team and keep it up-to-date and easily available.
  • Let people know that they are doing well, both on the client side and your team, this will help maintain project momentum.
  • Make certain your communication is concise and current.
  • Make your documents or communication polite but to the point.
  • Reply as soon as possible

Whenever possible, make the communication positive, even if there are problems, addressing it in a positive way helps the project momentum. For example if the client requests something that is clearly inappropriate or impossible to implement, make sure you come from the point of a solution before telling them that it can’t be done, or agree that it can be done, but make them aware of the ramifications of the request. Yes of course you can have that, however that may cause an issue with….. Record time spent and how you overcame difficulties, anything you do to record will make then next project faster, better organised and essentially it will make you more profit!


Focus on helping your team to communicate with each other. Use established methodologies, processes, and templates. Your employer, your team, and the customer will appreciate your leadership when you implement the tools and techniques that have been discussed here.

In conclusion

Looking back, we instinctively managed the IVT project in ways that are very similar to how it has been described in the course. We have many years of experience working with clients and on projects large and small and have developed our way of doing things over the years both independently and with the Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Going through the course has helped me to understand why we are doing things the way we are and why they are important to us as a team. It has expanded my knowledge of project management and has helped me come to terms with some of the more challenging aspects of managing client expectations, an area where I have had difficulties in the past.

Its good to remember that one’s reputation precedes one…


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