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Seven Strategies to Counteract Scope Creep in Software Development

Scope creep is one of the many realities faced by development teams working in the Nearshore. Whether it is avoidable or not can be debated, but the fact remains: your feet will be stuck in the muck of it if you don’t watch your step as the project moves along.

There are basic strategies to deal with scope creep in a project before it begins and while it is in progress. You and your client will want to define the project as much as possible, with deliverables and all, in written form; even if the project is well defined, changes will most likely arise, and you should make a detailed log of such changes; you’ll want to be transparent with both your client and your team on what the project is, where it is going, how fast is it rolling and if the goalpost has been moved. 

Even if you do the above, you’ll probably feel the long fingers of scope creep grasping at your ankles as the project moves along. Facing that situation, you’ll want to move beyond the basics.

Below you’ll find seven tips from the mouths of experts of tech development, team leadership and project management that will shield you even further in your attempt to keep that project moving without the wheels getting stuck in the mud. 

Pinpoint When the Scope Creep Began

Again: it is debatable whether scope creep can be avoided or not. However, while the issue is still being discussed, one of your best bets will be to be able to identify when the creep happened. 

“If it already happens, immediately regrouping with the team to evaluate where it happened and identifying it is key. The sooner it is identified, the quicker it can be solved,” said Salomon Ocon, CEO of Costa Rican tech developer GBT Technologies.

Most of the creep happens in what should be the re-baselining and change management phase of each project, according to Jennifer Bridges, founder of PDUs2Go, an educational content platform for project managers. About three-fourth of projects that ignore baselining and managing change crash and burn. 

“If it already happens, immediately regrouping with the team to evaluate where it happened and identifying it is key”—Salomon Ocon, GBT Technologies CEO.

Bridges stretches the importance of keeping an eye on your development team. Ask questions constantly, and be suspicious if the answers sound a bit too good and generic.

“When things are always OK when you ask your team members how things are going and everything’s on track, we feel that those are signs that something may not be right,” she said in one of her YouTube tutorials on the topic.

Launch a Separate Project

You’ll want to be honest about when the changes in an ongoing project amount to a new one, according to Robin Ward, Co-Founder of ledgerr, a cloud-based accounting company from the UK.

This connects directly to two of the basic strategies mentioned above: transparency and tracking changes. Keeping an eye on project modifications will help you define when the ongoing project has birthed an entirely different thing that deserves attention of its own.

Also, if you consider that the changes require launching another project, you will want to be as open as possible about it with your team and your client. 

Assign a Resource Manager

Resource management is key to keep a project from growing out of control. With that in mind, having a single person being responsible for resource allocation can help you keep the creep at bay. Even though having multiple opinions can be helpful, giving the responsibility of final say to an individual will keep things moving.

“If you want to reduce scope creep, then assign one person to be ultimately responsible for resource allocation”, commented Blair Currie, CEO at video platform Snibble Corp, for a Forbes piece. “This focuses the product, ensuring it is designed well and not built by a committee, which never results in excellence and often causes scope creep.”

“If you want to reduce scope creep, then assign one person to be ultimately responsible for resource allocation”— Blair Currie, Snibble Corp CEO

On that note, you’ll want to be as specific as possible when assigning tasks within your team. Collaboration is important, but overlap is among the truest and costliests signs of poor resource management. 

“Too many cooks in the kitchen will almost certainly lead to clashing ideologies, which will only serve to hinder the completion of the project,” said David Gasparyan, President at marketing-automation platform Phonexa, for the same publication. “Assign, delegate and keep the momentum rolling.”

Be Forthcoming, But Also Provide Solutions 

Communication is key, but transparency is even more important. Be as forthcoming as possible with your client. If you stumble upon the possibility of scope creep, you can’t go to your client empty handed, though. Your best bet is to bring solutions to the table. 

“Telling a client how we plan to solve this and why it happened is priority. Never tell a client the problem without having a solution,” recommended Ocon.  

Bear in mind, though, that the client might not be as understanding of the situation as you wish. Actually, Ocon pointed out that they usually aren’t.

“Never tell a client the problem without having a solution”—Salomon Ocon, GBT Technologies CEO

Don’t Be Afraid; Ask for More Resources

Budgeting is among the most sensitive issues when discussing projects with a client, but scope creep has the potential to increase your needs for resources. If the situation arises, you’ll have to be forthcoming with the client and ask for more.

About 75% of projects fail due to a lack of baselining and change-tracking, Bridges mentioned in one of her tutorials. Even if a project manages to avoid this pitfall, failing to obtain enough resources to push forward will open up that trap once more. 

“Sometimes, for some people,it’s  hard to go back and request for additional resources and the funding you need to make those changes happen. If you agree upon this and don’t ask for the people, the funding, the resources you need, we’re back here, in this statistic,” she said.

Trade Offs are Part of the Process

The truth about modifying a project as it goes is that the original plan might not make it to the end in one piece. 

When negotiating with your client and your team, you’ll have to be aware of what aspects of the project will need to be discarded in order to let the new version move along as fluidly as possible, pointed out Jessica Hall, Senior Director of Product Strategy and Design at tech developer 3PIllar Global.

“If you want so many things, you have to take something with the relative same value and move it over. Let’s figure out how many things fit around our team’s capacity and then prioritize around this,” she said during a lecture.

Keep an Eye on the Downstream

Though managing scope creep is a process that deals with what’s happening at present, you better keep an eye on how it might affect the project down the line. 

“Myopic thinking cannot exist during software implementations, especially when multiple systems are impacted. When a change is proposed, the downstream impacts of that change must be considered,” pointed out Jason Schrader, Technical Director at digital transformation firm Kalypso. 

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Remember: even when the scope and deliverables of the project are well defined beforehand, requests for changes might arise during the process. As they pile up, the the project will transform in ways both expected and unexpected.

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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