What Is Causing Scope Creep in Your Projects? Top 5 Identifiers.

What does project success look like to you? To most project managers, a project is counted as a “win” when it’s completed on-time, within budget, and with the intended outcome. It’s what you expect out of every project, but in reality, more than half of all projects don’t deliver to plan. The culprit? An insidious thief that lurks in the shadows around every project, stealing your time, derailing your budget, and throwing your plans into chaos.

That thief is known as scope creep, and at Replicon, we hear from our customers that it’s one of their biggest project management obstacles. We’re here to help you catch scope creep red-handed, so you can get back to business and back to project success.

What Is Scope Creep?

Every project begins with clearly defined boundaries, including deadlines, milestones, resource allocation, and budget. Scope creep encompasses anything that pushes that project beyond those boundaries. Once the project scope is breached, even the most carefully laid plans are compromised, and your project becomes vulnerable to failure. To banish scope creep, you first have to know what causes it and how to identify it. But, like any thief, it can be hard to pin down. Here’s what you need to know to catch a thief.


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What Causes Scope Creep?

Contrary to its name, scope creep doesn’t always sneak up on you. Sometimes, it’s already there before the project even kicks off. There are two primary reasons your project may be at risk for scope creep:

The original scope was inadequate. You know that phrase about “under-promising and over-delivering”? Sometimes, the reverse is what actually happens, setting you up immediately for scope creep before you even get off the ground. Trying to force a project to meet a tight deadline, a too-lean budget, or reach completion without an appropriate amount of resources or support is like leaving your house unlocked while you’re away on vacation. It’s an invitation to steal everything inside.

The project evolves beyond the original scope. This isn’t the result of poor planning, but instead, a lack of adaptability. At times, a project will evolve beyond the parameters you’ve set. But if you aren’t ready to make adjustments and pivot where needed, you’re likely to find your project straining — and potentially breaking — the boundaries of its scope.

How Do I Know I Have a Problem with Scope Creep?

To know if scope creep is lurking around your project, ready to pounce, be on the lookout for these key identifiers:

Scope Creep Identifier #1: Project Scope Statement

This is the cornerstone of your project, but if it lacks clarity or detail, it leaves the execution of the project open to interpretation. Think of your scope statement as a fence around your project. One weak link could be enough to let a thief slip in.

Scope Creep Identifier #2: Communication Gaps

Conversations happen across various channels now, including emails, texts, Zoom meetings, and online chats. If your team doesn’t have a clear understanding of the project scope, they may be promising deliverables and timelines that aren’t achievable. And if they aren’t relaying accurate information, your clients’ expectations may not align with what’s realistic. Communication and collaboration between managers, team members, and clients are key in avoiding scope creep.

Scope Creep Identifier #3: Inadequate Project Tracking

Can you tell at a glance exactly how many hours you’ve spent on a particular project, and how many hours remain in the budget? Do you know what tasks your team members have completed at any given time? If not, you’re vulnerable to scope creep. A configurable, real-time, agile time tracking system can help you stay on track and in scope.

Scope Creep Identifier #4: Change Management Process

You can’t expect the unexpected, but you can be ready for it. Projects grow and evolve over time, and at times, they stretch outside the original scope. How you account for and manage these changes could mean the difference between success and failure for these projects. If your change control process isn’t clearly outlined or doesn’t allow for the types of changes you might anticipate, you won’t be able to grow your scope as needed.

Scope Creep Identifier #5: Gold-Plating

We all want to surprise and delight our clients, demonstrating that we are going above and beyond. But if you find your team is purposely going above budget and beyond deadlines to prove their value, you’ve got a problem with gold-plating. Your worth should be evident in the quality of the pre-defined deliverables and in your ability to stay on task and on time; not in busting budgets to impress a client. Exceeding expectations is one thing, but gold-plating is a sure way to open your project up to scope creep.

What Can I Do to Stop It?

If you know you have a problem with scope creep, you’ve already taken the first step in banishing it. Learn from past project failures, and build reinforcements around new project scopes to keep the thief at bay. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself from scope creep:

  • Be proactive. Success happens at the start of the project, not the end. Create a scope with achievable goals and be sure it’s conveyed clearly to all team members.
  • Set expectations. Communicate with clients throughout the project so they understand what they can expect to see and when. If you anticipate changes to the budget or time line, sit down to reevaluate all statements of work before they go out of scope.
  • Plan for changes. In your statement of work, outline clearly how you’ll handle changes and how that may impact the scope of the project. Discuss your change process with clients and team members so they know how to initiate a change request.
  • Stay vigilant. As a project manager, you need to have constant, real-time visibility into the progress of your project. Use project management software to keep tabs on task completion, budgets, and resources used, so you always know where you stand.
  • Say “no” when you need to. If a client or team member has an ask that goes above and beyond the statement of work, saying “no” isn’t just justified; it’s necessary. If a change is required, be sure they go through your established change control process. If a team member wants to go out of scope for the purpose of gold-plating, be firm in explaining why they can’t. Look to your statement of work as your source of truth, and fall back on that whenever there are unnecessary requests.

Start your projects out the right way to keep scope creep at bay. And if you find you’re consistently maxing out your project budgets, we can help you find ways to stay on track. Don’t let scope creep steal your time and derail your projects. Replicon is here to help you catch the thief!


Maximize Billable Projects & Hours. Maximize Revenue.

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Wendi Williams


Wendi Williams

Wendi Williams is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, IN, with over a decade of experience writing for a variety of industries from healthcare to manufacturing to nonprofit.

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