One key reason for project failure is scope creep. Therefore, we must do whatever possible to avoid it. Let’s first gain a better understanding of scope: the work to be done on the project. Now, let define scope creep: any work beyond what was promised to the customer during the development of the project charter.

Customers want the latest and greatest product or service, and they are going to ask for add-ons whenever possible. For example, customers might request a video component even though only audio was included in the contract. They will first ask nicely, but they will insist later. In many cases, the customer wants the additional work (scope) without extending the schedule and adding costs. In other words, they want you to deliver a more robust product without taking any ownership.

#1: Communicate with the customer.

Successful project managers make sure to communicate with the customer as much as possible. We want to keep the customer informed regarding cost, schedule, and scope. In essence, we are sharing the Earned Value Management (EVM) results. By having this visibility with the customer, we make sure we have a clear understanding of how they feel the project is coming along. In addition, we can keep them posted on the project progression.

When project managers aremissing in action, the customer will wonder regarding the project details. In essence, they look for opportunities to add more features and functionality to the project. If the project manager is absent, the customer will contact a team member and ask for the enhancement. An inexperienced team member might be looking to impress the client, and integrate the update without running it through the Change Control Board (CCB).

#2: Focus on the project objectives.

The project manager signed the project charter, which included the objectives. The project charter authorized the project manager to secure resources (people, equipment, and capital) for the work effort. Once the project management plan was created, the project manager has clear requirements, and it’s imperative that the plan is followed.

When a customer demands more scope, the project manager must stress the importance of following the plan. Here’s a potential response: Mike, I understand you want to add a mobile app to the current project, but please note that we need to make sure the application we’re working on is delivered on time, within budget, and to your satisfaction. Once we’re done, we can tackle the mobile app, and I’m sure it will be to your liking. In other words, we must stick with the original plan.

We can expect customers to change the rules of the game midstream. It goes with the territory. However, the project manager must reinforce the importance of meeting the current objectives. By adding more scope, we compromise the success of the project. We must remind the customer that focusing on current requirements is imperative.

As noted above, communication is the key. An engaged project manager will ensure the customer is in the loop. Thus, the project manager takes a proactive approach, which lessens the chances for surprises that can derail the project.