A Pain in the Project: 10 Ways to Prevent Scope Creep

Elmeri Palokangas
June 30, 2023
min read
September 19, 2023
Photo credit
Avoid scope creep in your projects with these 10 tips. Learn how to define the scope of your project, get buy-in from stakeholders and manage change effectively.
Create Step-by-Step Guides in Seconds


Scope creep is one of the biggest, and most sinister project management challenges.

At the beginning of a project, everything might seem clear, but as it progresses, little changes add up. Before you know it, you're dealing with a different beast entirely.

The statistics about scope creep are hard to ignore:

  • Fifty percent of projects experience scope creep.
  • Only 57 percent of problems finish within the budget.
  • Only 51 percent of projects are finished on schedule.

It's safe to say that scope creep is a major issue in project management.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to manage the problem.

TL;DR: How to prevent scope screep

  • Scope creep is a common problem in projects, with 50 percent of teams experiencing it.
  • It can lead to increased costs, missed deadlines and client dissatisfaction.
  • Examples of scope creep include additional features, changing plans and unclear scope.
  • To prevent scope creep, set clear goals, involve stakeholders and have a change control process.
  • You can also create a risk management process, use a work breakdown structure, and prioritize project requirements.

What is scope creep?

Scope creep in project management happens when the project expands without proper planning. This can lead to increased time and cost when new tasks or goals are added without enough resources or budget.

Typically, teams start with a scope of work, budget, and timeline. You plan the project out and assign tasks to various team members.

But we've all been there when unexpected top-down requests come in, take precedence and derail the timeline. Or when something we thought would take a few minutes has dragged on for days.

That's scope creep in action.

5 Real-world examples of scope creep

Scope creep can have a huge impact on a project's success, resulting in costly delays and budget overruns.

Here are some real-world examples of scope creep that illustrate how it happens:

  • Additional features required: A client requests additional features halfway through the project, requiring extra time and resources.
  • Changing plans: A customer changes their mind about the requirements of a project and requests different approaches or features that weren't initially discussed.
  • Unclear scope: The project team wasn't aligned in the beginning, leading to misunderstandings on tasks to complete, associated costs and assignees. The result? Inevitable delays.
  • Unmeasurable tasks: A project team is given a task with no clear definition of how long it should take or what the expected outcome should be, leading to delays.
  • Unrealistic expectations: A customer expects a project to be completed in an unrealistic timeframe, resulting in delays and budget overruns. 

These are just a few examples of how scope creep can manifest itself.

What are the negative consequences of scope creep?

Scope creep can have a number of negative consequences, like:

  1. Increased costs. If a project's budget is already stretched, any additional requirements can put it under strain and result in delays or cost overruns.
  2. Missed deadlines. When the project scope is not managed correctly, it can lead to delays in completion. This can be damaging for companies that rely on the timely delivery of projects.
  3. Resource allocation. As the scope grows, unexpected work requires time, staff and budget. This unexpected rise in resource needs can put a strain on the resources resource allocation — leading to poorer quality outcomes.
  4. Client dissatisfaction. Delays in completion and budget overruns likely mean you'll have unhappy customers. This negatively impacts customer satisfaction and long-term relationships.

How does scope creep impact team morale?

Scope creep can also lead to project team morale, motivation and employee experience issues.

As the scope expands, you push back deadlines and increase expectations — often without allocating additional time or resources. This can make employees feel overwhelmed and frustrated, impacting work-life balance.

Managers should monitor scope and timeline, resource additional work, maintain open communication, and reward high-quality work to keep motivation and morale high.

10 tips for preventing scope creep

So, what can you do to prevent scope creep? And, if it happens, how should you respond to it?

Let's look into those things.

1. Set clear goals and objectives

Teams often don't care enough when defining their project's scope. To prevent scope creep, it is essential to be clear at the outset about what the project is trying to achieve and what success looks like.

The idea of "SMART goals" explains well how goals and objectives should be put in place.

Your goals and objectives should be:
  1. Specific (narrow goals down for more effective planning).
  2. Measurable (define the evidence that proves you're making progress).
  3. Achievable (set a realistic timeframe for your project).
  4. Relevant (make sure your goals align with the long-term objectives).
  5. Timely (set a realistic deadline for your project).

2. Involve stakeholders in scope discussions

When setting your goals and objectives, ensure all stakeholders are involved and everyone is on the same page.

Input from key stakeholders builds buy-in, creates a shared understanding of scope boundaries and uncovers potential scope creep before it impacts the schedule or budget.

This will help ensure there's no confusion or miscommunication in the future and maintain realistic expectations.

3. Have a change control process in place

While you can't anticipate every change, it's best to prepare for it.

For this, having a change control process in place is crucial.

During the planning phase of your project, create a change control process that outlines how and when changes can be made.

Include all the changes that may occur, and consider the following:

  • Who has the authority to make decisions?
  • What kind of evaluation criteria are used?
  • Who needs to be consulted before any changes are implemented?

This way, if someone requests a change, you'll already have a process for evaluating it and making decisions.

4. Evaluate change requests

Along with a change control process, project managers should manage change requests carefully to optimize resources.

  • Get approvals for added work.
  • Re-estimate resource needs regularly.
  • Reduce scope whenever possible.
  • Hire more people if necessary.
  • Negotiate deadlines if extra time is required to complete the work.

Regularly assessing project progress can identify scope creep early on.

5. Create a risk management process

Before starting a project, it's important to assess what kind of risks may arise during the project.

One way to do this is by creating a risk management process that outlines potential issues and how problems will be handled if they occur.

Your risk management process should include the following steps:

  • Identifying potential risks.
  • Assessing the probability of each risk occurring.
  • Deciding on actions to be taken if a risk occurs.
  • Monitoring and reporting risk levels throughout the project.

4 Steps of the Risk Management Process: Identification, Assessment, Treatment, Monitoring/Reporting
(Source: MI-GSO)

Having a risk management process in place can help you stay ahead of scope creep. 

This way, if problems arise, you know how to handle them.

6. Have a work breakdown structure in place

A work breakdown structure (WBS) divides a project into smaller tasks and milestones. Like a hierarchical flowchart, it categorizes deliverables based on goals or subtasks.

It creates a step-by-step guide for a project and helps with planning and budgeting.

Here is an example of how the work breakdown structure can look like:

This WBS example breaks down the task of planning a press conference into five main tasks. For example, stakeholders could divide the project into five steps, assign tasks to different teams or individuals and ensure that each step is completed on time.

A work breakdown structure keeps teams organized and focused on completing assigned tasks. It also makes it easier for the team to track progress.

7. Prioritize project requirements

When everything is urgent, nothing is. Here are a few strategies for prioritizing project requirements and avoiding scope creep:

  • Frequently review the original project scope and objectives. Anything added to the project should be clearly connected with the initial scope/objective statements. If new requests do not directly support the original goals, push back and suggest they be addressed in a future phase or separate project.
  • Identify essential vs. "nice-to-have" additions. Deliver necessary requirements first before expanding into lower-priority areas. Say "not yet" instead of "no" to deprioritized requests.
  • Vet new requests with documentation, justifications, and estimates of impact. Review as a team and determine what you can accommodate.
  • Report on key project metrics like budget, schedule and scope. Make sure stakeholders are aware of the potential impacts of new requests. If you can, offer alternatives for the new requests.
  • Put limits around the number of new requests accepted.

8. Create easy-to-follow instructions

Work breakdown structure is essential for staying organized, but you should also create instructions for each step involved.

And what's the best way to create those instructions?

If you want to minimize manual writing, create SOPs and manuals quickly, and take advantage of AI, consider using Scribe.

Scribe helps teams create and maintain project efficiency by automatically creating step-by-step workflows and procedures that can be updated with ease. Just by hitting "record" and going through a process, Scribe creates a step-by-step guide based on your keystrokes.


This can save so much time when writing documentation 😊 #sharescribe #scribehow #techtok #compsci #computerscience #stem

‎Scribe also allows for better collaboration and communication between stakeholders because all guides are shareable via a simple link.

The best part is all the saved time. ⏳

9. Manage client expectations

Clear communication and defined boundaries are crucial to managing client expectations and avoiding scope creep.

  • At the start of a project, give the client a clear scope of work that shows exactly what deliverables are included and a timeline for each stage of the project.
  • Have the client review and sign off on this documentation to ensure full agreement.
  • During the project, stick closely to what was agreed upon in the original scope.
  • If additional requests arise, explain that they will require a change order with a separate budget.
  • If the budget allows, offer to revisit the initial scope once the project is completed to add new requests.

By regularly communicating and following the conditions of the original agreement, you can gain clients' buy-in for the scope.

10. Monitor your progress

Once the project is underway, it's essential to monitor progress. This helps ensure that tasks are completed in the correct order and on time.

To effectively monitor the progress of a project, consider implementing the following strategies:

1. Develop key performance indicators (KPIs): Establish clear, measurable KPIs that align with your project goals. These indicators will help you track progress and identify areas that may need improvement.

2. Schedule regular progress meetings: Organize periodic meetings with stakeholders to discuss progress, address concerns, and make any necessary adjustments.

3. Track progress with software: Utilize software tools to stay up-to-date on project progress, such as project management software like Asana and Jira.

Monitoring progress regularly will make sure your project is on track, and that scope creep doesn’t become a problem.

Wrap Up

Managing scope creep is important for keeping projects on track and ensuring success.

Scribe helps teams manage scope creep and improve productivity. Everyone involved can stay on the same page by creating clear step-by-step guides.

This makes it easier for teams to complete projects without sacrificing quality or time.

Take control of your projects today by signing up for Scribe (it's free to get started).

For those looking for more advanced features, there's also a Scribe Pro plan.

Ready to try Scribe?

Scribe automatically generates how-to guides and serves them to your team when they need them most. Save time, stay focused, help others.