5 Ways to Prevent Scope Creep At Work & In Side Projects

Like a snake slithering down a dark hall, scope creep is coming for us all! Or, at least, that’s what it feels like for a lot of Developers who have dealt with this pesky productivity killer time and time again.

What exactly is scope creep? Some people may refer to it as focus creep, requirement creep, feature creep, or even kitchen sink syndrome but it all refers to the same thing: uncontrolled changes in a project’s scope that derail productivity. For example, the requirement in version 1 of a new application is to “show a map of the location”. When version 1 is almost finished but not-yet implemented, the feature requirement is changed to “show a 3D map of the location”. Then, when version 2 is almost finished, the feature is again changed to “show a 3D map of the location that the user can fly through” Each time the scope of the project is shifted, there’s a lot more work tossed onto each Developer’s plate and there are a lot of wasted hours and days spent working on what ultimately won’t be the right feature.

While it may seem like this can only happen in offices with incompetent Project Management, scope creep is common amongst side projects too. To prevent it from happening, do these 5 things.

1. Spend More Time in the Requirements Gathering Stage: Project creep often happens because the initial idea of what a project needed changes, so the scope of a project has to shift along with these changes. That’s why thorough requirements gathering is so important! In your side projects, spend more time gathering requirements and setting the scope early on so you can save time down the road. At work, ask if you can interact with potential clients or users directly to get a better idea of what they really need so you can create a list of thorough, effective project requirements early on.

2. Properly Define Projects & Build In Complexity Early: One of the main causes of scope creep is projects that start without being properly and thoroughly defined early on. If it’s a side project, this is up to you. If it’s a project at work, this may be up to your supervisor, project management team, or even team lead. Additionally, some project creep is caused by thinking too small during the early project definition stages. Speak up with your ideas for improvements early and build in project complexity from the start, that way you won’t constantly be switching versions and requirements along the way because you’ve put more thought and effort into the early planning stages.

3. Make Sure Project Definitions are Properly Documented: It’s not enough to just define project scope early, you need to make sure those definitions are properly documented and that everyone on the team is aware of them. While this should fall in the hands of Project Management in the office, you can always take the initiative to provide these to the team if they aren’t. And, for your own side projects, keep thorough documentation so you know when you’re deviating from the plan and can decide if it’s worth it or not.

4. Limit Yourself to Exceptional Changes Only: There are always ways you can add complexity or optimize, but are they all worth the time and effort they take? That’s something you need to weigh before you let scope creep sink in! Try limiting yourself to making changes to the set requirements only when they’d result in something exceptional. If it’s just an incremental improvement, it may not be worth the time it will take before implementation and could, instead, be added to a list of updates for future versions of the project.

5. Calculate Time Wasted & What it Costs: When you’re working on a side project while maintaining a full time job as a Developer, the time you can spend on it is precious and limited. If you’re thinking of changing the scope of a feature, calculate how much time you will have wasted and decide whether the new version is worth throwing those prior hours away. If you’re trying to work with a Project Manager or Project Management team on the job that is constantly falling prey to scope creep, present them with your calculations of how much time is wasted and what that costs them. Having facts and figures laid out in front of them may help curb their bad scope creep habit or at least give them a sense of what it costs so they’ll try to avoid it more in the future.

Don’t let scope creep kill your productivity and waste your time! Use these 5 steps to prevent scope creep both at work and when you’re at home working on side projects.