What is Scope Creep?

May 2, 2012 — 1,526 views  

Scope creep has many characteristics, but it is generally defined as the gradual shift in established project parameters. This can occur due to poor initial planning, but is mostly due to a lack of proper implementation of good organizational practices. "Scope" refers to the overall limits of a specific project, while "creep" occurs when the scope drifts outside set boundaries.

But why does scope creep happen? Villanova has studied the issue extensively, and offers a few suggestions on its website as to why scope creep occurs. For example, one common cause is a lack of communication and understanding of a respective industry. A project team may lack experience in a given field, and if no one asks for help, the group could intrinsically over- or underestimate certain figures and unknowingly cause scope creep.

Stephanie Gurlen of the University of Missouri-St. Louis explains that increasing pressure to deliver more results than initially agreed upon is also a factor in scope creep. Imagine an advertising executive that is working toward a return on investment of $50,000. Her supervisors, unaware of marketing schematics, assume she will earn $75,000. Though she will have to work hard just to get to $50,000, a lack of communication and understanding has put stress on her and caused scope creep despite clearly outlined parameters.