How Business Analysts Can Identify and Prevent Scope Creep

How Business Analysts Can Identify and Prevent Scope Creep

A project that seems so simple and clear at first can balloon into your biggest work headache.

A project that seems so simple and clear at first can balloon into your biggest work headache.

Scope creep plagues all companies and industries. A project that seems so simple and clear at first can balloon into your biggest work headache. What’s worse, as the project drags on, your team gets frustrated, not wanting to do the work or caring about the results.

Scope creep is inevitable, but it can be limited and contained. Here is how the best business analysts identify and eliminate scope creep in the companies they work with.

Understand Why Scope Creep Occurs

If you want to limit something, you have to understand the source of the problem. Scope creep is no different. There are many reasons why it occurs, and factors that work together to delay a plan. In an article for ProSymmetry, managing director Sean Pales lists the top causes of scope creep that he sees with each project:

  • A lack of scope definition at the start of the project.

  • A lack of clearly documented requirements.

  • A lack of means to execute those requirements.

  • A lack of communication with clients, coworkers and stakeholders.

  • Changes to the project needs, timeline, budget and other factors.

Some of these criteria, like managing requirements and detailing how they will be executed, are well within your control. However, there are other factors such as lack of stakeholder communication or last minute changes that are impossible to plan for.

“There is another reason why scope creep happens: excitement,” writes Lauren Drew, project manager at WebDevStudios. “At the beginning of a project, it can be difficult for a client to imagine how things will turn out. Once they start seeing demos, they start to see the potential. With this potential, comes new requests and expectations—thus, scope creep.”

Excitement also takes place within your development team. They may be so eager after taking on a project that they go overboard adding ideas and features. Either way, it is the role of the business analyst to find the problem and take steps to solve it.

Controlling scope creep on a project starts when the project starts.

Controlling scope creep on a project starts when the project starts.

Five Ways Business Analysts Can Limit Scope Creep

There are several ways to limit scope creep, and most of them start at the beginning of a project. “The core problem with scope creep is that it sets a precedent,” BQE Software CEO Shafat Qazi writes.

Business analysts can either create an environment where scope creep is allowed — risking wear on their team and missed deadlines — or they can put their foot down and negotiate with stakeholders when new requirements roll in.

Apply these steps to the next clients you work with to see if the project runs more smoothly.

Learn When to Push Back or Say No

One of the main sources of scope creep is the steady flow of add-ons from clients.

Sylvia Moses at Workamajig emphasizes that project scope covers what you will not accomplish just as much as what you will. If you have agreed to build a website for a client, you are likely not planning on developing content, creating and executing a marketing plan and developing an app that pairs with it. All of these extras drive up your costs and timeline.

Any additions that are outside of the immediate scope of the plan need to be in a separate plan or submitted in a new work order. Otherwise your projects are doomed to creep on long after they should be completed.

Business Analysts can encourage sales and project managers to scale down the work for a project.

Business Analysts can encourage sales and project managers to scale down the work for a project.

Business analysts need to encourage sales teams and project managers to turn down work and additional tasks. That said, it’s not always possible to say no to something. Still, when you’re stuck, there are alternatives. Simon Vincent, founder of FLEXX Creative, shares three ways you can gently push back when additional elements are added:

  • Make it a zero-sum game where nothing is added without taking something off.

  • Create a backlog for items that are requested for the project and prioritize your backlog tasks (this is ideal for agile projects).

  • Be clear about charging your customers for additional tasks. You can set these costs to make scope creep worth your time.  

By presenting options to your clients, they can move forward with the best choice for their business and budget, and you’ve limited the chance of the project being derailed.

Clearly Define the Project, Tasks and Roles

The more you work on projects, the better you will get at defining the requirements needed for each task. If your projects keep going over budget and past deadlines consider changing how you review your project and tasks.

“[Start] with defining a set of core values that guides the team and ensures strategic alignment,” writes Dillon Twombly, chief revenue officer at on-demand ride sharing company Via. “Clearly laying out areas of responsibility for the department and its role within the context of the larger organization helps evaluate what lies within and outside of the … job function.”

When everyone has a clear role, they shouldn’t feel pressured to take on work outside of their normal duties or assigned tasks. Your team needs to be empowered to say no to something outside of their scope.

Ownership is another main reason scope creep affects so many projects, Kate Kurzawska at Timecamp notes. When a team works on a project, a leader needs guide the decisions or workflow. When there is no such person, various people take the lead, adding their own goals and needs until their part is done. The result is a game of telephone, with the project changing hands and goals several times before it is finished.

Gagnon says email presents a lot of challenges in regard to client communication.

Gagnon says email presents a lot of challenges in regard to client communication.

Establish Clear Communication Channels

In a WP Elevation podcast, Andre Gagnon explains how every project is going to change based on stakeholder demands and execution. This is why a strong communication channel is essential throughout the project.

Gagnon says email presents a lot of challenges in regard to client communication. A client or stakeholder might send a quick email with a change or feature request that gets lost or ignored. Plus, too many email threads can get confusing. By establishing a dedicated communication strategy that includes a clear project flow changes already integrated and those requested, business analysts can help teams keep the conversation focused and prevent lost notes or one-off additions.

With more clarity in communication, you can see the source of the scope creep as it occurs and find ways to stop it.

Avoid Gold Plating

Zeb Evans, CEO of the productivity platform Clickup, says business analysts need to prevent developers from gold plating in their work. This refers to the little extras that push a project above and beyond. You might think you are adding a extra feature that helps customers and wows your stakeholders, but you are really doing work that wasn’t asked of you, taking up more time and money creating something that you don’t know they will appreciate or even need.

Instead of gold plating, Abdullahi Muhammed, CEO of digital marketing company Oxygenmat, encourages people to be proactive with extras and add-ons. Rather than giving them away for free, you might recommend something and mention upfront that it would cost a set amount of time and money. This prevents the customer from asking for the add-on in the future for free or having to turn every request back to a budgeting issue.

Write Out Your Change Management and Add-on Process

If your clients have a habit of asking for additional pieces and tasks, make sure you have something in your work agreement to account for these requests.

“Instead of telling the client on the fly how you’ll deal with amendments to the original job, spell it out in the contract of work,” Ailsa Page, managing director at AP Marketing Works, writes. “This sets expectations right at the start, and will avoid the client being shocked by your reasonable request to charge more for more work.”

Plus, if the client or stakeholder forgets about your policy, you have something in writing you can refer to. It may help remind them what they’ve already agreed to.

It’s also important to have a change management process in place, Pawel Grabowski at Agency Analytics emphasizes. This lets customers and stakeholders know they can’t change projects after everything has been signed and that you have a set plan to adjust the budget and timeline in case of any changes.

Of course, this change management process isn’t just forward facing. It allows BAs to tell their teams that they have support. They can work on their projects without worry of additional tasks or derailment without compensation.

Additionally, Scott Calonico at the Agile Zone stresses the importance of doing your research before you agree to anything, even if it is just a small add-on. If a client approaches you with a seemingly easy task, it could balloon into a major problem if you agree to it without seriously considering all that it involves. Careful planning and knowledge will save you.  

These Steps Protect You, Your Company and Your Team

Your company and clients aren’t the only one who benefit from taking control over scope creep. Staff can become quickly overworked and stressed by the projects in front of them, Steff Green at Practice Ignition writes. They may even disengage or quit if they feel like every project gets out of hand due to poor management.

“Keeping your team happy always makes things run more smoothly,” Janelle Lacomb at Workzone writes. “Team members who feel fulfilled by their work and who feel they can be open with ideas and suggestions are team members who truly care about the work they produce.” When scope creep arises, your top team members might be able to come up with alternative solutions or ways to save time on the project. You can work together to right the ship.

As a leader, your reputation is on the line, too. You don’t want to be known as someone who never finishes their work. You may not always be able to stop your team from taking on extra work, missing requirements or going past their deadlines. However, as a business analyst, you can review the business process and look for ways for teams to improve to maximize company productivity.

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