The Costs of Scope Creep

Scope creep is defined as the gradual creep in scope of a project. Scope creep can be a natural evolution or progression. For example, the March of Dimes moved from a cure for polio after polio vaccine to a general prevention of birth defects. Scope creep helped them maintain their relevance after their old goal was met. Scope creep can also result in a piling into the cart of new weight to an existing load, weighing good projects down and crushing others. What are some of the costs of scope creep?

* Scope creep typically has a literal cost as more time spent meeting the new scope drives up labor costs.
* Scope creep can generate opportunity costs. Adding new and related scope to an existing project seems cheap. Yet the cost of that added functionality may not be worth the cost if an independent cost-benefit evaluation were done compared to other uses of team resources.
* Test plans and verification procedures must change as the product functions change.
* Testing time increases as new functions or requirements are added.
* Already completed documents may require updates. New documents, test cases and reviews may be needed.
* As scope creeps, completion dates slide further out. Team productivity can drop as they try not to ask the question: “Are we done yet?” As scope shifts or expands, meetings can grow longer to cover all of the details.

* The desire to be done can cause quality to drop as well. Quality can drop as there is a rush to finish an old deadline with additional requirements.

* What are we doing again? As the scope of a project expands or shifts, the metrics to define the project’s completion and its performance lose meaning.  For example, how much time and money does the project save? If scope creep results in more production down time, the cost rises while the resulting quality improvement is more difficult to measure or properly attribute.