Identifying Project Scope Creep

6 min read

We live in a digital era where business and consumer needs are evolving at an unrelenting pace. Today, the role of your website is crucial to business success with development projects involving many stakeholders and external web experts.  

By nature, conversations between these parties will uncover new ideas and challenge any assumptions a business may have started out with. Each of which will see you gradually creep away from that initial scope.  

Scope creep can result in extended project timescales and increased costs, but this isn’t always an acceptable outcome to a business. More often than not, there isn’t an endless budget or availability of time and that means tough decisions need to be made.  

When faced with this situation, you should: 

  1. Keep your original objectives at the forefront  
  2. Not get carried away with everything that is possible  
  3. Have an open mind  
  4. Recognise changes to your requirements that are genuinely value adding 

Key takeaways 

In this blog, we look at: 

  • The causes of project scope creep 
  • How project scope creep can be prevented 
  • How to cope with project scope creep when it does occur 

What causes project scope creep?  

1) The discovery phase  

During this stage of the project, a lot of research is completed. Between competitor reviews, stakeholder interviews and user panel testing, extensive insight is uncovered through business and audience discovery exercises.  

Designed to form the basis of recommendations for your website, during this discovery phase, you’ll delve deep into who your users are, challenging assumptions to confirm their wants and needs. It’s common that new findings may not fully align with the original brief and can cause your scope to creep.  

2) The UX workshop  

User experience covers the interaction users have with your products or services. UX’s primary focus is how the experience feels including whether it’s easy to use. When we talk about user experience design, this refers to the process design teams use to create solutions that provide the best experience possible to the user. While forging a solution, UX designers take the users’ pain points into account and use them to create a better experience.  

The UX workshop is the starting point of this research, taking the analysis of your users’ website needs to create an intuitive online experience that supports their goals. Often, exploring how your site is actually used can see factors emerge that weren’t previously considered in the brief.  

As such, there may be a range of suggestions that come from the workshop such as correcting accessibility challenges, making the experience better on mobile or creating a higher quality navigation – all of which can lead to a deviation of the original brief.  

3) Business changes  

Website projects run over a prolonged period of time and it’s not unusual for changes to happen within a business during this time. But those same changes can have a knock-on effect that impacts your previously well-defined project scope. Common business changes we see include:  

  • Changes in management: Changes at the top can create changes in strategy and business direction. The impact is likely to be a change in what the business requires from its website. 
  • Rebranding: We often see businesses decide to rebrand alongside a new website project. This can uncover new considerations and styling that need translating online, especially if the process begins part way through the project. 
  • New products or services: With additions to a business also comes new requirements which will need to be factored into your project requirements.  
  • New team members: New people joining existing teams within the business may bring a fresh perspective and introduce different ideas that haven’t yet been considered. 

4) Integrations  

Integrations by nature come with complexity and usually require the involvement of multiple stakeholders. How integrations are costed can also be rather complex.  

There are several factors that are typically considered and inaccuracies in the information provided on integration requirements will lead to scope creep. Key factors that impact the time, cost and complexity of your integration requirements include: 

  • Touchpoints: At NetConstruct, we cost integration work based on the number of touchpoints which are essentially each time a system needs to talk to another system. 
  • Third parties: Key to website projects, third parties can also have an impact on project scope. This isn’t just the time it takes to integrate with the third-party system - it can also be affected by the availability of documentation to support the integration. 
  • Communication: There will inevitably be time spent on communication between parties to ensure seamless integrations. If communication is slow, inefficient, there are many parties involved or more time needs to be spent on troubleshooting than anticipated, it can all lead to creep in development requirements and timescales which may result in increased costs. 

How to prevent scope creep  

1) Ensure your scope is well defined 

Some businesses may believe they don’t need to include something in the scope but upon the discovery phase find that it’s actually a key feature that users want from the website. For this reason, it’s important to remain open minded during the first phase of your project so you don’t end up adding to your scope at a later date which could make things more complex and costly.  

A challenge we often support new clients with is defining an accurate and detailed project scope. This process encompasses what needs to be achieved and the work that must be done to achieve it. A detailed project scope is necessary to ensure success. To learn more about what your scope should include, we have a useful resource that you can read: Scoping Out A Website Project: What Should I Be Doing? 

2) Involve the right stakeholders  

When it comes to web projects and defining your exact business needs, there’s a balance to strike on who should be involved. The aim is to form well-rounded insight through the right mix of stakeholders. Specific teams and individuals we advise you to involve include:  

  • Senior management 
  • Marketing team 
  • Customer service 
  • IT 

If you don’t consult the right people at the right time, the entire process can become more complicated. Missing a key individual out of the process risks creating a knowledge gap that leads to key information or requirements not being detailed within your project scope. This could be an expensive mistake to resolve later down the line.  

3) Take part in a kick-off meeting  

As the first meeting between your agency and internal project team, the kick-off meeting is a collaborative place to discuss ideas, objectives and requirements. Beneficial for preventing scope creep, this insight is then used to build a clear project plan and set realistic expectations.  

The kick-off meeting is the ideal time to establish clear project roles and responsibilities including how change requests will be managed, who needs to be involved and who has approval. This process makes it easier to get sign off and swiftly move onto the next stage of the project plan with minimal delays.  

4) Consider the risks  

As website projects are large undertakings, they carry risk. It’s important to consider the risks within your projects and ask your agency about the processes it has in place to prevent risks. Unforeseen issues, delays in sign off, among other common risks can all add to your project scope. Kick-off meetings, resource planning and different scheduling tools can be effective methods to identify and mitigate risks. 

Over the years, we’ve experienced our fair share of project challenges and helped businesses navigate the risks that may come with their project. This led to the creation of our risk register - the primary tool we use to document risks – which is created after the first kick-off meeting and kept updated as your website project progresses.  

How to deal with scope creep  

1) Prioritisation sessions  

Prioritisation sessions force you to make tough choices. Prioritisation exercises aim to identify areas that are key to project success and therefore can help reduce the impact of scope creep.  

If new ideas and functionalities crop up, a reprioritisation session can take place allowing you to prioritise what can be achieved within your budget and what is the greatest requirement for your business and users.  

In this session, participants are encouraged to discuss whether there are certain areas of the brief that conflicts with the research stage. For example, you may think you need a blog but research shows that none of your users want one and they’d actually find an interactive location map more valuable instead. 

Prioritisation throughout your project ensures you remain aligned to delivering a website solution that will have the greatest impact for your business. 

2) Understand your costs 

Understanding your costs and how to get the most out of your budget is key to delivering the best possible solution within the confines of your approved spend. Make sure you’re clear on what can and will be delivered for your set budget to avoid unwelcome surprises later down the line. 

Our processes around costing are transparent, ensuring you understand where and how your budget is being spent. With such clear documentation, it’s easier to identify work that is out of scope and is useful for supporting reprioritisation. 

3) Include a contingency  

Setting a budget can be difficult, especially if you don’t yet know exactly what your new website needs to deliver. As such, it’s a good idea to have a contingency to facilitate extra costs should they emerge. Once your cost meeting has taken place, we recommend adding an extra 10 percent onto the figure as your contingency. 

NetConstruct Account Director, Kelly Gifford, explains more on this process: 

“The biggest thing when it comes to budget is mindset. Go into the process knowing you don’t know everything at this point and that’s ok. That’s why we go through this process but that’s also why we advise having a contingency too. Or maybe you’ve captured everything in your initial brief, but we might discuss a new feature that you like the sound of. If you have the contingency in place, then we can do it.” 

Scope creep and your project  

The aim is to begin your website project as prepared as possible, minimising scope creep but aware of how it will be dealt with should it occur. If you tackle your project with a rigid mindset, it could lead to problems further down the line that you don’t have the resource or budget to facilitate.  

By considering these key areas, however, you’ll be far more prepared: 

  • Take the time to plan each element comprehensively including key stakeholders, project manager communications and points of contact 
  • Take part in a discovery phase and workshops to consider your users, UX and prioritisation   
  • Have a contingency budget in place to offer a degree of flexibility and support extra costs 

Web projects are large undertakings so changes and complications are likely to arise. However, when equipped with expert knowledge and experience, those changes can be seamlessly facilitated. With years of experience tackling website challenges, our processes can help you scope accurately, consider valuable changes and agree on priorities.  

Contact our team to find out more about how we can positively manage scope creep and your project.  


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