Standing Up to Scope Creep

    By: Tom Goebel, PMI Houston Director of Communications

    I once worked for a company that couldn’t say no. The minute the customer demanded concessions or extra services (no change in price, mind you!) so fearful was our organization about the loss of business or revenue that we would inevitably cave. This tendency was ultimately made worse during market downturns when we desperately trying to cling to market share.

    Here’s the thing, though. That behavior is a losing proposition. It also has a way of becoming habitual. Scope creep creates several lasting effects, none of which are very desirable:

    • a breakdown in staff morale – nothing defeats a team so much as wondering whether they’re going to be loaded down with even more work tomorrow;
    • loss of client respect and attendant abuse of goodwill – requests become expectations, and expectations demands when the provider gives in too easily;
    • loss of customer confidence in contracted company’s knowledge and sense of direction; 4) loss of negotiating power – a subset of reason #2, the customer starts to believe that there is no substance behind the contractor’s negotiating position.


    Let’s examine some of the reasons for scope creep. You already know the causes if not the ultimate symptom. The most obvious is the weak Project Manager. This is the guy who can’t say no. When you don’t say no, your Project Management train’s next stop is overpromising, the results of which are entirely predictable. Soon, there is no possible way to deliver internal and external commitments, and confidence in the PMO is frittered away. In some cases, this weakness is not owned by the PM, but the sponsor or executive team.

    An improperly defined scope can also lead to mission creep. Unclear or vague requirements lead to accidental and even intentional misapplication. Good planning in the definition stage leads to clear understanding by all parties during execution.

    Another contributor to scope creep is the lack of a good change control process. Unsurprisingly, the mere act of securing approval for a large change serves to prioritize that change, even to the point of elimination, if needed. The change control process greatly facilitates communication by ensuring the involvement of critical stakeholders.

    When managing a project, it is important to pay attention in the early planning stages to accurate scope definition that aligns what the customer wants with what he’s going to get. Do this by interacting with the customer to make sure he has a clear picture of what the deliverables will be. Just as importantly, your team needs to have a clear idea of deliverables. Once armed with these agreements, the notion of any pushovers on the team should evaporate. Confusion and obfuscation have been removed from the equation.

    Finally, see to your change control process. Ensure that you have included the channels and stakeholders needed to effectively expedite approvals.

    There are undoubtedly more contributors to scope creep. I’ve just listed the main culprits. Working to address these should help you to run a smoother and more productive project.

    MiniBio Series - Oscar Barrios, PMI Houston Director of Membership

    Tell us a little about yourself!

    I am Oscar Barrios. I was born in Queretaro, Mexico. I am a mechanical engineer and I have a Master of Science in Materials from Center of Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute.

    How long have you been working in Project Management and what's your current professional position?

    I have been working in Project Management since 2007 in different companies like General Electric Aviation, Mabe Technology & Projects, and CIATEQ Advance Engineering Center. Currently, I am working at EP America Inc as Project Manager and Strategic Planner in logistics.

    How long have you been involved with the Houston PMI® Chapter and in what capacities?

    I have been involved with the Houston PMI Chapter since January 2016. I volunteered in the PMI 2016 Houston Annual Conference and I joined the PMI Membership area in March 2017 as a Membership Analyst. Currently, I am volunteering as Director of Membership and I have been in this position since Jan 2018.

    What are the biggest benefits you’ve realized from volunteering at PMIH?

    The first benefit is being part of a group of people with remarkable personal and professional qualities and learning from their experiences whilst also sharing my own experiences with the team.

    Also, I have participated in different PMI events – such as the PMI regional leaders conference, which has helped me to understand the Project Management tendency and expand my networking in a very friendly atmosphere.  In summary, my time as a PMI Volunteer has highly contributed to my personal and professional growth. Thanks, PMI!!!

    Describe the most interesting/challenging/exciting project you've ever been involved with.

    This is a difficult question because I have more than one interesting project to share.

    While I was working at GE Aviation, I led a project which required the production of two new aircraft motor components: Main fuel Pump and Main Fuel Filter. It was a challenge because these were new products that needed detailed customer requirements, design, audit suppliers, testing, manufacturing, assembly, and production – using the NPI and PMI methodologies. These 2 components also had to comply with high-quality standards (AS-9100) – all within budget!

    Then, while I was working at Mabe, I led a project which required developing an appliance with a new textile prewash system. This project was a challenge because I coordinated a multidisciplinary team of marketing, product planning, engineering, industrial design, suppliers, manufacturing, compliance and sales executives. It was a challenge to focus the team on customer needs through the different project phases. As part of the results, I awarded a patent in US, Canada, and Mexico market. Right now at EP America, I am working on very interesting projects but this time in logistics field where I am learning a lot about this field.