Effective project management requires more than budget tracking and agenda planning. It requires a deep understanding of a project’s demands and expectations, over the life span of that project, with a commitment to protecting and pushing tasks forward toward completion. When a project extends beyond its original timeline and budget, the chances are that you and your team are the victims of “scope creep.”

Naturally, changes happen to projects all the time. It is that very rare project that ends up delivering exactly what was initially planned. However, without there being some control over the changes, a project manager has little chance of keeping on top of the work and effectively managing the project. That’s scope creep. New requirements are added after the project has started without reciprocal adjustments to budget or timelines. These changes are often not properly reviewed, and the project team is expected to deliver on them with the same resources and at the same time as the original scope.

Don’t be the victim of scope creep. Here are 3 ways you can keep your project on track.


1. Document the Requirements

The single most important thing to avoid scope creep on your project is to document your requirements. Talk to all the project stakeholders early to work out exactly what they want from the project. Write it down. Manage conflicts and prioritize requirements, as it may not be possible to do them all. This is a critical first step to ensuring everyone is on the same page before any work even begins.


2. Set Up Change Control Processes

If documenting requirements is the starting point, where do you go from there? What happens when someone wants to change something? While it is perfectly reasonable for things to change during a project, the controlled change will help you reset expectations.

A change control process is very straightforward. Essentially, someone suggests a change. It is reviewed, approved, or rejected and if it is approved, then incorporated into the project plan. Setting up the process for your project means thinking about who is going to review and approve changes. It provides space for stakeholders to discuss the needs and share how those changes will impact things like budget or timelines. While there’s no need to arrange a formal change meeting unless you think you will have a lot of changes and that it will be easier to sit with your colleagues to review them all at the same time.


3. Create a Clear Project Schedule

Once you know the requirements and have a change control process in place, it’s time to create a detailed task list. The project schedule results from knowing what your project will deliver and when it needs to be delivered. It should show all the requirements and how they will be achieved in tasks and activities. Gantt charts are great for this. They show dependencies and provide a bird’s eye view of the many moving parts of any project.

Once you have a project schedule in place, you can use that and the documented requirements and change control process to act as guard rails for your project. When you hit a bump, document it. Look sincerely at how that bump is going to change the trajectory of your plan. Then communicate that out openly. The burden of commitment is on you as a project manager, but sometimes you need to act as guardian of the project to protect the outcome.

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