Planning against Scope Creep
There is a common saying that failing faster is better than later. In the context of IT project management, the understanding of this ideology is extremely important. There’s a popular statement from McConnell (1998) that errors found “upstream” during the planning phase cost on the order of 200 times less to fix than errors found “downstream,” during the building of a product. If a bad project is pursued while knowing that the outcomes are not favorable, organizations continue to ‘invest’ time, money, and resources. However, in most cases, a bad project is not successful regardless of the resources involved and is ought to fail at some stage. The farther this stage is, the greater the consequences are. If project failures are predicted early, organizations can save on a lot of resources that would have gone in vain otherwise. Failing fast can also help contain the ‘blast radius’ and manage risk proactively.
Glass’ law states that for a 25% increase in the complexity of the problem space, there is a 100% increase of the system’s complexity . Due to this non-linear growth of complexity, as time progresses, there is an exponentially higher chance of delay, failure, or compromise. Billions of dollars are wasted every year around the world due to failed IT projects. Hence, even money spent on failing projects in a hope to realign it might not ameliorate the situation. Among the primary threats that haunt projects, ‘scope creep’ is an interesting issue that could be affecting your plans before you know it.
Scope creep is a term used to describe the gradual increase in requirements/complexity that was initially unanticipated. Usually, projects have a buffer time planned to accommodate the delays. However, in cases where the project deliverables are significantly affected by the newer scope, teams tend to compromise on the final quality. Modified scope often requires adjustment to some aspect of the triple constraint (time and cost). If these aspects are not flexible, projects would have to deal with additional problems.
There have been numerous research exploring how scope creep affects software engineering metrics such as rework effort, QA effectiveness, and the completion date. They probably contribute the most to technical debt. Project managers need to be agile in managing change orders and look for ways to maximize stakeholder satisfaction. A recent study based on the feedback of 3500+ professionals revealed that more than half of the projects are impacted by scope creep . This warrants effective methods to mitigate scope creep and ensure that the plan/goal that was initially agreed upon steers the overall direction of the project.
Handling requirements is a complicated topic that deserves a post (or even a Ph.D. thesis) of its own. Methods such as creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) can help the stakeholders get a birds-eye view of the planned activities. The hierarchical decomposition of the tasks provides granular visibility into what is and isn’t in scope. Technical constraints and hurdles can also be evaluated in this stage before making any major investment in an incompatible technology.
Based on my prior experience and intuition, I feel that the main reason IT projects may not go as planned is due to the lack of consensus among stakeholders. Often, the person driving the project itself would not be fully aware of the desired result. While he would have an idea of what business requirements the project would have to deal with, it is hard to fathom the end-to-end experience without any tangible result to compare against. While agile methodologies promote an iterative process of delivering changes, this flexibility shouldn't manifest itself into a haphazard one. It is thus critical that project managers ensure that identify scope creep before it starts to gobble up resources, paving the way to an unsuccessful project and a disgruntled client.
 Brewer, J. L., & Dittman, K. C. (2018). Methods of IT project management. Purdue University Press.
 Project Management Institute (2017), Pulse of the Profession Overview, Project Management Institute, Newtown Square, PA