Project Scope Control: Guarding Against Scope Creep

By Definition

Changing scope in the midst of a progressing project frequently is a harbinger of increased expenses, delays, and volatility. Often


referred to as scope creep, uncontrolled changes to the scope of a project can bring with them these catastrophic implications. Because of this, scope management should be high on the list of the project manager’s priorities. Scope control is not aimed at preventing changes to scope–because change is often necessary–but at managing attempts to change scope so that only necessary changes are incorporated into the project.

Project scope control management requires a three-step process to identify and accept necessary changes, implement and monitor changes, and to update changes to scope in the project management system.

What Are the Effects of Change Proposals?

Scope control requires that project managers utilize every tool at hand to evaluate the effects that change proposals would have on the project. Proper control of changes requires the availability of information that can help guide the project manager into the proper decisions.

A well written project scope statement is necessary to serve as a benchmark to use when considering change requests. If corners were cut during the project planning phase of the project, the statement could be below par, making it difficult to judge change requests.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and WBS dictionary contain information that helps determine what aspects of the project’s output will be affected by proposed changes. By reviewing change requests in light of WBS documentation, the project manager can determine whether changes are compatible with the project's statement of work and milestones.

The scope stability definition includes measures to ensure that changes in scope do not disrupt the progress of the project. This part of the project plan should try to anticipate what changes might be required and how those changes would be implemented. This helps project managers avoid the uncomfortable predicament of being caught off guard when changes are requested.

Up-to-date project reporting should be reviewed when considering changes to scope that might affect performance. For example, changes in scope that might improve performance at a time when the project is languishing might be considered above those that may not deliver any performance gains.

A change request procedure should be in place so that only those changes that follow a predefined process are considered. This helps avoid chaos by procedurally vetting scope change requests and by guarding against arbitrary and undocumented changes to scope.

Tools For Control

With the information and processes in hand to manage changes to scope, the project manager needs some project scope control management tools to make sure changes are implemented in an orderly manner. A haphazard implementation of changes can destabilize the entire project, reflecting poorly on the project manager.

A system for change control should be in place to document changes such as those made to the project’s deliverables, features, and specifications. Upon success or failure of the project, the framework needs to be in place to determine what went right or what went wrong. The change control system provides that information.

The project manager determines if the project is moving toward mission completion through variance analysis. The difference between expected and actual outcomes needs to be evaluated to see if the changes to scope are accomplishing their intended purposes.


When major changes in scope occur, documents pertaining to the project need to be updated and sections of the project plan such as the scope statement and WBS must be revised. Other areas of the project plan that may need to be updated are the corrective actions section, organizational asset information, and the change control system.