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Scope Creep. Wait, What?

Scope Creep – it sounds like a criminal that breaks into your house to steal your mouthwash. But in reality, scope creep is much more common, and much more problematic for your small business.

A quick Google search gets you a few articles and a Wikipedia entry that describes scope creep - also known as kitchen sink syndrome or requirement creep as when a project spirals out of control. The Three Stooges actually have a bit that represents this situation quite well.

The Stooges, masquerading as plumbers, are tasked with fixing a small leak in the basement of an expensive home. Curly, realizing that water runs downhill, goes upstairs to try to turn off all the water (bear with us here).

He finds a bathroom where someone in the house is taking a bath, kicks said person out, and tries to shut off the water in that room. He notices that the faucet won’t close all the way, and takes a wrench to it, knocking the faucet out of the wall. Now, a small drip of water in that room turns into a torrent of water splashing directly at his face. Being Curly, he solves this by running a pipe into the wall, which, because of physics, just sends the water out of the other end of the pipe.

This process continues until Curly encloses himself in a cage of pipes, with water cascading everywhere. Eventually, the entire house is flooded. (If you’re a fan of turn of the century, Vaudeville based slapstick comedy, then watch the episode here.)

This is an extreme example because (hopefully) as a business owner, you have better problem-solving skills than Curly from The Three Stooges. Nonetheless, it’s an example of scope creep - a project that was completely mismanaged, as the scope of the project expanded and expanded until it was completely unmanageable.

What was a small leak in one area of the house became a situation where the house was a flooded mess before the people in charge of the project could plan further ahead.

So how do you avoid turning a simple project - just a leak in the basement - into a massive time-wasting disaster - a flooded home?

The major issue with scope creep is not so much when a project changes or evolves over time - it’s when expectations of said project do not change with it. So, the first step to avoiding scope creep is to, well, embrace it. Even the simplest projects can hit unexpected snags or have unintended consequences.

It’s important for you to make sure expectations allow for unexpected circumstances from the beginning; whether the project is for a client or if it’s an internal project. Make sure the budget is flexible before you start the project to allow for errors or curveballs, and ALWAYS allow more time than you anticipate needing. Erring on the side of under-promising and over-delivering is key.

You also need to be honest and manage expectations throughout the project. If something comes up that might push the finish date for a week, priority 1A should be to inform all parties involved and to reset their expectations.

Most people would prefer to have a heads up, rather than to have a poorly done completed project because it was rushed, or to expect something ready only to be told after the fact that it is not. That’s not to mention that if you rush to slap it together, you’ll likely end up having to fix it or redo it down the road.

Project management is a crucial element to a growing small business and having leaders that are communicative and realistic is key to avoiding a small leak from turning into a flooded house.

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