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Scope Creep vs. Scope Change

Instructor: Danielle Reed

Danielle works in digital marketing and advertising. She holds a bachelor's degree in English and an MBA.

In this lesson, we learn about scope creep versus scope change, two issues that occur in project management in the business and technology sectors. Discover scope creep and scope change in your work life with this lesson.

Project Management Is All About Scope

Have you ever worked with a professor that provided a clear set of guidelines about your big final project? The most experienced professors, and the ones that students respect, are clear with guidelines, know exactly what is expected, and provide a clear project scope. A strong professor is there to reel in wayward students.

In the real world, a project given by an employer or a client rarely has nice, simple guidelines like in the classroom setting. Whether you've worked with real work situations or you have yet to experience it, a project that you are assigned in the office may undergo scope creep and scope change. In the world of business and technology, scope creep and scope change occur with all types of projects. These concepts are not interchangeable, and one project can go through both.

What is Scope Creep?

Scope creep (also called function creep) is a project management term that refers to growth, change, or movement of a project's objective or purpose. Often, this movement occurs slowly and is unintentional. The client may not realize the actual problem they are looking to solve, and business growth is unpredictable. Because of this, scope creep happens.

For example, a client may reach out to a technology firm for the recommendation and installation of a point of sale system to manage cash register and credit card transactions. At the end of the project, you might find yourself working on a customer relationship management program installation at the same price as a point of sale installation. This isn't fair to you, your employees, or your client.

Think of it this way: the scope of the project is creeping along, moving from one point to another.

What is Scope Change?

Scope change is a project management decision made by the parties involved in a project to change a feature, reduce or increase functionality, or make adjustments to an overall project. Scope change could be as simple as a budget expansion or as complicated as a complete overhaul to the features and timeline of a project.

Scope change can occur as a result of issues that arise in scope creep. For example, in our point sale system installation scenario, the client could realize he or she needs a customer relationship management system rather than a point of sale system. Every party involved reaches a mutual decision to change the purpose, and this would result in a scope change.

In scope change, everyone is aware of the changed project; scope creep doesn't involve an approved alteration.

Differences Between Scope Creep and Scope Change

The difference between scope creep and scope change is not always easy to decipher. When you are in a working situation and a trusted coworker sends you a simple request by email, it is easy to say 'yes' to that request. However, you might have accidentally just participated in a project manager's worst nightmare: scope creep. A few of the common differences between scope creep versus scope change include:

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