Scope creep refers to uncontrolled changes in a technical service project's scope. These can swell the amount of work associated with the project. This makes the project take longer and cost more than anticipated. When this occurs neither you nor the customer is happy.

Why project scope creep can occur


Scope creep can occur when you do not work with your customer at the beginning of the project to properly define and document its scope. Customers sometimes have vague ideas of what they want or the standards a solution to their problem has to meet. It is important to diplomatically press the customer to get a better definition of what they want or the requirements a solution must meet to be acceptable. Often customers haven’t thought the problem through thoroughly. This can make them uncomfortable when you press them with questions – hence the need for diplomacy.


The additional work increases the time needed to complete a project. If your lab isn’t being paid by the hour, scope creep reduces your income because you aren’t working on other projects. Scope creep and the resulting delays can also yield to disagreements with the customer reducing the chances your company will continue to sell to this customer.


Some reasons for the unplanned work that occurs because of project creep are:

  • customers changing their mind about the project requirements broadening the scope of the manuscript beyond initially agreed upon
  • customers expecting services that the laboratory had not originally intended to provide
  • customers may not provide all the needed information
  • customers being slow in approving achievement of project milestones and thus slow in making incentive payments based on achieving milestones
  • poor communication between project participants.


Larger projects involving more people are harder to organize and keep organized. Consequently, the tendency towards scope creep is greater in big projects.


Taking steps to avoid project creep

So, how can your lab managers and their staff members avoid project creep and its attendant problems? One has to manage the customer’s expectations from the beginning of the project. This means:


  • having a contract that clearly defines the scope of the work. In the absence of a contract, a clear definition of the project and its scope in meeting minutes or a written summary of a telephone discussion can serve to define the scope of the work and the standards a problem solution must meet to be acceptable. Project definition and scope considerations should include:
    • what you will do for the customer
    • what the customer must do for you (in terms of providing information, samples, etc.)
    • what is included and excluded from the project
    • how much additional work beyond the original scope of the project will cost
  • at the beginning of the project, giving the customer clear options to extend the scope of the work. Specify changes in the price of the project and deadlines should the customer extend the scope of the work.
  • agree with the customer on:
    • how you will deal with requested changes in the manuscript
  • how project delays caused by the client (failure to provide needed information or delays in approving outlines or drafts)  


If disagreements do occur, try to understand the customer’s viewpoint.  Even if you disagree with it, this understanding can reduce the severity of disagreements.


Consultants working with clients can use similar approaches to reduce the possibility of project scope creep.