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Ask a Trainer: How Do I Avoid Scope Creep?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Hi Tim,

I work as a project manager within the learning and development department of our company. A major part of my job is to work with our various stakeholders to scope, plan, and implement the training projects we’re asked to take on.

This is where I’ve run into a bit of an issue with one of my newer stakeholders. To make a long story short, each time we start a new project, we agree on the total scope of the deliverables and the timeline, and everything seems fine. However, once we’re about 50 or 60 percent into the project, this particular stakeholder starts to change their mind—they want us to deliver earlier than what was previously agreed and include new information and features that were never mentioned before.

So, here’s my question: What tips can you share for avoiding scope creep?

Ah, yes . . . scope creep. Isn’t it just joy to deal with? :)

When a stakeholder makes an unreasonable request, it’s easy to assume their intentions are due to a lack of respect or consideration for you, your time, and the project. However, in my experience, this is not always the case. The thing about your stakeholders and subject matter experts is that they rarely understand how their requests can affect your ability to successfully complete their project or affect your other projects.

So, what can you do about this? I think the onus is on us to educate and inform our stakeholders about why and how their requests exceed the project’s original scope. Too often, we begrudgingly accept their unreasonable request and absorb the burden of what has been asked. And the problem with this is that it leaves you stressed and frustrated, and it sets unrealistic expectations with your stakeholders. This is not a good combination.

How can you avoid scope creep? I think that’s the wrong question to ask because there’s no surefire way to 100 percent avoid scope creep. Instead, here are my top three tips for managing it.


Tip #1: Anticipate Scope Creep
My first tip is about managing your own expectations about scope creep. If you know that a particular stakeholder is prone to moving the goal post, your first line of defense is to anticipate it. Don’t let it take you by surprise. As you’re working out the details or timeline of your project, leave a margin of error for when that stakeholder inevitably comes knocking on your door to ask for added deliverables.

Tip #2: Negotiate the Ask
What you don’t want to do is simply accept the unreasonable request with a smile on your face. Instead, use it as an opportunity to negotiate the scope. Recruit your stakeholder to help you find a happy medium between what they’re asking and what’s reasonable. For example, if they want you to deliver something earlier than what was agreed initially, ask if they’re willing to delay another project’s completion. Or, if they want you to incorporate additional features into your project, ask if they’re willing to extend the timeline to accommodate the extra work.

Tip #3: Know When to Say “No”
You’ll never be able to make all of your stakeholders happy. And when they’re unwilling to negotiate the scope creep with you, you need to be prepared to simply say “no.” However, this tactic needs to be your last line of defense. As I said, there’s no way you can 100 percent avoid scope creep, so you don’t what to create the perception that you’re unreasonable. Always be willing to make a good-faith effort to negotiate the ask, but it’s okay to say “no” when that fails.

I hope these three tips help. Best of luck!



What other tips do you have about managing scope creep? Share them by commenting below.

Do you have a learning question you’d like me to tackle? You can email them to [email protected]. Also, make sure to visit the Ask a Trainer Hub to check out all your questions and my answers.

We welcome your comments and engagement on these posts. All posts are reviewed to ensure appropriateness based on ATD’s requirements for postings in our online communities.

Please note: Content shared in this column is provided by the author and may not reflect the perspectives of ATD.

About the Author

Tim Slade is a speaker, author, award-winning
e-learning designer, and author of The eLearning
Designer’s Handbook.

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