We have written on de-scoping the project as a response to time and cost pressures.  However, there are plenty of things that can go wrong with scope, and now we will review some other.

Table of Contents 

  1. Gold Plating and Scope Creep
  2. Weak Project Management
  3. Scope Creep, Creeps In
  4. Conclusion


Gold Plating and Scope Creep

Scope Creep – two words seldom spoken.  We will start with some definitions. From experience, we can say there are two scope failure modes.  We should differentiate the two because the origins are different.  We will start with Gold Plating.  Gold plating is initiated by the supplier, not by the customer.  Gold plating happens when the deliveries of the product are beyond customer request.  For example, the supplying organization puts extra features in the product or refines the features or performance well beyond that defined by the customer.  Scope creep happens with altering features or performance from the requirements and project original scope, without accounting for the impact on the schedule or cost (development costs or product costs).  To combat scope creep, we will need an effective change management system.

Weak Project Management

We prefer to identify this inability or desire to effectively meet the demands as “Weak Project Management”.  This weakness may be from an inferior processor from a project manager lacking experience or understanding of the importance of controlling scope.  The symptoms are projects that suddenly appear to be late in the schedule or over budget.  The customer may even complain about these violations of the contract when they were likely the origin of these excesses from uncontrolled scope modification. Well, that and the project manager and perhaps lack of processes.

The actions we take at the beginning of the project will have a significant impact on project success.  A weak foundation is the beginning of failure.  Preventing errors from creeping in is better than corrective actions taken later in the project to recover.  This will put at risk– Budget, Quality, Schedule, and/or Scope of the project.  A sound and well-articulated process for handling the project scope and changes. Ensuring the customer representation, as well as the supplying team, have a strong understanding of the scope and how we are going to handle the changes.  Our team members need to know this process as well.  We will relate a story to demonstrate the need.

A team working on a product is working in a lab writing software for the product.  The sales and marketing staff know this work area.  Sales team members drop in on the team members designing the product and ask for a “small” change to the product.  As this change seems inconsequential in terms of time and effort, the team accommodates the change.  The iteration of the product is completed and put into the system within which it fits.  However, one of the features of the product does not work within the system as expected.  The undocumented change was not expected by the other part of the system.

Scope Creep, Creeps In

Scope Creep comes down to just a few issues. Below are my corrective actions for each of them:

Weak project manager:

  • Learn how to be a project manager who takes charge and ownership of the project and team.
  • The project manager must be able to deliver difficult news accurately, and more importantly, anticipate these potentially common failure modes.
  • Learn how to be a project leader as well.
  • Clearly communicate the consequences of minor changes and why following the Change Management system is critical.

Weak executive sponsor:

  • Be clear about what a sponsor should do. If you are not sure of a Sponsor’s role, there are a few excellent books.
  • Set a time to meet with the sponsor and have a thorough discussion about your and their expectations. Draft an agreement.
  • Set a regular meeting time with the Sponsor – put it on the project calendar.

Lack of proper requirements:

  • Learn how to create strong requirements. Ask lots of questions to identify & document the stakeholder’s vision for success.
  • The document, review and verify.
  • Enforce Change Control and proper use of the Change Management process.

Poor change control and management:

  • Learn how to create a strong change management process and procedure and team awareness. One can find many examples or classes on the Net; modify to your specific circumstances.
  • Enforce! Be leader enough to call-out anyone not following the process.

Poor communication between parties:

  • Learn how to create a strong communication plan, and create one for the project.
  • Ask questions to identify & document the stakeholder’s communication needs.
  • The Communication Plan is a living document as communication needs may change with project execution.
  • Follow and Enforce.

Taking ownership and enforcement seems to be the hardest parts of being a project manager. I propose you visualize the end of the project explaining why the project failed. Would you really want to say any of the following statements?

  • “The sponsor did not support me or the project.”
  • “There were changes that I didn’t see or review, so I could not get the proper approvals.”
  • “The team didn’t communicate with me. They went around me to the client.”
  • “The approved requirements were limited to a few outcomes. Things were added.”
  • “I can’t challenge an executive vice president.”


Just a single minor undocumented change can be all the difference of delivering a project on-time and on-budget. In the mind of the client, this could become the difference between a successful project and a failed project.  It is misguided, but there are organizations that believe adding scope (without proper documentation) was ‘giving’ enhancements to the client, either gold plating or due to client requests. Of course, there was a bill to the client, however, sometimes this extra cost is absorbed by the providing organization. But over time, the clients involved started to reduce our workload because ‘we could not manage a budget’.