The problem with scope creep is that it can sometimes be hard to see. It can be right in front of you, but you might not notice it at first glance, hence the name. It can creep up on you.
Before delving into the four typical scope creep mistakes, let’s talk about three things that are not scope creep.
Totally Not Scope Creep
Unforeseen conditions don’t fall into the category of scope creep. Three examples of unpredictable conditions are:
Undetected site issues
Abnormal weather conditions
War or government actions
These elements may wreak havoc with the scope of your project, but they are addressed differently than issues with scope creep.
These are considered excusable scope disruptions and will be covered by a force majeure clause in the construction contract. Force majeure clauses ensure that all parties involved in the contract are not liable for events outside their control.
Not Scope Creep Number 2
Sometimes, things get out of whack, go awry, and cause both time and monetary problems, but they are not the fault of anyone involved in the contract. Three examples are:
Changed (or disputed) code requirements
Delayed materials delivery
Theft or vandalism
So, suppose the code inspector disagrees with the interpretation of the code requirements, the supply chain takes a significant dive, or the copper on your site was way too tempting. In that case, your contingency reserve or insurance is there to help fill the gap. You may also need to assign overtime, add temporary employees, or find another way to deal with time loss if you run behind schedule. Daily progress reports, budgets, schedules, and managing risks all come into play, but they aren’t considered scope creep.
This Might Not Be Scope Creep
Adding to the difficulty when looking for scope creep is determining if saying yes to an additional request is considered good manners, simply doing the courteous thing, or if it is something more. Therefore, being kind and typically enhancing the GC’s or owner’s perception of your construction company can’t be removed from the equation.
For example, your crew is remodeling the sales floor of a clothing boutique, and the owner (noticing all those ladders) asks if someone will please screw in a lightbulb too high for her to reach in her office. The few minutes it takes to haul a ladder in there and make the adjustment is more likely to be goodwill, not scope creep. Still, caution is advised, and I have more to say on that issue in what follows.
So, What is Scope Creep Anyway?
One good definition is the uncontrolled extension of project scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources.
Notice that you can extend the project scope, but adjustments must accompany time, cost, and resources. It’s that, without adjustments, part that can cause problems.
4 Common Scope Creep Mistakes
Here are the four most common scope creep mistakes made by construction contractors with ways to prevent and manage them.
1. No Clear Scope in the Beginning
Whether you’re producing or agreeing to the project’s scope must be clear from both sides of the table. As part of the contract documents, the scope (or statement of work) becomes the point of reference for all agreeing parties.
If you’re responsible for drawing up the scope or if you’re agreeing (signing the contract) that lays out the scope, do everything in your power to be sure that things are spelled out carefully and that you understand what is expected of you and the others involved.
2. Weak Change Management System
Although you will be trusting your employees to make decisions concerning the yes or no answers to requested change, they must have a guideline, a benchmark, a reference point to which they can turn. That is where a documented and easily accessed procedure comes into play.
The procedure must include information concerning who does what and when they’re expected to do it. Who has authority and responsibility? What type of timeframe is expected? Who must sign which documents? What forms must be used? These are the kinds of questions that should be asked as you develop or enhance your procedures concerning change orders or other means of dealing with project scope changes.
A word of warning. In the above section titled This Might Not Be Scope Creep, there is an example of someone asking for help that is not considered part of the original contract. The ask was minor. Responding positively to the request makes sense on many different levels. Kindness and courtesy go a long way when dealing with owners and GCs. Yet, it is well to watch for small asks that can cascade into full-blown scope creep. Here are some warning signals:
Appeals that begin with “Just this once . . .”
Solicitations that start “Since you’re already here, could you just . . .”
Inquiries concerning one or more added features that “shouldn’t be all that difficult.”
Conversations that include words similar to, “Oh, did I say (that?) What I meant was (this.)”
Frequent (perhaps daily) requests for small bits of (unpaid for) time or materials
If you find yourself in the frequent small-requests realm, you might want to use this as an example of how to handle it. One of my favorite places to purchase a cherry-flavored Coke will add a cherry to my cup if I request it – no additional charge. But if I want two or more cherries added to my drink, there is a charge for each extra cherry.
3. Poor Communication
Communicating with team members and all stakeholders regularly before and throughout a project helps ensure everyone understands its scope. Put communication touch points on your calendar, assign communication tasks, pay attention, seek feedback, and be prepared to course correct – even when it means improving your communication skills.
These issues can become a problem – watch for them in yourself and with your team members.
Not raising issues proactively
Neglecting to take the initiative in problem-solving and decision-making
Choosing not to share resources
Failing to ask qualifying questions
Not fully listening before responding or taking action
4. The “Good Guy” Conundrum
You know what it is like; you want to demonstrate a positive attitude and a willingness to take on challenges. Most of us would rather be the hero than the guy who is considered “uncooperative.” But answering yes to every request can potentially take you out of the game. Allowing scope creep to run along unabated can spell disaster.
Be prepared to say “no” or “yes, and . . .” Sometimes, the only appropriate answer to a request leading to scope creep is “no.” Most often, the suitable solution will be “yes, and. . .” followed by the protocol concerning how the change order (or other means of addressing change) will be documented and performed.
Another way to avoid scope creep is to offer a compromise. For example, reducing scope in one area accommodates an increase in another. This response, of course, still requires properly documented procedures for making the changes.
The Final Word
Although it may not be recognized initially, no one involved in a project is served well when scope creep happens. Put another way, when scope creep takes place, it harms all those involved. If scope creep isn’t stopped, it can hamper or derail the entire project.
You and your team must have an attitude of continual monitoring. From signing the contract, at every met milestone, and throughout the project, watching for and dealing with scope creep helps ensure the project stays within the intended scope.
Reflection: Have you made any of these mistakes in the past? What will you do to ensure that you and your team avoid these mistakes in the future?
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