How can I manage scope creep? UX Question #59

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Jeff from Jacksonville, Florida, asks: How can I manage scope creep?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Jeff. This is UX Question number 59 and I am Ben Judy.

How can I manage scope creep? I’m reminded of a few projects I’ve been involved with that got out of hand. I thought we were solving for this small set of problems and we ended up taking on way more than I thought. That naturally led to a much larger and longer work effort than I expected.

Scope creep can happen for a variety of reasons. I’ll talk quickly about four common reasons: changing requirements, poor communication with stakeholders, inadequate planning, and loss of focus.

First, changing requirements are just a fact of life in UX work. A common mistake, however, is failing to adjust the projected time and cost of the project. Any significant change in requirements should be followed by a contract change order process for client work, or at the very least an adjustment of the delivery timeline.

You do have to watch out for who makes those changes, though. If too many people are allowed to reset priorities and add new feature requirements, you might try clarifying roles and responsibilities with a RACI or DACI—see links in the description.

Lack of good communication with stakeholders is another reason for scope creep. If you don’t have the right conversations often enough, misunderstandings or misalignment can easily happen. But there’s a simple fix. Just provide frequent, detailed updates on progress and ask stakeholders for a ‘reality check’ to ensure you’re on the same page about what’s in or out of scope for the remainder of the project.

Inadequate project planning is another problem. UX projects can be notoriously difficult to estimate. However long you think a project might take to complete, I recommend padding it a little to account for the unexpected, or factors you may have overlooked at the outset. Number of design iterations is a typical ‘gotcha’ for UX designers. Plan for those.

Finally, loss of focus is where we can shoot ourselves in the foot. It takes discipline to establish project scope boundaries and stay inside of them. Stop chasing squirrels! You can’t do it all, and you shouldn’t try.

When you identify scope creep is happening, or is likely to happen, identifying the root problem is critical. Ask yourself and your team these questions:

Have the requirements changed, and if so, why?

Do you have good, frequent communication with your stakeholders?

Have you adequately planned for the project, taking into account all the necessary factors?

Or, are you have trouble maintaining focus?

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: Where can I find inspiration for user interface design?

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