Friday, April 7, 2023

Scope Creep and agility?

"Scope Creep" is every project developer's nightmare. Best case, it only means overtime. Worst case, it means a lot of unpaid overtime, additional meetings, frustrated customers, angry managers and burnout. In any case - not a fun place to be in. But it's a relic from the traditional world of projects - is it?

No. Scope creep can also occur in agile contexts - and it's even more likely than in traditional projects because there are more interactions with stakeholders. But first, let's define "scope creep:"

The Scope Creep

A developer feeding the Scope Creep in its natural habitat. Image by: AI (

Defining Scope Creep

Let's turn to the Project Management Institute, as they have defined it best:

Scope creep - Adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorized (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope)
Project Management Institute (PMI)

Now, what does that mean within an agile context - and how can we deal with it better than in traditional projects?

With every stakeholder interaction, we gain new insights - and so do they. Mutual understanding evolves together with the product. And each time we interact, what we knew yesterday could be invalid today. That's a great opportunity - but also a danger. Especially when we have a tight schedule and/or budget, this evolution can quickly get out of hand and go beyond our limits.

Confining Scope Creep

We have five critical instruments for dealing with scope creep easily and effectively. In combination, they reduce the risks, stress factors, and the negative associations that come with scope creep:

  • Visualize anything that's being worked on,
  • Agree as a team on what we take into the product, and
  • Simplify with the YAGNI principle, i.e., don't build anything that's not needed.
  • Limit yourself to a single demand intake channel, creating a controlled, well-managed process that prevents work flowing in from the side.
  • Inspect and adapt frequently, validating that we're still in line with what's agreed upon among stakeholders.

Do's and Don'ts

To create the best product with the highest possible value while keeping scope creep at bay:

  • DO pursue newly arising opportunities,
  • DO capture stakeholder feedback and insights,
  • DO address user problems surfacing in our current solution,
  • DO consider improvement suggestions that might require rework,
  • DON'T let stakeholders haphazardly drop "urgent requests" or "better ideas" onto developer's desks. These options need to be validated and prioritized against other work first,
  • DON'T engage in "prioradditization." Anything added must replace or be prioritized against existing work, and there's always an opportunity cost,
  • DON'T play favorites. Neither charisma nor positional power mean that an idea is good or valuable,
  • DON'T pursue pet projects that may as well be "YAGNI" themselves. Initiatives without significant value don't deserve capacity, and also
  • DON'T tolerate "submarines" that avoid agreements, or bypass the demand intake channel. This makes scope creep exactly as bad as we remember from the worst projects.

Closing remarks

Use the five instruments provided. Heed the Do's and Don'ts, but take it easy. "Scope Creep" always means that someone isn't getting what they want, at least not now, so there's going to be a conflict to defuse, and that's where being relaxed, respectful and open-minded come in very handy. With these tips, I hope that you can confine scope creep and avoid the negative consequences associated with it.

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