What is scope creep in software development and how to manage it?

“Can you add this?”

“I think this feature will be great!”

“You know what will take them by surprise?”

As you’ve guessed from the title, we’re not talking about a surprise party – although today’s topic can take you by surprise. We’ve all been there: a software project starts as something and ends up as something else entirely. Different stakeholders want significant changes in the middle of the project. Or, you’ve just added so many changes that it’s ballooning up. 

We've seen it all as a software development company with more than 15 years of experience. Scope creep can happen to anyone, no matter the project size. Read on to find out what scope creep is, why it’s important to manage it and how to do so. 

What is scope creep in software development?

Scope creep (also known as requirement creep) refers to how the project requirements (features, schedules, deliverables) tend to grow uncontrolled. This mainly happens due to poorly defined initial plans and changes made along the way. 

You may say that change is a good thing, especially in an agile environment. Right? Yes, but change doesn’t equal scope creep. In fact, agile makes it less likely for scope creep to happen in the first place since you’ll typically: 

  • Budget as much as 20-30%for adding new requirements
  • Work in sprints and have many iterations of the solution
  • Clearly define requirements before the team starts working on a specific feature
  • Intentionally leave some specifications undefined at first while also controlling the process.

Scope creep has negative consequences, and it can be challenging to control due to many factors.

Why does scope creep occur in IT projects?

To understand why scope creep can be harmful, we need to look at what the common causes of scope creep:

Ambiguous initial scope

Unclear and poorly defined initial requirements leave a lot of room for confusion. This means that team members will have to interpret tasks in their own way to get things done. Additionally, it’s much harder to meet deadlines. 

Ineffective project management

Ineffective project management leads to misunderstandings, as team members don’t know what to prioritise. This can also lead to them spending more time on features past the point of diminishing returns (gold plating). 


Maintaining good communication with your IT team is crucial. However, miscommunication can happen if project stakeholders disagree with the project’s initial scope and want another direction.  

Lack of stakeholder involvement 

In the beginning, more people from your company and even your clients may be involved in the project. However, as things progress, they may not have the time to be as hands-on. This leads to fewer feedback opportunities and unplanned requests for project changes. 

Why is it so important to manage scope creep?

Scope creep is sometimes unavoidable, depending on the project. However, allowing it to grow uncontrolled and unmanaged can lead to undesired consequences. 

  • Budget - it can be easy to overspend both in terms of money and resources
  • Deadlines - deadlines for finishing important features are pushed even further. Consequently, you risk delaying your product’s launch altogether
  • The end product - dedicating time to important features and functionality instead of working on other things that may not add much value to the end product. 

The pitfall is that you will go over budget and the initial timeframe, as deadlines for important parts of the project will be pushed even further. 

How to deal with scope creep in IT projects?

Managing and preventing scope creep in an IT project should be a priority for everyone involved, including management, outsourcing and internal teams. Here are some strategies you can employ to manage scope creep effectively:

1. Define project requirements

Start by defining and documenting project requirements together with stakeholders and the development team. You should also prioritize them based on business value and impact. In an agile framework, you still need to define criteria such as functional requirements and user stories. 

As mentioned, shifting requirements is the norm for many software development projects. Making room for changes along the way (and budgeting accordingly) makes it much easier to control what stays in the final product. For a greenfield project, it’s important to establish short and long term objectives, especially when it comes to building an MVP. 

2. Engage stakeholders and manage expectations

Regularly communicate with stakeholders, including the product owner, development and end users. This is mandatory within an agile way of working, Involving them in the project planning and review processes ensures buy-in. 

For instance, it’s important to understand end users’ needs and product-market fit. If you involve them from the start by conducting user interviews, you’ll understand which features may bring the most value. 

At the same time, stakeholders can have unrealistic requests. If they understand the scope, the budget and time constraints, it’s much easier to discuss potential trade-offs. 

3. Use agile methods

Agile techniques such as user stories, sprint planning, and backlog grooming help you break down requirements into manageable chunks. The team can focus each sprint on delivering the highest-priority features and achieving the deadlines. 

Of course, project management software is important. They help you keep track of the scope, timeline, and budget to identify any deviations early. The team can also use burn-down charts or Kanban boards to showcase progress. 

Retrospective meetings are also very important. At the end of each sprint, the team has a moment to reflect on the progress and make improvements. Also, don’t hesitate to address scope creep during these meetings and prevent them in the future. 

Plus, agile promotes iterative and incremental development. The idea is to identify and minimise risks early on. This is an opportunity to ask for feedback from the various stakeholders and make adjustments early in the project’s life cycle. 

4. Take advantage of releases

Oftentimes, what happens is that you’ll want to add many features along the way, which impacts releases as well. Also, in this case, the project scope will likely be impacted by the market and internal demand changes. 

Agile release planning helps create a logical structure every time you release a new version. A release plan doesn’t look at the bigger picture (long-term goals) but helps you progress with immediate objectives. This can also make the workload be less overwhelming for the team. 

Frequent releases paired with stakeholder feedback are your best bet since it allows you and the software development team to be more efficient when it comes to balancing budgets and workloads. 

5. Establish change control processes

Do you know how change will be managed from the start? The “we will deal with it when we get there” is a sure way to scope creep. It’s even worse when you don’t know who made the requests and who approved them. 

A change control process lets you deal with requested changes or new requirements. Establish ways to request changes, cost-benefit analysis, and approval. Determine which changes are a priority – usually, the ones associated with overall project goals. 

This also eliminates confusion within the software development team, especially if you’re outsourcing the project. Team members will know not only what to do but also how to deal with change requests and approvals. Also, time and resources will be better allocated. 

Pilot project - the Qubiz way 

Here at Qubiz, we have a different approach to project requirements. We have a consultation approach to help our clients clarify the details to ensure the project’s success. All of them opt for a pilot project at the beginning of our collaboration, which also helps us weigh the risks of investing in a partnership. 

98% of Qubiz clients choose to continue our collaboration after the pilot project. 

A pilot project is also a great way to manage scope creep, as it includes:

Defining clear goals and timelines - establishing the in-scope and out-of-scope requirements allows the software development team to deliver value. We also help you define projects so scope creep is less likely to happen

Way of working agreements - setting up the required methodology, tools and communication channels allows the team to focus on delivery. In this way, they don’t wait for responses or tools to be acquired

Demo working software - meetings to demo working software ensure transparency and surface possible improvement ideas to include in future sprints. Additionally, hands-on work usually reveals risks that weren’t previously accounted for - so you’ll have an easier time managing change 

Creative design process - The Qubiz Ideation stage helps you develop the best software solutions. Our UX team explores beyond the usual methods of solving problems to find better solutions to problems that affect your user experience.

Aside from being well-prepared, having a partner that truly understands you and your project is your best way to manage scope creep. Find out more about what we do:

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