What Are The Causes of Scope Creep In Development?

Software is developed for various purposes but must be completed on time, within budget, and according to well-defined requirements. To accomplish this, certain boundaries are typically defined at the start of the project.
What Are The Causes of Scope Creep In Development?

What Exactly Is Scope Creep?

Simply put, scope creep is what happens when the scope of a project begins to exceed the parameters that were initially defined. Typically, this means that one or more stakeholders in the project start requesting additional features and functionality to be added to the software. In reality, this translates to additional work that needs to be done, which was not planned in the original agreement. What makes scope creep so insidious is that it is something that can happen very gradually and incrementally.

What Are The Most Common Causes of Scope Creep?

There are numerous ways that scope creep can manifest during software development, but below are some of the most common causes.

Undefined Project Scope:
Not having clearly defined requirements and acceptance criteria for software development is virtually a guarantee that scope creep will occur.

Poor Communication: Software development requires proper communication between all parties involved to stay on track. Without adequate communication, the project can quickly derail as unmanaged changes are requested or implemented.

Lack of Understanding: Everyone involved in the project must clearly understand what is expected from them. Without this type of clarity, some team members could stray from the project's scope or negatively impact the work of others in the team.

Not Enough Clarity With Clients: When developing software for a client, it is vital to be clear on the project's scope. If the client is not clear on the project's scope and what will be delivered, they are more likely to request changes later, which can result in scope creep.

Not Involving Clients Enough: Failing to collaborate with clients during development is another common cause of scope creep. It is essential to provide the client with regular updates instead of only asking for feedback near the end of the project. If the client is unsatisfied with some features or the progress, it is easier to adjust the scope during development instead of possibly having to scrap months of work towards the end.

Failing To Address Issues Quickly: Even minor issues can quickly snowball into more significant problems that are more time-consuming and costly to fix if not addressed fast enough. This can happen if during the development there is lack of transparency between all parties involved. Instead of covering up any issues in the hopes of fixing them later, it is better to raise concerns and look at possible solutions.

Treating Every Feature As A Priority: While it may be possible to treat every feature of the software as a top priority, this is not very efficient. Instead, priority should be given to the components that will result in a stable and usable end product. Prioritizing features that are absolutely essential for end users will also mean less hassle if some areas have to be descoped or scaled back later in the project due to scope creep.

Not Planning For Change: Ideally, a project should not deviate too much from the initially agreed-upon scope, but some changes are typically inevitable. Therefore, acknowledging that changes can happen and agreeing on how these would be handled should be done at the start of the project. For example, if there are changes requested by the client, the team should understand the reason behind that request. Furthermore, the best way is to address those changes during the next iterations by prioritizing and defining the requirements.

Treating All New Requests As Important: During development, it is not unusual for clients or team members to come up with new ideas and request new features. However, not all of these are important, and not knowing how to separate essential components from less important ones can quickly result in scope creep and delays. Therefore, before taking on any new requests, ensure they are vital, not already being worked on, and that implementing the new proposal does not throw the project's scope out of balance.

Inaccurate Estimations: There are a lot of variables that are part of software development, and it is impossible to take everything into account right from the start. To prevent scope creep from inaccurate estimations and unrealistic time frames, be sure to get feedback from everyone involved in the project. Failing to do so might mean additional crunch for the team towards the end of the project or scope creep due to certain features not being implemented on time.

Involving Too Many Stakeholders: The more stakeholders are involved in a project, the bigger the chances are that they might not all have the same opinions on what needs to be prioritized. This can quickly lead to scope creep as developers try to keep all the stakeholders happy and incorporate all the features they request. If the involvement of many stakeholders is non-negotiable, ensure that everyone can arrive at a common ground for the project before development begins.


Scope creep is not always avoidable, but knowing what to expect and how to deal with it can make it much more manageable. Often people working on the project are too close to notice scope creep, which means everyone should be vigilant and raise concerns if they see it cropping up. Proactively managing the first signs of scope creep is one of the most effective ways to deal with the issue. Finally, having a backup plan also helps to limit the potential hazards of scope creep.

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