Scope Management & Scope Creep

Many new (and even some experienced) project managers (and others as well) think that once requirements are “finalized” and signed off at the end of Requirements Gathering/Eliciting phase of the project, requirements cannot and should not (be allowed to) change. Once the project scope is determined (based on such “finalized” requirements), finalized, and signed off by the stakeholders, the scope cannot and should not (be allowed to) change. Many experienced project managers, however, think that the changes to both requirements and scope are acceptable so long as they are approved through change control process. However, they call it “scope creep” – increasing requirements and scope AFTER baseline. I consider these views to be narrow and impractical.
Seasoned project managers know that change is inevitable. It happens… most of the times. Once all the requirements are collected/documented/approved and the entire scope is determined/documented/approved, stakeholders tend to change their minds, either because they can’t make up their minds (pessimistic view) or because they have discovered some piece of information that they did not know while approving the requirements (most usual case). Scope Management is all about managing and controlling such inevitable changes to approved (baseline) requirements and scope.
There are two distinct, and often sequential or parallel (in case of Agile practices) timeframes in scope management. The first is BEFORE initial baselining requirements and scope, and the second is AFTER initial baselining. During gathering requirements, collect ALL the requirements from ALL the stakeholders and then you have, what I call as the “pre-baseline” requirements.
With this set of “pre-baseline” requirements, sit with the team and identify the scope, cost, and an approximate timeline (preliminary schedule) of the work to meet ALL requirements (effort estimates, resource requirements, and cost). Remember that the business requirements are not the only driver of scope. There may be several other types of requirements that could add to the overall project scope. As a matter of fact, there are about a dozen different types of requirements that drive the scope of a project. As other requirements are being identified, they will be added to the pre-baseline requirements document.
Once all the requirements are documented, analyzed, and sufficiently detailed, the project team determines the scope of work (or Level of Effort) involved in meeting all the requirements. Based on the level of effort and resources required, the project manager comes up with an estimated cost of implementation (in terms of effort, schedule, and money). Now you have what I call as the “pre-baseline scope”, and “pre-baseline schedule” of project.
Now, present the pre-baseline artifacts to the project sponsors and stakeholders. They will not accept this proposal if

  1. The cost of work is more than the allocated/approved budget, and they cannot approve more money, or
  2. Timeline is beyond the business required delivery date, and they cannot accept a delay in delivery
At this point, prioritize, negotiate, tradeoff etc. begin with stakeholders and sponsors, on pre-baseline requirements and scope. This will bring you to a subset of those requirements that would fit the cost and timeline constraints you have. If money is a constraint and they cannot approve more money even in the future, then some lower priority requirements will have to fall off the list. If only timeline is a constraint (and not money), then you can propose to deliver some lower priority requirements at a later date (Phase 2 or Version 2).
Once these negotiations complete, draw up the final set of requirements, scope, and timeline that can be delivered, and re-present for approval.
If they approve and bless the project “pre-baseline” scope (with its cost and timeline), then you have, what I call as a “baseline” requirements and scope. The baseline schedule comes later towards the end of design. Let me say this for those who like details. This “baseline” may later be renegotiated and modified IF the final proposed baseline schedule (at the end of Design) pushes the delivery date beyond a date acceptable to the sponsors and stakeholders. And that would be a part of Change Control (and therefore, Scope Management).
Now comes the scope management and control part. Any changes to the requirements or to the scope from this point forward (changes to “baseline” requirements and/or scope) will have to go through and be approved by a strict Change Control Process. As a matter of fact, any changes to any baseline documents (requirements, scope, schedule, budget/cost etc.) must be made only through a formal change control process, and after duly being approved by the project change control board. A change to the scope may be considered “unnecessary” if

  1. The cost of work is more than the allocated/approved budget, and the sponsors cannot approve more money, or
  2. It does not directly render a currently “in-scope” requirement less useful (or diminish the business value), or
  3. It is not critical to business (does not provide a significant business value or render current product ineffective)
There may be times when new critical requirements may come in mid-stream of project execution, may be because some conditions (status quo) changed, or some assumptions made by the business owners earlier were proven incorrect. These are “necessary” changes to the baseline requirements and scope, and as such must be accepted/approved as a part of change control. This is NOT considered “Scope Creep”. Changes to baseline duly reviewed, considered, accepted, and approved by a project Change Control Board as part of Integrated Change Control Process are NOT considered “Scope Creep”. They, in fact, establish a new baseline. However, trying to “squeeze in” new requirements “just because” and without any due diligence or control is the type of situations that are termed as “Scope Creep”.