Project Management Challenge #3: Vague Requirements & Scope Creep

by Erin McCune on March 19, 2007

in Project Management

Vague Requirements & Scope Creep


Projects that are too ambitious in scope often fail.

Similarly, if project requirements are not detailed enough the effort is spread too thin, lacking focus on core features that drive success metrics.

“Scope creep” occurs when project requirements are not specific enough. Features and benefits are gradually added over time, increasing the amount of effort necessary and pushing out the project time line.


Involve end users and take a hands-on approach to requirements definition. Use screen mock ups, spreadsheets, simple databases, etc. to demonstrate for developers and/or vendors exactly what users want. Be sure to provide samples of particularly tricky transactions and convoluted reporting needs. A mock up or trial version has the added benefit of enabling users to pilot new processes and further hone requirements.

Even the smallest changes should have documented requirements – even if it is simply a one page bulleted list with a mock up report attached. Use version control to track updates to the requirements and make the document (and subsequent updates) available to all relevant parties on an intranet site.

The requirements document should include diagrams, matrices, decision-trees, etc. to make the specifications as clear as possible. If the appropriate skills are not available in house, hire an experienced business analyst and/or technical writer to gather and document requirements. The investment will more than pay for itself by ensuring that the technical team develops features and benefits the users actually want.

When the inevitable changes occur, alert all parties that requirement changes will impact the time line or budget (or both).

Pm_series_icon_2This is one of a series of posts on project management for finance professionals. The series features practical project management advice and tips for driving process change using technology. The series is archived here.

One Response to “Project Management Challenge #3: Vague Requirements & Scope Creep”

  1. Good Read. I have coined a term called Scope Creep Index to address this issue of Scope Creep. It basically helps in providing sounding signals well in time to address creeping scope leading to project delays.
    Please visit for more info on this.

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