Pan Asian Clinical Research Association (PACRA)

Is scope creep so creepy?

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Even if you have never heard of the term scope creep, I’m sure you encountered it during lifecycle of your projects.

Scope creep is defined as uncontrolled change of scope after a project start.

The main reasons for scope creep are:

-        Poor requirements specification set up by a customer or/and incomplete analysis conducted by a contractor

-        Non involvement of all concerned parties (stakeholders) at the planning stage

-        Complexity of the project (projects which are new for the industry, nobody knows what to expect, no lessons learned)

-        Gold plating. The term means the addition of any feature not considered in the original scope statement at any point of the project in order to satisfy clients and with no additional cost for them

-        External reasons (e.g. changed market conditions or regulatory requirements, technological advancements)

In general, scope creep is considered as negative phenomenon and more applicable for projects with predictive (plan-driven) approach. Why? The reason is that planning is thoroughly done and agreed upfront.


After that PM just has to stick to the plan and keep project triangle in balance. As a rule all changes to the baseline plan should be avoided as they negatively affect project timelines and budget. When changes happen they are to be managed through change control process that should be in palace in a company. For clients it means re-baselining of the project scope, which usually leads to increased budget and/or delayed timelines. Otherwise, without equivalent budget increase and/or timelines change, pre-defined level of quality could be compromised, that is not acceptable.

So changes are NOT desirable in plan-driven projects.

 However, let’s have a look at how change of scope is regarded in agile approach.

The principles of Agile Manifesto state: “Welcome changing requirements, even late in Development” and “Responding to change over following plan”

In agile approach the focus is on the “right” product that fits customer needs. It is possible since the approach uses:

-          Frequent adaptation of process

-          Reprioritization

-          Regularly updated plans

-          Frequent delivery

At the very beginning clients often have only vague idea and do not have comprehensive knowledge about a product being developed. Under these circumstances planning probably will not be consistent with the reality.


Thus, based on the previous mindset, we could potentially deliver on time, within budget, the agreed-on scope — but the “wrong” product! That is why agile approach treats it differently. Change of scope is considered as opportunity to deliver to clients what they want based, among other things mentioned above, on very short feedback loops. Getting feedback more often also allows reducing waste and rework.

It seems that changes are more than welcome in agile approach! So…is change of scope always that bad as we used to believe?

Change of scope doesn’t have such negative connotation. Quite the opposite, agile approach is deemed to be very change-friendly. Maybe we just need to change our mindset and stop thinking only in terms of milestones, fixed scope, controlled budget, change requests and so on? Is it ever possible in clinical trials? I believe that to some extent we could adopt agile mindset and use agile principles in clinical trials. This is exactly what our company is trying to do now. So I hope we will end up with some hybrid approach benefiting from both traditional and agile methods and bringing such different projects to success in the most efficient way.


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