Last edited 12 Oct 2020

Scope creep

With all forms of appointment it is important that there is clarity about the scope of services being provided otherwise there may be uncertainty about who is responsible for which aspects of the project, what fee is chargeable, what services are within the agreed fee and what services might be considered ‘extras’.

For this reason, appointment agreements often include, or refer to, a ‘schedule of services’ (sometimes described as ‘scope of services’ or ‘services schedule’) setting out precisely what services a consultant will be performing on a project. Schedules of services may also be prepared for contractors where they are carrying out design work, or for consultants appointed by contractors on design and build projects.

Changes to a project may impact on the scope of services required. Where this is controlled, it may be described as a change of scope, and this should be carefully documented and may be reflected in changes to the appointment agreement, or fee. However, when it is not a controlled process it can be referred to as ‘scope creep’. This may be as simple as a verbal request from the client (or from one part of the client organisation) to carry out a piece of work, without a proper assessment of whether that work is included in the existing fee, or whether it is an additional service for which additional fee is chargeable, whether it has been authorised, or whether it is a sensible use of the clients finite funds compared to other possible activities.

Typically these requests will in themselves be relatively small, but repeated changes or additions can build up, or ‘creep’ to become significant variations, resulting in continuous growth of the scope of services and a drift away from the original brief, fee or budget.

Scope creep can also refer more broadly to uncontrolled changes to the project itself, for example, increasing the schedule of accommodation required, or the quality expected, or the duration of the project. These uncontrolled changes may not be properly documented, may not be properly assessed in terms of value and may not be reflected in changes to the budget. This can also impact on the fees chargeable, where for example they are calculated as a percentage of construction cost.

Scope creep is one of the main causes of cost and programme overruns.

Scope creep can be avoided by scope management, first assessing and defining the project clearly so that the scope is properly understood, agreed and communicated to all parties, and then introducing change control procedures to ensure that uncontrolled changes of scope are avoided, and where changes are necessary, they are properly assessed, authorised and documented.

A change control procedure should clearly define the process by which changes are requested and approved and who is responsible for those processes, including:

There may then be:

The client may have to consider a number of possible changes simultaneously and may therefore need the appropriate information to be able to prioritise them relative to one another.

The need for changes can be minimised by:

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