5 ways to avoid scope creep on an engineering project

Automation System Integration Blog tells how to avoid scope creep. See these points of advice and diagram from Anthony Baker to keep your next machine design, panel build, software design, or other engineering project on track. Add your advice below.


In green is the original scope for the engineering or system integration project, what was in the SOW (scope of work), and everyone agreed do. As you’re working through the project, “VOILA!”—new and amazing scope items come to light. A lot of budget is stIf you work in an engineering project-based world, I am sure you have heard the term “scope creep.” Specifically, it’s when additional scope items are added to a project along the way. These might be amazing things, valuable additions that are core to the success of the project, but they are still scope creep and should be handled very, very carefully.

Chart the scope

Having said that, one of the best ways I’ve found to describe the dangers of scope creep is pictorially. Pretend the squares in the image represent a bar chart.

In green is the original scope for the engineering or system integration project, what was in the SOW (scope of work), and everyone agreed do. As you’re working through the project, “VOILA!”—new and amazing scope items come to light. A lot of budget is still available, and these additional tasks seem easy, so you do them—there’s the yellow.

Bad day in project management

Then the bad day comes. You get toward the end of the project, the budget is 90% used, and the client (internal or external) pulls out the SOW document and says something like, “Hey, do you remember line item 126b, where it said you would supply XYZ components? Well I still want that.”

BUSTED. Now you can’t do anything, the green changes to red, and the clear project control you thought you have had all along goes out the window.

Avoid project scope creep

Avoiding project creep is straightforward, if not always easy.

1. Know your scope. If you haven’t read the quote or SOW 10 times, you don’t know your scope.

2. Know your dollars, in real-time, all the time.

3. Get the client used to change orders, but do it gently. When yellow comes along, write it up. Even if you give it away, ensure you are keeping a log along the way. You cannot do this retroactively. It NEVER works when you come to the end of the project, have more project than budget and/or time, then say to the client, “Remember all those nice things we did before?” This NEVER works. EVER.

4. Talk dollars all the time. It can be uncomfortable, but you have to build a relationship that can be friendly and talk about money too. (See a neat book by Dan Arielly about Market Norms Vs. Social Norms for reference.

5. Live to the scope of work (SOW). First get this done, 100%, and then talk about what you can do afterward.

For good project managers (PMs) out there, I’m sure there is a bigger list, but I’ve found if you follow these top five ways to avoid scope creep, you will have a good start.

Engineering interaction: Have additional advice? Use the comment box at the bottom to add to the list based on your experiences.

- The Automation System Integration Blog aggregates expert advice from Callisto Integration, providing manufacturing consulting and systems integration. This blog provides integration advice in plant-floor controls, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and manufacturing consulting, from the factory floor through to the enterprise. Andrew Barker, P.Eng., Callisto Integration, compiled the advice. www.callistointegration.com

See other Automation System Integration Blog postings linked below.

Callisto Integration is a CSIA member as of 3/1/2015

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2013 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
A cool solution: Collaboration, chemistry leads to foundry coat product development; See the 2015 Product of the Year Finalists
Raising the standard: What's new with NFPA 70E; A global view of manufacturing; Maintenance data; Fit bearings properly
Sister act: Building on their father's legacy, a new generation moves Bales Metal Surface Solutions forward; Meet the 2015 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again
Pipeline vulnerabilities? Securing hydrocarbon transit; Predictive analytics hit the mainstream; Dirty pipelines decrease flow, production—pig your line; Ensuring pipeline physical and cyber security
Upgrading secondary control systems; Keeping enclosures conditioned; Diagnostics increase equipment uptime; Mechatronics simplifies machine design
Designing positive-energy buildings; Ensuring power quality; Complying with NFPA 110; Minimizing arc flash hazards
Building high availability into industrial computers; Of key metrics and myth busting; The truth about five common VFD myths

Annual Salary Survey

After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.

Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.