Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stairway to Scope Creep

On a personal note, everyone has experienced coping with change.  Whether you were the cause of the changes or on the receiving end of the changes, scope creep is a natural trait of people to make improvements in their desired outcomes. Having been on the receiving end of changes on corporate work projects, it is interesting to find myself being the cause of scope creep on my home improvement project.  “Scope creep is a tendency of the client as well as project team members to try making improvements as the project progresses” (Portny, 2008).

It started out with an idea to finish my basement of my home from an unfinished area into extra living space for a family entertainment room.  A co-worker gave me a name of a free-lance contractor that had his own small business that did quality work inexpensively and this would work will on a small project.  The statement of work (SOW) started out with simple dry walling project in the basement area.  The client (me) and contractor (vendor) both signed a contract agreement on a set cost for the follow project deliverables.

• Install insulation 
• Dry Wall (1000 sq. ft. area)
• Finish and paint walls
• Cover and finish support basement beams
• Install two dry walls to section off furnace area, add two doorway entrances with doors, and install shelving to convert this area into a storage room
• Install drop ceiling
• Install receding ceiling lights
• Install one stairway light
• Install additional heating and cooling vents
• Install tile flooring
• Install enforcement beams to hang up flat screen TV on the wall
• Install more shelf’s  under stairway for extra storage space

After the project began to progress, I started to change my mind.  First change, I did not like the idea of the stairway being steep going down to the basement.  I decided to move the kitchen pantry closet over about ten feet to reroute the steps over to give it a more open look and free then completely removing the original stairs to reroute the steps into a curve shape to make them less steep.  Of course this is out of scope, the client (me) and the contractor (vendor) had to negotiate the original costs plus increase in labor, time and additional materials.

Now this week armed with more photos after searching on the Internet of beautiful stairways already heading over my budget plans, I want the stairway to have small flushed accent lights running down parallel with the steps on the opposite side of the stair rails at the lower bottom of steps and instead of traditional wood railings I want copper iron accent rails with decorate ending s-shaped rails at shown in the photo.    The contractor informed me today this would involve even more time and higher material costs because this type of railing and iron shoes for placement. 

Wait, I am not done with my scope creep story! 

As construction is beginning to progress smoothly with changes,  now I am thinking the sliding patio door blinds next to the relocated pantry closet and the kitchen area ceiling light fixture should to be replaced to match the new design layout.  At this point dealing with a client like me as the contractor's project manager, I would be pulling out my hair.  Can’t this client make up their mind; it is like a moving target always wanting something different.  I am sure as project managers we have all been there at some point in our careers and personal life when working on a project with scope creep people like I have become on my personal home improvement project. 

What is the best approach to deal with expected project changes from clients like me that just can't make up their mind?  

At the initial start of a project, set a clearly defined change control system in place for the client and vendor.  A change control system will do the following (Portney, p.346,  2008).

• Helps to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the requested changes.
• Identify all impacts of changes on the project timeline and budget.
• Can help to identify alternative changes that will accomplish the same outcomes without major impact on the project.
• Acts as a communication method to accept changes for all parties involved.
• Ensure the changes were preformed correctly according to the change request.

Avoiding scope creep is not possible but monitoring and controlling these changes will be beneficial for both parties involved to reduce misunderstanding.

-Mary Layne


Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


  1. Wow Mary. Interesting story. So, where are you with the project? I am wondering why you cannot make up your mind. Did you ever figure out the reason, or Is it because you are the client and the PM. There are occasions when people operate like this. Do you think you preference will change if you were fixing a friend's basement?

  2. Hi Folashade,

    Why I cannot make up my mind, first I have limited structural space to redirect the stairway. Second, the contractor is good but he does not have the capabilities to give me a computer 3-D blue print. Using him is half the cost of using an architectural design service. So, I am coming up with the design layouts and have to visualize how the outcome will look at the end. Third, after looking at interior design web sites and photos I want everything high end but I cannot afford it. If I had the money to use a professional architectural design company that provided CAD 3D visual layouts how the product would look after completion it would help but I cannot afford this luxury. The reason for my scope creep is I am trying to get everything for nothing wanting more and more. I am sure we all have worked with clients like me continually changing the product deliverables. What is even stranger about the situation is I am completely aware I am a moving target (scope creeper) within my home improvement project!