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So your project is cruising along without a hitch. You’re meeting your deadlines and everything is on track to be completed on time and on budget. 

You’re sipping your coffee, soaking in the glory of your well-oiled project machine when out of nowhere, you hear the dreaded *ping* of an email landing in your inbox. "Can we add just one more new feature?" 

Scope changes in project management can feel incredibly frustrating (especially after all of the time and effort you put into creating a detailed project scope statement). But sometimes, scope changes are necessary. When they’re handled correctly, likely with the support of your project management software, they can even lead to a more successful project.   

So what should you do when you’re faced with a scope change request? Let’s dive in.

What is Scope Change?

So, what exactly are scope changes in project management? 

Imagine you’re building a cabin in the woods (you’ll understand why I’m going with this metaphor later). You’ve got the blueprints ready, the foundation laid, and even the walls starting to go up. Then, one day, your friend visits and suggests adding a wraparound porch. The next day, your mom comments that a skylight in the living room would look fantastic. These are scope changes. 

In more technical terms, a scope change involves any official decisions made to modify the original scope of a project—its objectives, budget, deliverables, timeline, responsibilities, or other elements. These changes can be initiated by a project sponsor, stakeholders, clients, team members, or even yourself.

We’re not talking about scope creep here. Scope creep is the sneaky, unapproved addition of tasks and deliverables to a project. 

How To Handle Scope Changes

The key to effective scope management is to make sure you have a solid project plan to begin with. This is where using a project management tool can be helpful — especially one that provides project visibility regarding the current scope, progress, budget, resources, and more. If this information is organized and available to your team and project stakeholders, you’ll have a much easier time when it comes to managing scope changes.

With that foundation in place, let’s consider what you might want to do when you receive a scope change request, and what you should do instead. 

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Take Time to Understand The Scope Change Request. 

What you want to do: Delete all of your unread emails without looking.
What you should do: Identify the reason for the requested change.

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Odds are, if a scope change request comes from someone outside of your team, your first reaction will be frustration. Don’t they know that their request is going to totally mess up your resourcing plan and timelines?

Try not to assume the worst. Instead, work to understand why the scope change may be necessary. Has new information or insights revealed a flaw in your original project scope? Are there new project budget constraints or additional resources that will impact your work? Does the project timeline need to be pushed to make room for a higher-priority project?

Start by having a detailed conversation with the person requesting the change. Ask questions to clarify their request, such as “What problem are you trying to solve with this change?” and “What benefits do you expect from this change?” These questions can help you understand the bigger picture and really evaluate if the change is necessary. Together, you want to consider the impact on the project requirements, scope, schedule, budget, and resources, and make a decision around whether to move forward with the scope change. 

Communicate With Your Team About the Scope Change

What you want to do: Scream into the void.
What you should do: Gather input from your project team about the scope change. 

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If you do decide to move forward with the scope change, you should immediately set up a meeting with your team to discuss the modifications. Be upfront with them. Explain the scope change request, the reasons behind it, and the potential impact on the entire project. Lay out the details you’ve gathered: What problem is the change aiming to solve? What benefits are expected? Are there any new constraints or additional resources?

You should also ask your project team members for their thoughts on the change, and listen to their suggestions. They may have insights or concerns that you haven’t considered. 

It’s also important to address how the scope change will affect each team member’s responsibilities and workload. Be clear about any adjustments in tasks and deadlines, and help them prioritize their work. Your resource management software can be helpful in estimating these changes as well. 

Update Your Documentation and Tools

What you want to do: Throw your laptop out of a window.
What you should do: Update the project schedule and tasks in your PM tool. 

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Once you’ve communicated the scope change to your team and gathered their input, the next step is to update your documentation and project management tools. This will help you ensure that everyone has access to the most current information and that the project stays organized.

First, you’ll want to maintain a log of all project scope changes and their justifications. Outline the reasons, expected benefits, and potential risks of any requested change. This record will provide transparency about the evolution of the project and how decisions about its scope were made. 

You’ll also want to update the project scope statement. This document outlines the project’s objectives, deliverables, and boundaries. Lay out what has changed and why, and how the change will impact the project’s goals, tasks, and resources.

You should also revise your project plan. Adjust timelines, milestones, and deadlines to accommodate the scope change. If the scope change involves additional tasks or requires new resources, also make sure these are reflected in your resource management plan. 

Your project management tools also need to be updated. Update task lists, Gantt charts, and any other tracking features to reflect the new scope. This keeps your project’s digital workspace accurate and helps prevent any miscommunication.

Once your documentation has been updated, it’s a good idea to hold a meeting with your team and key stakeholders. Provide them with access to the revised documents and make sure everyone knows where to find the latest versions.

Typically, documentation tools are a part of the basics of project management systems, no matter which one you use.

Check out my evaluation criteria for project management software to understand why tools make the list...or don't.

Keep an eye out for new challenges

What you want to do: Close your eyes and take a nice long nap.
What you should do: Look out for any red flags with the project's progress. 

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As you begin to implement the scope change, it’s important to keep a close eye on the project’s progress. Do things seem to be getting back on track, or do more adjustments need to be made? Scope changes can often bring about unforeseen issues, so staying adaptable is key. Risk management is extremely important throughout the scope change process. 

Maintain regular check-ins with your team to monitor progress and look out for any new obstacles. Keep asking your team members for their concerns, challenges, and suggestions. If any of them feel overwhelmed by new work that was put on their plate, find ways to adjust your resources

You should also keep an eye on your project’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics. This will help you understand if the scope change is negatively impacting project success.

Stay Aligned with Your Stakeholders

What you want to do: Sell all of your things and move to a cabin in the woods.
What you should do: Keep your lines of communication open. 

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Staying aligned with your stakeholders is essential for the successful implementation of any scope change. 

You should hold regular update meetings to keep them informed about the status of the project, and especially how changes are impacting the project’s goals and deliverables. If you do identify any new challenges, make sure to bring them up ASAP in these meetings. And encourage your stakeholders to share feedback or concerns as well. 

By keeping the lines of communication open, you can quickly address any issues and hopefully minimize the need for any additional scope changes. 

Reflect and Learn

What you want to do: Change your name and pretend like none of this ever happened.
What you should do: Determine what you can do better next time. 

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After completing the project, take a step back and reflect on the process. What went well with the scope change process? What could have been handled better with the change? Identify key lessons, such as effective strategies for communication, resource allocation, and documentation.

Also, encourage your team members to share their perspectives. Do they feel that the change was communicated effectively? Were tasks distributed fairly? 

Document these insights and incorporate them into your future project plans. This will help you to improve your future process and feel more prepared the next time a scope change arises. With your learnings, you can even create a change request form to help with scope change management in the future. Here's a change request template to help you get started.

Who knows—the next time you get a scope change request, you might not even have the urge to uproot your entire life. 

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Kelsey Alpaio
By Kelsey Alpaio

Kelsey is the Senior Editor of The Digital Project Manager.