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Preventing Scope Creep

In any large-scale construction project, changes are to be expected. Some are significant and meticulously documented, like an owner deciding to add a hot bar to the employee cafeteria six months after ground has broken. Others may not amount to a formal change order—such as the architect tweaking a doorframe from standard to arched—but even seemingly minor modifications start to add up over time.

Also known as “scope creep,” deviations from the established workplan can have a domino effect on the resources and labor required for project completion. Scope creep can double, even triple workflow and timelines, resulting in diminished returns for everyone. Liability increases as well. Subcontractors can, and have, successfully sued for uncollected overages owners refuse to pay, and damage to professional reputations can be irrevocable.

Scope creep can be difficult to stamp out completely, because a lack of flexibility can be equally inefficient and under-serving to the project. But it can be managed. An effective pre-construction process can minimize the onset of scope creep by setting expectations and mapping out a clear vision and plan before the first shovel ever hits the ground. Site selection, project scope, execution plan, risk analysis, materials evaluation, scheduling, and estimation are but a few agenda items that should be hammered out during pre-construction.

The investment in time and resources can be considerable in this evaluation phase—as much as 12 weeks or more depending on the scope of the project. But the added value can me measured in time and money saved through this process. By putting in the time and legwork up-front, key stakeholders are able to evaluate project commitment and needs at a granular level and set milestones before the meter starts running. And a clearly defined workplan helps maintain timeline and budget constraints once execution is underway.

The most important scope-creep killer in your arsenal however, is not a pre-construction checklist, or even a statement of work. It’s clear communication. Getting everyone—owner, architect, engineers, and construction supervisors—around the table to define and document project budget, timeline, and protocols for change orders will help ensure a positive project end and prevent scope creep.