Mastering Scope Management: Validation and Control Strategies

An image of wooden blocks spelling out the word "scope."


Scope or requirements creep is the uncontrolled and often unmanageable growth of a project’s original requirements. According to a study done by the Project Management Institute, about 50% of projects experience scope creep, and only about 60% finish within budget while about 50% are finished on-schedule.

In addition, scope creep is notorious for stressing out team members and taking time away from the original deliverables. While scope creep is a never-ending battle during projects, expect it to happen, and watch closely for the signs so you can manage it. It usually starts with a slight change request that you don’t mind making. These requests slowly start to pile up and usually lead to extensive problems.

It’s especially important to understand the real meaning of scope. The PMBOK Guide defines scope as “the extent of what a project will produce, and the work needed to produce it.” Prevention measures should be considered to reduce or contain scope creep especially in troubled projects, thereby improving quality, profitability, and customer satisfaction. Experience and professional judgement should be applied to each circumstance when determining the appropriate “measures of prevention” for any proposal or project. Let’s look at the processes for managing scope creep.

Controlling Scope Changes Requires a Process

It’s difficult to create a good project scope statement and WBS for a project. Also, it’s even more difficult, especially with IT projects, to verify the scope and minimize scope changes. Some project teams know from the start that the scope is very unclear and that they must work closely with the project customer to design and produce various deliverables. In this case, the project team must develop a process for scope validation that meets unique project needs. Careful procedures must be developed to ensure that customers are getting what they want, and the project team has enough time and money to produce the desired products and services.

Even when the project scope is defined, many IT projects suffer from scope creep – the tendency for project scope to keep getting bigger and bigger. For this reason, it’s especially important to verify the project scope with users throughout the life of the project and develop a process for controlling scope changes.

Scope Validation

Scope validation involves formal acceptance of the completed project deliverables. This acceptance is often achieved by a customer inspection and then sign-off on key deliverables. To receive formal acceptance of the project scope, the project team must develop clear documentation of the project’s products and procedures to evaluate whether they were completed correctly and satisfactory.

The main tools for performing scope validation are inspection and group decision-making techniques. The customer, sponsor, or user inspects the work after it is delivered and decides if it meets requirements. The main outputs of scope validation are accepted deliverables, change requests, work performance information, and project documents updates. If there are shortcomings or problems, the appropriate people would review the change request and take appropriate corrective action such as getting the sponsor’s approval for the change(s) and additional costs.

The benefits of validating scope include helping to mitigate risks, facilitate effective communication, and increase the likelihood of successful project completion. Also, it helps to find changes or issues during the project rather than at the end.

Controlling Scope

Scope control involves managing changes to the project scope while keeping project goals and business strategy in mind. The goal of scope control is to influence the factors that cause changes, to ensure that changes are processed according to procedures developed as part of integrated change control, and to manage changes when they occur. You cannot do an excellent job of controlling scope if you don’t do a respectable job of collecting requirements, defining scope, and validating scope. Lack of user input leads to problems with managing scope creep and controlling change.

The following suggestions can help a project team improve user input.

  • Develop a good project selection process for IT projects. Insist that all projects have a sponsor from the user organization. The sponsor should not work in the IT department and not be the PM.
  • Have users on the project team. Users should be assigned part-time for small projects and full-time for large IT projects.
  • Have regular meetings with defined agendas. This sounds obvious, but many IT projects fail because team members do not have regular interaction with users. They assume that they understand what the users need without getting direct feedback. To encourage this interaction, users should sign off on key deliverables presented at the meeting.
  • Do not promise to deliver what the team cannot deliver at a particular time. Make sure the project schedule allows enough time to produce the deliverables. Locate users with the developers in proximity so they get to know each other better. If the users are not in proximity, they should set aside certain days to work in the same location.
  • Deliver something to project users and sponsors on a regular basis. If the delivered product is HW and/or SW, make sure it works first.

The benefits of Controlling Scope are defining the boundaries of your project, keeping key stakeholders on the same page, and providing a basis for controlling project change requests. Also, it helps to meet the requirements and expectations of stakeholders and allows the baseline to be maintained throughout the entire project.


Validating scope focuses on verifying if deliverables meet specified acceptance criteria, while controlling scope focuses on monitoring and controlling deviations and changes to project scope. In project management, validating scope and controlling scope are critical processes that contribute to the success of a project by building confidence in the project. By understanding the differences between validating scope and controlling scope and their respective activities, PMs can effectively manage scope, minimize scope creep, and maintain project focus which can lead to successful project outcomes.

Scope creep is the sneaky factor that never sleeps and can be damaging in many ways – usually because the work and cost increases. For more extensive detail (i.e., Solution Design and Solution Delivery) on managing scope creep, please read the following related article about avoiding the root causes of troubled projects.

Your feedback is always welcome here in the comments, and in the Community Discussion Forum!

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Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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  1. PMI defines scope creep as the uncontrolled expansion to product or project scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources. i.e. the inclusion of scope changes without going through change control. If your project ends up being twice the size, but that’s due to approved change requests, then technically that’s not scope creep.

  2. In a perfect world (i.e., if all changes are approved by change control), you are technically correct.

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