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Scope Creep: Death By A Thousand Cuts


Scope creep is the extension of functionality or services beyond the vendor’s contractual obligations without the extension being contractually documented or providing for payment of additional compensation to the vendor. Scope creep is a constant concern to the vendor, as it causes the vendor to expend additional resources without receiving additional compensation. It may also cause the vendor to incur substantial administrative costs through the vendor’s subsequent attempts to document the additional services rendered at the time it becomes aware of the scope creep. Undocumented services may also contribute toward the creation of additional ill-defined short or long-term obligations on the vendor’s behalf as well as negatively impacting the vendor’s existing delivery services, including delivery dates.

Both parties should undertake a concerted effort to avoid scope creep. Vendors have a financial incentive to avoid providing services for which they are not contractually entitled to be compensated. At the same time, customers want to avoid potential disputes with the vendor or having the vendor seek compensation under a theory of quantum meruit. Even if the vendor does not bring an actual claim, prudent customers will want to avoid expending the time and effort to resolve any dispute that may in turn threaten the contractually agreed delivery schedule.

Factors which can contribute to scope creep include:

• The scope is not well defined in the underlying statement of work or project plan.

• Personnel performing the services do not understand that the services being provided are out of scope.

• Personnel performing the services do not understand the process they should follow to obtain authorization to perform out-of-scope work.

• Managers are not aware that out-of-scope work is being performed.

• Vendor personnel want to satisfy a demanding or disgruntled customer.

• Account management makes a deliberate decision to perform out-of-scope work without compensation.

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