Give a Mouse a cookie, Scope creep in projects

Give a mouse a cookie, and they will ask for a glass of milk.  This is a fair analogy of scope creep.   In project management scope creep is “Adding additional features or functions of a new product, requirements, or work that is not authorized (i.e., beyond the agreed-upon scope).”  (Larson, Larson, 2009.)  Whatever it is called, it just plain sucks.

I believe that most people genuinely want to be helpful.  People generally want to be an asset to others.  We inherently want to say yes! Sometimes that is the problem.  We give the mouse a cookie and then later we are handing them the keys to our house and paying them mouse support.

Trying to get as much as possible out of a project is the customer’s prerogative – “It never hurts to ask!”  Training projects are not immune to scope creep.  Probably the biggest cause of scope creep is a vague scope definition, to begin with.  Very often I am asked to create a course about “X.”  Where the total scope of the project is “Create a course about X.”

One time I was working for a large company (no names here) to create a leadership course covering 12 different topics… well, actually 13 topics… on second thought 14 topics… weeeeeeeeellll maybe 15 topics… ultimately, we settled on 17 topics… well, actually 15 is fine…  I came into the project after it was scoped and was too new to project management to realize that I should have put a stop to it.

What did I do?  I said okay, I will add that topic and have it online by the deadline – every time.  Add a new topic?  Okay!  Change an objective?  SURE!

What should I have done?  A change order would have been a good start.  Probably should have made the shareholders and sponsors aware of the impact.  I definitely should have said “no” at first.  Now I live by the saying “behold the power of no.”  If the addition is important enough the customer will persist and I will start drafting a scope change and show them how to get to a yes.  Now I can get them what they want without giving my house keys to the mouse.



Larson, R. & Larson, E. (2009). Top five causes of scope creep … and what to do about them. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2009—North America, Orlando, FL. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

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