How to Manage Scope Creep in Agile: Pro Tips for Developers

Agile team measuring progress on kanban board

Scope creep, uncontrolled expansion of project requirements, is a serious threat for any business, but especially for agile teams. As agile teams are meant to be adaptable, they often take on new tasks as they go along, without accounting for capacity. 

A study by PwC found that only 2.5% of companies complete their projects successfully without missing the original deadline or budget (or both, in some cases). Many of them point to the difficulty of managing project scope, saying that these projects suffered from a lack of proper planning for resources and activity.

In this article, we cover the dangers of scope creep for developers and the serious impact on the development process if left unchecked. We’ll also take a look at the warning signs to look out for and some solutions to keep your development workflow agile and on track with your budget.

What is scope creep?

As briefly explained above, scope creep is the uncontrolled and unauthorized expansion of project requirements, goals, or deliverables beyond the original plan. All projects face some sort of adjustment or add-ons; scope creep is when this becomes unmanageable and way beyond the initial scope. It’s a big issue for developers as it can significantly impact a build’s success, creating delays, budget overruns, reduced overall quality, and an overworked team.

In software development, we usually see scope creep occur when stakeholders request additional features like a new mobile version or when your client realizes there are additional requirements they forgot to mention and extra functionality elements are needed.

Three warning signs to look out for and how to manage scope creep

1 | Unclear project requirements that lead to scope ambiguity

When project requirements aren’t well-defined from the start, team members – and stakeholders – may interpret them differently, leading to different expectations about the project’s goals or what should be delivered. 

Solution: Set project requirements from the start. 

You’ll have a much easier time if the project’s scope is well-defined by both your team and stakeholders from the get-go. It may take a little extra time, but if you can gather as much information as possible about requirements and functionality, you can better estimate the scope of what your team is asked to do and prepare accordingly. Consider preparing a plan that sets out the work with milestones and metrics. This should be communicated to the team and other involved stakeholders.

You can do this manually on a spreadsheet, but we find that Jira is a great tool for managing scope. Jira tasks can be used to outline the different steps and requirements needed on the board, keeping everything in one place. Team members can then move or complete issues on the board once they are completed so everyone can see the progress made.

2 | Frequent uncontrolled changes

Changes are always to be expected for an agile team, but what tips this over the scale into scope creep is the frequency and lack of proper control over these changes. Too many changes will muddle workflow and cause you to risk missing key deadlines. 

Solution: Document and track changes in Jira and Jenkins. 

Just like how it’s key to record the different variations of a software build, it’s equally important to keep track of all the changes made to a project’s scope. Jira makes it easy to do so by allowing users to add information in each issue’s description explaining the nature of the change, and via the comment thread which can serve as a history of discussions and decisions. However, do remember to make sure these changes are reflected in Jenkins as well. 

Tip: Consider creating a change management plan that clearly defines the request, approval, and denial process for scope change requests and who can implement them. This ensures a measure of control over changes and prevents impulsive requests. 

3 | Poor communication between developers and project managers

When communication breaks down between project stakeholders, there’s a high risk of misalignment. Misalignment – and the lack of clarity over who’s doing what – easily leads to scope creep as work progresses without a shared understanding of what’s in or out of scope. Poor communication can also result in developers producing work that doesn’t align with the project’s actual goals

Solution: Create an SSOT on Jira with updated build status and progress from Jenkins.

The best way to encourage communication and collaboration between team members is to create a single source of truth (SSOT) that consolidates all the information on the project scope and progress into one place. An SSOT also provides complete transparency if shared amongst the team and stakeholders, which we recommend you do! 

Your Jira board is a great option for an SSOT. Do make sure it’s always updated with build status and progress from Jenkins; keeping Jira updated is vital to making sure it remains a viable SSOT. 

How a Jenkins-Jira integration app helps you manage scope creep in agile

Jira is a fantastic tool to help you avoid scope creep. But it does need to be regularly fed information from Jenkins to be as useful as possible. While you can do this manually, remembering to update Jira every time a build is completed in Jenkins can be tedious. That’s why we recommend using a Jenkins-Jira integration app that links Jira and Jenkins so you don’t have to keep switching between the two.

An integration app like Jenkins Integration for Jira includes features that can benefit an agile team like:  

  • Real-time updates that ensure you’re always in the loop on project requirements and never miss a milestone, even if you mainly work on Jenkins and only check Jira periodically; 
  • Change tracking that guarantees a historical record of completed changes that you can always refer back to, providing context and continuity for ongoing discussions and changes;
  • Automated processes that put an end to manual touchpoints, meaning less time spent painstakingly updating Jira and more time on actual development work.

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