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How to prevent scope creep in your ERP implementation

Scope creep can cause major problems for an ERP implementation. Learn what it is and how to prevent it, including some specific steps project leaders should follow.

A project leader must guard against various potential risks for ERP implementation projects, including cost overruns, loss of key employees on the implementation team and schedule risk. Another important potential danger is scope creep, which occurs when team members add on too many extra features and can negatively affect an ERP implementation.

Scope creep can result in increased expenses, missed deadlines and potential delivery of a final product that doesn't meet the approved requirements. Project leaders must take preventative steps, including validating requirements and tracking key features, to avoid scope creep and potential resulting implementation failure.

What is scope creep?

Scope creep occurs when implementation team members add additional features and functionality to the implementation project after project scope approval.

A typical ERP implementation includes an approved requirements list, which outlines the configured features. Scope creep typically happens because an implementation team member thinks of an idea to make the final product better or wants to implement new functionality. Scope creep often increases expenses, adds to project risk and lengthens the schedule.

Some scope creep may be necessary as the implementation progresses and the implementation team learns new information, but project leaders must control additional project scope to ensure the implementation moves forward.

How to prevent scope creep

Implementation project leaders should take various steps to avoid scope creep. They include the following.

1. Validate requirements before implementation

Project leaders should ask key stakeholders to review the requirements before they're approved, and project leaders should ensure the approved list of requirements covers all needs. An implementation partner should also review the requirements, since their previous experience may help them identify anything that's missing.

2. Define a process for adding new features

The process for adding new features should include a form that can help capture all relevant data. Before a formal review of the new feature, the implementation team can use an interim step to conduct a detailed analysis and estimate of the effort required to implement the new feature. This interim step should only take place for features the team is considering for the current implementation, since the detailed analysis and estimate development require time and effort.

The implementation team should then review the request to evaluate the feature's criticality, additional cost, schedule impact and additional project risk. Team members should examine the risk of not implementing the feature, as well as the risk of adding more functionality partway through the ERP implementation.

Team members can also consider any factors that could reduce the risk, such as deferring other, less important features.

3. Construct clear timelines

A project leader should create clear timelines for the project so implementation team members understand the challenges of adding scope to the project. A timeline shows team members their upcoming tasks and demonstrates that adding new features could negatively affect key milestones.

4. Establish open communication

Project leaders should ensure the implementation team's lines of communication remain open. Doing so increases the chances that team members discuss potential new features with the right people and the right team members evaluate them.

The project leader should also ensure regular, open communication occurs within the project team about the project schedule and overall project progress. Doing so helps avoid team members implementing new features without approval.

5. Discuss priorities often

Organizations usually initiate an ERP implementation because company leaders have decided the new system is a strategic priority. Reasons for an implementation may include streamlining processes, reducing costs and improving reporting capabilities.

Implementation team members should frequently discuss why the new ERP system is important to the organization so the reasons for the implementation are clear to everyone. Doing so helps the team prioritize new requirements as they arise and ensures that team members add only critical changes to the requirements list.

6. Track potential new requirements

Large ERP implementations often include more than one phase, so project leaders should add new, unapproved requirements to a future phase instead of dismissing all team member suggestions once the implementation project starts. Doing so ensures project leaders won't lose track of new requirements, and they can start planning future phases with concrete requirements early on.

Controlling feature creep is important, but project leaders shouldn't be so concerned with doing so that they lose track of valid concerns and enhancements that could improve overall long-term ERP system functionality for the organization.

7. Incorporate slack into the schedule

Despite requirement reviews and approvals, the project team may still need to implement features during the project, so the project leader may want to allocate time in the schedule to handle unexpected needs. Leaders should manage this time carefully to ensure the team doesn't use all the unallocated time early in the project.

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