Three Common Causes Of Scope Creep, And How To Avoid Them Using Trello

Working on a project with many people whose demands and priorities keep changing can be dizzying. Even when you provide a scope of work, it seems like projects keep expanding and the work never ends. This is where you’ll often hear the term “scope creep.”

What Is Scope Creep?

A scope of work document outlines a project’s roles and responsibilities. The project manager builds a scope to outline everything expected during the project, from necessary programs and tasks to estimations on time.

Scope creep, then, is when your client or boss tacks on responsibilities and changes not included in the scope. Eventually, the work at hand looks nothing like the original scope.

Scope creep can lead to burnout, unhappy clients, mismatched priorities, and more. Working on an overloaded scope means more overtime and delays. To sum it up: it’s a headache that no one wants to deal with. So why does it still happen?

Why Does Scope Creep Occur?

Since a scope of work doesn’t often include every little thing, a lot of the work that others may expect may extend the scope. Project managers need to ensure the scope is clear and structured to keep creep from occurring.

Here are three major reasons scope creep happens:

  1. Undefined expectations
  2. Too many people working on the project
  3. Poor communication

Undefined Expectations

Project managers are responsible for defining expectations during the project. Clear and defined scopes detail time estimates, tasks expected, goal results, and which stakeholders are involved. When these definitions are vague, clients or bosses may assume that different requirements are being met, which means the final product may be missing key elements.

Too Many Cooks

Cliche, yes, but the phrase is true—too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth (or, in this case, the scope). Even if your scope is clear and detailed, if there are too many people involved and the hierarchy isn’t clear, everything gets jumbled. Stakeholders may contact team members individually and assign work not included in the scope without contacting the project manager. Now someone is dedicating all their time to a low-priority task—or worse, an unnecessary one. Or maybe a graphic designer for the marketing team and a graphic designer for the sales team are working on the same project and have opposite ideas—and neither will budge. The more people involved in a project, the greater the scope will be.

Lack Of Communication During The Project

Communicate, communicate, communicate! It’s important to know which step in the process each team member is working on, what tasks are complete, where there are roadblocks, and any changes made to the scope as they happen. Without communicating a single one of these, the project can fall apart underneath you. This widens the scope and can be crushing to your workload.

Who Is Responsible For Scope Creep?

In any project, there are multiple players and moving parts that can complicate matters at any moment, which means everyone in the project—including the project manager. Team members can add things on themselves, don’t always adhere to the schedule, accept other people’s requests past the scope, and don’t always communicate changes. External stakeholders could change their priorities or don’t make them clear from the get-go, and reach out to those team members who can’t say no.

How Can You Avoid Scope Creep Using Trello?

First: you’ll need a solid project management board. Use these templates to find the board that best suits your needs. Then: find what works best for your team. Do you need something that’s time-driven so you can see your whole schedule? Do you need to communicate with all your stakeholders at once? Or is it necessary to automate some processes as the project progresses?

Luckily, project managers have an unending list of resources and tools—including Trello—that help provide the necessary structure to keep a tight scope and an excellent result.

Provide A Detailed SoW

There’s no replacement for having a clear, structured scope of work that everyone understands and agrees to. While formatting your scope in a word document or spreadsheet is quick and easy, it may not be the easiest to read and understand. Laying it out in a digestible format is your best bet.

Once you’ve planned your project, set goals, and defined necessary resources and keyholders, build out a workflow right in Trello. You can use the classic Trello workflow, charting tasks from “To-Do,” “Doing,” and “Done,” but customizing your board will help make the picture even clearer.

Pro tip: start your board with a General list built from 411 and FAQ cards.

You can lay everything out within one list: one card for general rules on how to use the board, a project overview card, a team member overview, and a card for resources. Then, you can move onto your task lists, from To-Do to In Progress to Blocked to Done. Don’t forget to include a Backlog for low-priority or “nice to have” tasks! Assign team members to these cards to establish responsibilities and deadlines. Ensure they know how to move cards through the workflow as they complete their tasks or subtasks.

Scopes of work are huge, and can get messy! If there are too many cards on a board, clean them up easily with the BigPicture Power-Up. BigPicture organizes your cards into the form of tasks, building out a major roadmap in a Gantt chart format. BigPicture also offers milestone planning, automation, board sorting, and so much more. It’s a project manager’s dream. Major perk: BigPicture gives you the ability to establish dependency links, meaning a task that needs to be completed before another can begin will be mapped out with the dependent task in mind.

Create A Schedule

Don’t scare away your team members with a board filled with tasks and no direction. Make sure you have set deadlines for each individual task, including tasks that are dependent upon each other. To make things easier, anyone in a board can view in Calendar or Timeline view to better visualize how much time they should be budgeting on each task. These views also make it clearer to communicate timelines with stakeholders or project managers.

Sometimes, the work bottlenecks. That’s okay! The Time in List Power-Up in Trello. This Power-Up tells you in one glance how long a task has lived in its current list. With one look, a project manager or team member will be able to see which tasks need to be completed first and track performance across the scope.

Set Up A Change Management Plan

Sometimes the scope has to change—that’s okay! But you need to track and communicate these changes so any personnel or schedule changes can be handled immediately.

Maintain a scope change log within your Trello board—it should be located in the first Kanban column, where you set up all your resources and updates. Be sure that each team member “watches” the card. That way, anyone with access to the Trello board can get notifications and see the latest updates as they come in.


…did I mention you need to communicate? With many team members, stakeholders, clients, or whoever else is involved in your project, a lot needs to be communicated. It can be helpful to set up a private board for internal purposes and a public-facing board to keep external stakeholders updated as major parts of the project are completed.

The Breakdown Structure Power-Up is helpful to connect multiple boards together and automate updates as you progress in the internal card. Breakdown Structure helps you build out a scope, estimate effort and costs, and track the percentage of progress as a whole or for individual parts. Each team involved—say, graphic design, marketing, sales, and customer service—may have their own separate board to track the smaller projects, and trigger completion updates to a main board that outlines the project as a whole. This “mainframe” board can be public to stakeholders. Encourage these stakeholders to select “Watch” on the important cards so they get notified of updates as they happen.

Breakdown Structure pairs with Butler, Trello’s automation, too. All the scattered cards across multiple boards can be automated with Butler. You can schedule commands, trigger automations, rules, and even more to clean up the board. For example, you can set a rule in Butler to move the card to Done whenever a graphic designer adds a blue “final design sent” label to a card, which will then update Breakdown Structure across all connected boards. 🤯

Manage Projects With Ease

No matter how you structure your scope, it’s important to include all the necessary tasks and that everyone involved is clear on expectations and needs. There are countless Power-Ups and built-in features in Trello to make that happen, whether your project needs input on finance, engineering, design, or even opinions. Setting up that structure will set you and your project up for success.

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