Not a beginner question. I've seen too many otherwise competent PM's that don't know the difference, and I'm curious how others define it. Bear in mind, Scope Creep and Gold-plating are not the same either.

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    Scope Creep = Scope Change - Scope Re-baseline
    – yegor256
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 5:55
  • Yegor - can you expand on this? If Change = approved, then Scope Change & Re-baseline should be the same (you only re-baseline to the approved changes). Scope creep would be more Actual vs Approved. Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 16:15
  • you are right. If you re-baseline all changes - there won't be any scope creep. The problem is that very often project managers forget to re-baseline on every change. Keep in mind that re-baseline shall include Scope, Cost, and Schedule.
    – yegor256
    Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 18:33
  • Yegor - A re-baseline isn't required after each approved change. Only updates and adjustments to the cost, schedule, scope. Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 21:13

10 Answers 10


Scope Change is an official decision made by the project manager and the client to change a feature X to expand or reduce it's functionality. Generally, scope change involves making adjustments to the cost, budget, other features, or the timeline.

On the other hand, Scope Creep is generally referred to as the phenomenon where the original project scope to build a product with feature X, Y, and Z slowly grows outside of the scope originally defined in the statement of work.

Scope creep refers to scope change which happens slowly and unofficially, without changing due dates or otherwise making adjustments to the budget.

A good analogy is when a frog is placed in water that slowly heats up to a boiling point. The changes are so small that a problem isn't noticed right away, until suddenly, the team finds itself in hot water.

An example of scope creep in a construction project could be last minute changes to add more costly trimmings, better paint, more expensive tiles, or other changes in the types of materials in areas where the materials weren't well defined in the scope document.

An example of a scope change would be when the client decides to not only redo the master bedroom in the house but then also decides to obtain an estimate on redoing the bathroom as well.

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    I would not have put it any better than jmort253. Basically one is controlled and done the right way around, the other is uncontrolled and affects the project in devious ways (ostrich syndrome - head in sand, affects planning despite someone wanting to ignore that fact, changes actual risks but they are not revised, renders what might have been solid foundations shaky).
    – asoundmove
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 21:57
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    I like the answer, but I wanted to note the fallacy of the boiled frog analogy--at least as understood by most people. That said, jmort probably has it dead on it terms of the actual biology: even with slowing creeping scope, at some point folks should realize it's too hot and jump out of the pot; scope creep can only boil a project if the PM is too lobotomized to realize what's happening to it. :)
    – Adam Wuerl
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 13:40
  • @Adam - Interesting article. It's good to dispel the myth for the frogs' sake. I wonder how many were actually tossed into a pot of boiling water by people not realizing how much damage that actually does to the frog...
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 22:17
  • What if the project manager accepts (not formally) or a team member performs an unapproved feature. Is that Scope Creep or Gold Plating? Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 16:12
  • To my previous comment, I meant if the unapproved change was requested then it is considered Scope Creep (SC), and if not, Gold Plating (GP), am I rignt? But, what if doing more that expected then needs to be reverted, because it causes discomfort to stakeholders. The re-work to be done is SC or GP still? Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 17:08

Scope creep is always upwards (at least in my experience). It lacks the proper planning, costing, and/or approval processes. It usually happens bit by bit as various actors decide to to a little bit more. Sources of scope creep include:

  • an unclear understanding of the project scope.
  • adding features because they are deemed useful, interesting and/or low cost.
  • adding unplanned necessary features (missed scope).
  • idle hands adding a feature to fill in time.

Scope change can be either upwards or downwards. Scope can be removed, or added as required. Proper scope change should involve planning, costing, and approval. Scope change can induce scope creep if the new scope is not properly communicated.

Projects may provide some time to handle missed requirements. This contingency budget can result in scope creep if it is not well managed. Without a clear process for allocation of the contingency, it will be difficult to tell whether the features are scope creep or scope change. Features which do not resolve a missing feature preventing meeting the scope, are likely scope creep.


I second Jmort EXCEPT to qualify "original" in the definition of scope creep. Scope creep is an unapproved change to the original statement of work plus approved changes. That is very important.

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    Makes sense. I had to reread this a few times to understand what you were saying. I agree. Also, should this be a comment and not an answer? Just asking because this seems right on the line...
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 23:38
  • Is there a line? I do not know. If there is a rule, I will comply here on out. Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 1:18
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    I'd suggest adding a bit more detail so your answer stands on it's own. Your answer is meaningless to someone who hasn't read my answer. Typically, a "follow-up" message would be a comment on the answer/question it's referencing. However, with more detail, your answer would stand on its own and may actually become the accepted answer. :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 1:45

Scope creep as others have said is unmanaged scope change - yes always increased scope. I think the challenge is not so much that people don't understand the concept, it's they don't recognize when they open the door to creep. The minute you say 'yes' to a change, no matter how small you have given permission for every other idea to be added. The best way to avoid scope change is to always make the effort to assess the impact of requests. Some you'll add because there is little or no impact. Even then, complete the paperwork for the scope change.

  • I think that's good advice on not saying "Yes". It's like inviting a vampire into your home, once they're inside, they can just keep coming back for more again and again.
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 22:13
  • Perry - actually the question was prompted by finding far too many PM's that don't understand the difference. Some (many) actually believe that ANY change (approved or otherwise) is creep (I've even seen consultants and trainers that believe this). They're of the opinion that once scope is defined at the start of the project is should never be changed. BTW - thanks for highlighting the need to assess the impacts. Commented Apr 19, 2011 at 16:12
  • No wonder so many projects fail :) Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 1:31

Scope creep is unmanaged increase in scope: http://cwd.dhemery.com/2003/04/banish_the_scope_creep/


-- scope change -> what you were supposed to deliver has changed/increased/decreased. your timelines/budget are usually changed (amicably) to factor this.

-- scope creep -> what you were supposed to delivered has not changed but you are sweating to deliver it in time/budget because -you underestimated the complexity of the problem,design was faulty,design was good but implementation was bad,too many bugs,bad risk analysis etc. Usually it indicates that you did not estimate the delivery's complexity well and you now find staring at an inferno rather than a camp fire.. your timelines/budget is not changed amicably when this happens :)

hope this helps


Scope creep is the customer trying to get more out of the deal by trying to introduce unapproved changes in the original specification, especially where the spec is unclear. As the customer then discuss these points with people whose work is to implement the project and not negociating the contract, it's very likely to work.


Scope creep is nothing more than unmanaged change to the scope.


Scope creep is the unexpected growth of user expectations and business requirements for an information system as the project progresses. The schedule and budget can be adversely affected by such changes.

Project creep is the uncontrolled addition of technical features to a system under development without regard to schedule or budget.


Scope creep is a distraction from a goal:

A project manager must define the scope of the work, break it into manageable pieces, verify and control what work is being done, and make sure that the work being done is essential to the project. One of the biggest causes of Lee’s defeat was the southern cavalry soldiers' failure to do their most critical job: collect intelligence about the enemy. A week before the battle, Lee allowed his cavalry commander, General J.E.B. Stuart, to go on an ill-planned mission that crippled Lee’s ability to gather information about the Union army. They wasted valuable time capturing supplies instead of focusing solely on their primary mission of scouting. As a result of this "scope creep," Lee’s cavalry failed to play the role for which it was most needed. Lee went into battle knowing very little about the strength of his opponent and made key decisions with inadequate knowledge.

Scope change is a reuse of an achievement:

At the time, landing on the moon might have seemed achievable, but JFK had a lot going in his favor. He knew the moonshot was achievable because NASA had done a huge amount of validation down to the finest level of detail. He also had the ability to devote 5% of the GDP of the largest economy on Earth to the project. If your plan hasn’t been validated with at least one solution you’ll have no way to estimate the scope of work and resources necessary to complete it. We call that "landing" a plan, taking it from an abstract plan in the clouds to something that is firmly grounded in the details.


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