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5 Tips for Outsourcing Technical Documentation: Managing Scope Creep

What is scope creep?

All technical writing projects for a new product have a defined set of deliverables and a delivery date to support the success of the product launch. The steps and tasks needed to meet the deliverable expectations are considered the project scope. Professional technical writers build detailed project schedules to ensure that the entire scope of activities is completed by the delivery date. However, any variation in the project scope can affect the delivery date and, ultimately, the success of the product launch. 

Scope creep (also called requirement creep and feature creep) is the term used to refer to any change in a project's original purpose, timeline, and budget after the project work has started. The bane of project managers and project teams, scope creep can sabotage a technical writing project—unless it is identified and controlled by the project manager.


How does scope creep happen?

Changes in scope can be caused by small, seemingly insignificant modifications that collectively add time to the schedule. In some cases, one modification ends up demanding much more work than estimated.

Generally, scope creep results from:

  • Poor planning
  • Unclear project requirements at the start of the project
  • Lack of a formal change management program
  • Thinking that one little change won’t matter
  • Lack of communication between a company and their outsourced technical writing partner

How do you control scope creep?

Having clear goals for product documentation can help you control scope creep. Before the start of a project, you should:

  • Develop a product vision
  • Identify goals and objectives for the product
  • Define the project's constraints (schedule, resources, budget, and risks)

These tips are especially important if you are outsourcing your technical documentation. The product vision helps to clarify the project scope, while the goals and objectives help your outsourced writing partner understand the product and its expected benefits. Specifying your schedule and budget constraints up front allows the writing team to plan accordingly and avoid unexpected changes that might lead to scope creep.

Here are a few basic tips to help your team manage scope creep:

5 Tips for Managing Scope Creep

  1. Determine the product vision. To end well, start well. Decide what you want to achieve from the project. Why is the project a priority? Is the plan too ambitious considering the project's constraints?
  2. Understand the project requirements. Identify the deliverables and their function. Balance the project’s complexity against the timeline and available resources for the work to make sure the project is achievable. Identify major and minor milestones within the project and include them in the timeline. Whenever scope changes are needed, review the milestones to make sure the project stays on schedule.
  3. Anticipate some scope creep. Create a plan for managing changes that are outside the initial project scope. Define how the changes will be made and by whom. Empower a limited number of people to request scope changes. Don’t forget to include budgeting in your planning process.
  4. Set up a documentation process—and follow it. A Documentation Plan is useful for communicating project expectations and decisions, including processes. It is tempting to eliminate steps to adjust for scope creep and meet the deadline, but adhering to the set documentation process ensures that all company publications have a consistent quality, look, and feel.
  5. Know when to let go. Only request scope changes when they are necessary. Changes to critical path elements (pieces that delay other work if not completed on time) must be made sparingly and scrutinized carefully. Ultimately, letting go of some scope changes will help keep the project on schedule.

Further mitigate scope creep with a Statement of Work

When outsourcing your technical writing projects, Novatek recommends using a formal Statement of Work to establish project details and serve as the official contract between you and your outsourced technical writing vendor. A properly written contract can help you anticipate and plan for possible scope creep.

For more help keeping your project on schedule and on budget...

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Project Task Schedule



Topics: controlling cost, Business productivity