When I first started managing software projects, I used to wonder, "Who is this Scope Creep guy everybody is always talking about? And how does he end up on every one of my projects?" Eventually, I discovered who the Scope Creep is, and how to banish him from my projects.

Before my discovery, I had a fuzzy idea of what scope creep is. Scope creep is when the project's requirements slowly grow and grow, until the product bloats, the schedule slips, the project team sags, and the customers wonder whether we'll ever deliver anything. This Scope Creep guy is a bad dude.

My first inkling of the real identity of the Scope Creep started when I took a close look at the words scope creep. If you take the words literally, they say that scope is creeping. Scope is creeping? What on earth does that mean? Bugs creep. In rush hour, traffic creeps. But scope? Scope is an inanimate thing. It can't creep. Not all by itself, it can't. If scope is creeping, it's because someone is creeping it.

So who is creeping the scope? Who is growing the requirements? Must be the customers, right? After all, they're the ones asking for more and more stuff. Or maybe it's the developers thinking up fascinating features that they're sure the customers will love. Maybe they're the ones who are creeping the scope.

No, that's not enough to cause scope creep. It's possible for customers to request dozens of new features, and for developers to imagine scores of bells and whistles, without scope creeping in the slightest. Scope isn't the set of stuff customers have asked for. Scope is the set of stuff we've agreed to deliver. If scope is creeping, someone's agreements are creeping. And if my agreements are creeping, that means I'm the Scope Creep.

Scope creep isn't merely about changes in scope. Scope creep is about how we manage changes in scope. Even if we make many changes, and add many features to the scope on which we have agreed, as long as we change our agreements consciously, mindful of our choices and of the consequences, scope doesn't creep. It simply changes.

These days, when I hear the words scope creep, that's my reminder to attend to my agreements, and to how I manage changes to my agreements. Managing agreements banishes the Scope Creep.

How do you manage your agreements?