4-Step Project Plan Framework to Eliminate Needless Scope Creep

Follow this 4-step project plan framework to build an adaptable document that will not only prevent unnecessary scope creep but also keep your stakeholders happy.

Read time: 7 minutes

Who this is for and why it matters

The role of project managers is expanding. Unfortunately, the expectations of maintaining deliverables on time and preventing scope creep are not as flexible.

This is where your overall project plan comes in and works as a dependable roadmap for teams and stakeholders to use efficiently throughout the project lifecycle. While most project plans have the best intentions of keeping everyone focused and informed, many more of these documents take too long to adjust before the inevitable scope creep sneaks in.

We know adjusting to project change isn't easy. A Project Management Institute survey found that 33% of scope creep is caused by changes to project objectives and 30% by undefined goals.

Create a project plan system that can adapt quickly

Of course, your project plan should be a well-defined document that includes the project scope, work breakdown structure (WBS), budget, timeline, resource plan, and details of how you'll mitigate any risks that come your way.

However, you must have a system to instantly respond and change to anything new or altered within the project's boundaries you set in your project plan. To help your project plan be more flexible, follow this 4-step system below to better pivot, manage expectations, and know whether something is in or out of scope.

4-step project plan to eliminate needless scope creep TLDR

Step 1: Define scope with 1-2 telling intake form questions

Your project plan must clearly define the overall project scope, and the first step is to use intake forms that outline every important detail you need—without all the extra fluff.

Efficiently set stakeholder expectations with a project intake form that ultimately answers your one or two most meaningful questions. We've seen examples of this with our team's intake forms. One simple question determines how we'll handle a request: Is this project's due date flexible?

It seems obvious, but focusing on this minor detail helps our project managers reinforce their project plan system, so they can better react and handle change.


Additionally, it helps if your intake forms can use conditional logic to handle more complex processes. Even if you need more questions answered about specific project requirements, templates, or guidelines for the deliverables, make sure it will give you exactly what you need to know to determine the scope.

Another question we frequently use on our internal request intake forms is: How does this connect to our organization's growth goals and what are your primary KPIs?

Stakeholder requests should not be a puzzle. Project managers can't waste their time deciphering these requests. It's a slippery slope because simple misinterpretations ultimately lead to scope creep, delays, and wasted resources—making your project plan ineffective.

Step 2: Test your change control system (can it actually shift?)

Your change control system should be built to actually handle changes, but can it? If you're unsure (even in the slightest), develop test scenarios to ensure changes can be identified, evaluated, decided upon, and implemented.

Remember, this is your baseline for the scope that was determined by all parties. If your stakeholders are unaware of the changes they're requesting—let alone the impact, whether positive or negative—you have a problem.

Testing will identify weaknesses and areas for improvement, so you can feel more confident that when actual changes occur, they'll be handled efficiently to maintain project integrity, timelines, and budgets.

This proactive approach minimizes risks, enhances adaptability, and supports stakeholder confidence in the project's management capabilities. Studies indicate that organizations that rigorously manage risk through change control and testing systems are 2.5 times more likely to finish their projects on schedule and within budget.

If you need help getting started, use this change control system test walkthrough to establish your core testing steps.

7-Step Change Control System Test Graphic

Step 3: Establish a flexible communication plan

Stakeholders' needs are diverse and more often than not, so too are the ways they communicate those needs. It's easy enough to have a communication plan, but to truly reduce preventable scope creep, it has to be flexible to adapt to changing project needs, stakeholder preferences, and unforeseen challenges.

Your communication plan should focus on one goal, whether you want to hear it or not: keeping stakeholders happy. A flexible communication plan creates a clearer path to fast feedback loops, so teams can be continuously proactive instead of reactive.

Nathan Atlas, a senior management leader who specializes in change management, explained that communication was always the priority and key factor at the core of his most successful projects.

Nathan Atlas LinkedIn Graphic

Clear communication will help you avoid scope creep, especially when you can identify the types of information that will be communicated, such as project updates, risks, milestones, changes, and decisions.

Your stakeholders likely don't react well to you ultimately saying "no." But transparent communication that shows why you're making specific decisions will better foster stakeholder engagement.

clickup cross functional project plan template

If you need help improving communication between stakeholders and teams, start with a cross-functional project plan template.

With a flexible and collaborative plan, you can better keep your stakeholders within the communication boundaries you've set or at least agreed upon.

Step 4: Give execs a bird's eye view into the project's progress

Project managers do many things and are responsible for even more than meets the eye. While they're everyone's favorite "babysitters," at the end of the day, it's about showing your boss—and their boss—how projects are moving and if they're within scope.

Execs need a view into your overall progress. They also want to know about any time lost, what's actually quantifiable, and where else your team could spend time with these hours of scope creep back.

Clear and visual access to projects will help execs from turning into the reason you're out of scope in the first place. Research shows that 58% of successful projects saw leadership making decisions within one hour. But if those decisions are delayed by up to five hours, only 18% of projects are successful.

Asking for faster feedback and approvals from execs might seem like a pipedream. But having all of your documentation and insights in a centralized location that's easily accessible, will only help you get those much-needed approvals faster.

Lay the foundation for project plan success

Avoiding scope creep is a never-ending challenge, but there are ways to prevent unnecessary delays and roadblocks. Use this four-step project plan framework to use direct intake forms, test your change control system, establish an effective communication plan, and give leadership a holistic view of your projects.

You might not have a ton of time to implement this process on your own, but our team of experts has been through it all and is happy to help.

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Join the weekly ClickUp Showcase AMA webinar to get all your project plan and productivity questions answered. This is a group setting event, so be as active as you want—without the awkward sales call.

Get started on your project plan today and don't hesitate to see how our team can help you out.

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