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Scope Creep

Project managers are always fighting scope creep due to cost, but there are some other issues to consider.  Scope creeps impact on safety and how cutting scope can actually raise costs.

Scope Creep & Safety

The impact of scope creep on budget and schedule is often discussed, to the point that there is a tongue in cheek saying:  Scope, Schedule Cost – you can control any two”.   And I have to agree that there is a lot of truth in that saying, but…scope creep also has an impact on safety which will impact a project even worse.

I always like to say Safely, Correctly, On Time and On Budget in that order are the keys.  If you do not work a project safely it will not be completed on time or on budget as safety holds and stand downs will ruin a schedule and budget fast.  If you do not do the work correctly the first time, the re-work will also kill a schedule and a budget fast.

From this perspective, scope creep will impact safety in several ways.  First by causing a sense of hurry which can lead to losing your safety perspective by not keeping your  eyes on the job, eyes on the task, and not avoiding line of fire situations.  And yes injuries are serious and the impact on the personnel involved can be tragic, but an on the job accident will also cause issues with the overall project.

A second way is in bypassing safety and operability reviews.  Early in the project effort is often (and should be) put in evaluating constructability and operability issues, with the goal of improving the schedule and the safety of the project. Scope changes (scope creep) can bypass these evaluations, and changes can be made that impact the constructability and operability.  This can lead to changes that impact how safely a project can be built, and worse the ability to operate a project safely.

Most projects have a formal system for approving scope changes with their impact on schedule and budget.  I propose that the safety impact should also be evaluated.

Cutting Scope can cost

We all “know” that scope creep will negatively impact the cost and schedule (scope grows, cost go up, schedule lengthens).  Interesting point, reducing the scope can also negatively impact the cost and schedule.  This usually occurs during detail design, but it can occur anytime during a project.

Even small changes can have an impact.  One of the first times I saw this was many years ago on a coal preparation plant in Canada, the client decided that one of the auxiliary process water pumps was not needed and asked us to delete it. We were well into detail design and starting to issue drawings to the field.  The first step was to prepare a change notice.  The change noticed indicated that deleting the pump would cost more than cost of the pump.

Deleting the pump would require updating one process flow diagram, three P&IDs, two general arrangements, two mechanical installation, two structural, three electrical, and four instrumentation drawings.  It would also require updating the equipment list, equipment specifications, vendor data sheets, and several other documents.

As several of these drawings were already issued for construction, a hold would be needed on some construction work.  The extra engineering and the construction hold would cause a couple days slip in the schedule. 

When the client got the change notice a meeting was scheduled (after some heated exchanges).  The result was to leave the pump on all the drawings, purchase it, but not install it.

Big changes can end up almost not worth the trouble. Another more recent experience involved a large milling project where a portion of the flotation circuit was deleted, but before that portion of the circuit was designed.  But the building design was already at 80% complete. The plans had been to install the flotation circuit in two stages, but build the entire building at the beginning.

The client decided to cut off 1/3 of the building along the long axis.  This required redesigning the whole structure to include foundations.  Because of the new building configuration all structural calculations had to be redone (it was in an active seismic zone); the structural and civil drawings all needed redoing, let alone the mechanical drawings.

The impact was a six week project slip, but there was a cost savings.  The client had anticipated a 30% cost reduction on the building, but the final numbers were closer to 10% savings.   These savings were only direct costs and did not include the time value of the six week slip on project economics.

While scope creep can be bad, removing scope can also be not good.  Oh, and the latest word is the client is considering putting the portion of the building back on.



MIke Albrecht, P.E.

o   40+ years’ experience in the mining industry with strong mineral processing experience in precious metals, copper, industrial minerals, coal, and phosphate

o   Operational experience in precious metals, coal, and phosphate plus in petrochemicals.

o   Extensive experience performing studies and determining feasibility in the US and international (United States, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Chile, China, India, Indonesia, and Greece).

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