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Outsourced Software Development and Scope Creep: Three Ways to Manage Teams at the Code Level

Tackling scope creep with an outsourced development team requires effective proactive management strategies and contributions from all stakeholders.

Table of Contents

  • Why does scope creep happen in software development?
  • Why is it important to address scope creep?
  • How to tackle scope creep at the code level with your outsourced development team
  • In conclusion

Outsourcing software development has become common for businesses seeking cost-effective solutions and access to specialized expertise. However, one significant challenge that often arises during the outsourcing process is scope creep. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), over 50% of software projects have experienced scope creep. Scope creep refers to the uncontrolled expansion of a project's original objectives, leading to increased costs, delays, and potential conflicts between the client and the outsourcing partner. It's crucial to implement strategies that mitigate and prevent scope creep to ensure the success of your outsourced development teams.

Why does scope creep happen in software development?

Scope creep results from changing project requirements, insufficient initial planning, and a lack of good communication. Initially, stakeholders may need help understanding their requirements or misjudge project challenges. As the project advances, shifting market dynamics or stakeholder expectations may result in a desire for previously unplanned features. Inadequate monitoring and failure to routinely assess project progress allow deviations to go undetected, eventually leading to uncontrolled project extension and the issues associated with scope creep.

Several factors contribute to scope creep:

  • Poor understanding of requirements and standards: Stakeholders will likely introduce new requirements later if the project's requirements and coding standards are not thoroughly defined and agreed upon initially.
  • Lack of communication: Poor communication among team members and stakeholders can result in misunderstandings about project goals and requirements, leading to unauthorized changes.
  • Cultural and work style differences: Advances in technology during the development process may tempt stakeholders to incorporate new features or technologies that were not initially considered.
  • Pressure to deliver quickly: Project teams or stakeholders may feel pressured to deliver the product quickly, leading to shortcuts or adding features without proper consideration.
  • Absence of clear oversight into development activities: With proper change control processes in place, it becomes easier to manage and document changes, making it easier for scope creep to occur.

Why is it important to address scope creep?

Managing scope creep is essential in software development for several reasons, including:

  • Timeline management and efficiency: Uncontrolled changes can disrupt the project timeline and stifle developer productivity. By managing scope creep, managers can better estimate project completion dates, set realistic expectations, and ensure timely delivery without interrupting developers as they deliver. 
  • Quality Assurance: Rushed changes or unplanned additions may compromise the overall quality of the project. Effective scope management ensures that changes are thoroughly analyzed, tested, and implemented, maintaining the project's quality standards.
  • Stakeholder Expectations: Unmanaged scope creep can lead to dissatisfaction among stakeholders. When the final product aligns differently from the initially agreed-upon scope, it can result in disappointment and damage relationships with clients, users, or other stakeholders.
  • Risk Mitigation: Uncontrolled changes increase the risk of project failure. By actively managing scope creep, project managers can identify potential risks early on, assess their impact, and implement mitigation strategies.
  • Team Morale: Uncontrolled changes can lead to frustration and burnout among team members. Managing scope creep helps maintain order and purpose, keeping team morale high and fostering a positive working environment.

Projects are successful when they meet their objectives within the defined scope, time, and budget constraints while allowing developers to remain productive. Managing scope creep is crucial for achieving project success and delivering a product that meets stakeholders' expectations.

How to tackle scope creep at the code level with your outsourced development team

Tackling scope creep with an outsourced development team requires effective proactive management strategies and contributions from all stakeholders. Here are some tips to help manage scope creep in an outsourced development scenario:

#1 Establish code quality standards

Establishing code quality standards is critical for reducing scope creep. It ensures that internal and outsourced teams follow a universal standard and best coding practices across programming languages and frameworks. Implementing rigorous code standards enables developers to write high-quality code from the start, decreasing the possibility of errors, miscommunication, and extensive rework. Code stays maintainable, and technical debt remains under control, allowing for easy future adaptability of the code by any party.

This, in turn, helps to keep project timetables and budgets on track, preventing the project from extending beyond its original scope due to unexpected challenges or delays caused by poor code quality. Furthermore, code quality standards allow greater communication among team members and limit the chance of misunderstandings or misinterpretations of requirements, enabling a more streamlined and efficient development process that is less prone to scope creep. 

#2 Use an integrated static analysis tool

Using a static analysis tool prevents scope creep with outsourced development teams since it enforces and maintains high code quality levels. These tools examine code without executing it, discovering potential problems, vulnerabilities, and departures from recognized coding standards. Static analysis tools automatically detect mistakes and inconsistencies in the codebase, lowering the likelihood of bugs returning to later stages.

Preventing scope creep is linked to maintaining a robust and error-free codebase. Static analysis tools proactively reduce risks by detecting issues (bugs, security vulnerabilities, performance issues, etc.) in code before deployment, boosting confidence that outsourced code is high quality and maintains the integrity of the codebase. Proactively addressing issues helps guarantee that the development team stays focused on the original project scope, preventing unwanted expansions.

The right static analysis tool should protect the sensitive information outsourced teams can access through seamless integration into the DevOps platform (GitHub, GitLab, Bitbucket, Azure DevOps, etc.) to control who can access and modify code analysis results. Furthermore, the tool should accommodate internal standards and allow for rules to be applied during analysis through quality profiles for each language and quality gates for stopping issue-ridden code from being committed. 

Static analysis tools encourage team collaboration by offering a consistent and objective code quality assessment. This unified knowledge reduces misunderstandings and arguments over the project's needs, resulting in a more efficient development process. Static analysis tools help prevent scope creep and maintain project integrity by proactively identifying and resolving code-related issues.

#3 Gain insights through reporting and regular reviews

Reporting helps to reduce scope creep by enabling transparency, accountability, and early discovery of departures from the project's initial scope. Regular and detailed progress reports keep stakeholders, including internal and outsourced development teams, updated about the project's status. These reports usually include updates on milestones met, work performed, and any obstacles encountered.

A detailed overview of project progress, audit trails, and code quality metrics allows stakeholders to spot potential difficulties or delays early on. This early detection allows for proactive measures to be taken to resolve issues before they worsen, helping keep the project within its intended scope. Furthermore, comprehensive reporting enables good communication between the customer and the development team, ensuring that all sides have a common knowledge of project objectives.

Reporting promotes accountability by documenting issues, resolutions, and other essential decisions in the development process. This documentation acts as a reference point, allowing for easy tracking of the project's progress and assessing the impact of any changes on schedules and budgets. When stakeholders are informed about the project's status and any changes made, it is easier to manage expectations and prevent unwanted scope creep.

In conclusion

Successfully navigating the complexities of outsourced software development requires a proactive approach to prevent scope creep. Organizations can minimize the risks associated with scope creep by defining clear standards, creating comprehensive project scopes, establishing effective communication channels, implementing integrated tools, and monitoring progress regularly. A collaborative and transparent partnership between the client and the outsourcing partner is essential for achieving the desired project outcomes while maintaining cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

Keep your scope creep and your outsourced development teams in check with Sonar.