Suffering from the Scope Creep? Here Are 4 Ways to Overcome It

Do you ever look back at your original project proposal wondering what the hell happened?

You started with a clear plan, set expectations, and a delivery roadmap. But right now you seem to be doing more work than you do for the biggest accounts. And that’s without getting paid an extra dime... Crazy, huh?

Unfortunately, that’s what happens when scope creep enters the picture. Suddenly, a well-planned project begins to include tasks and responsibilities you’d typically charge big money for.

And you find yourself afraid to say anything not to lose the client... …while losing the money instead. Lucky for you, that’s what I’m going to help you with today.

In this post, I’ll show you 4 ways to overcome the scope creep without losing the client in the process.

Ready? Let’s get to it then…

#1. Develop and Send the Client Your Terms of Service

Let’s face it; you should have both documents ready even before you took on the first client. But we both know how it is at the start.

Hundreds of other things scream for your attention and developing terms of services gets pushed on a side.

After all, you know how you’re going to deliver the service so why bother with formalizing it, right?

But then, months later you find yourself struggling to manage clients’ requests and with no footing to base your arguments on.

Luckily, nothing’s lost.

You can still (and should) develop a Terms of Service (TOS) document, and send it to clients.

A solid terms of service document will help overcome scope creep in three ways:

  • It will formalize your relationships with clients.
  • It will also offer the foundation for discussing future changes and new strategies.
  • And it will reduce assumptions. With TOS clearly defined, clients will have fewer opportunities to make assumptions about what’s included in the service.

And so, every time a project begins to exceed what’s agreed, use the document to remind your clients about the limits of the service you provide.

Kathleen Smith from the Content Canvas uses Scope of Work and Terms of Service documents to get out of “creepy project” situations.

She explains:

_“When a project starts to look creepy, we remind our clients about the SOW parameters. We offer them options on what's possible — should they want to extend the scope of their project. Nearly 99 percent of the time, clients who have seen the “hourly rate for project extension” clause in our SOWs are great about sticking to the agreed-upon scope. 

“_ Matt Woodward features a Terms of Business page on his agency’s website, detailing how they’re going to deliver the service to clients.

#2. Develop a Formal Change Management Process

Look: The scope of work changes will happen. They’re inevitable. A customer might decide to shift the direction, decide to go after a new market, or simply come up with a killer idea. And in spite of your terms of service, you will have to adapt the project to those new requirements. But instead of just agreeing to them, you should introduce a formal process for changing the scope of work. Here’s how having a formal change management process in place helps prevent the scope creep:

  • It clearly signals that you don’t allow clients to mold projects to their liking. Instead, it tells that you will insist on sticking to the defined scope unless a change is absolutely necessary.
  • It describes the process for timelines and budget review in a case of new changes.
  • It forces clients to be more conscious about revisions they want to introduce to the project.

The change management process should, at minimum, include the following processes:

  • Particularly, define a deadline for amending or changing specific stages of the project. Otherwise, you might have to scrap other work to implement a change to something you’ve completed at an early stage.
  • Review of the requested change. The process should help establish whether a particular change or addition is necessary to complete the project’s main objective.
  • Acknowledgment and quoting. Even a small change carries financial consequences. Before agreeing to implement it, you should discuss the budget required with the client.
  • Client sign off on the new timeline and budget. The process should also define steps needed for a client to agree with the change.

#3. Start Using a Project Management System

Project management tools like Basecamp, Asana, and many others help to overcome scope creep in many ways:

  • Documenting the project and all communications relevant to it helps to identify the scope creep early. Having every email, document, and message in one place helps spot out of scope requests easier, and before they escalate to a full-blown project overhaul.
  • Having all project communication happening “in public”, with all stakeholders having access to every message, reduces the possibility for clients making requests by targeting emotions. It also prevents employees from agreeing to those on a whim.
  • Project management instills a process to follow for every request and task. Having an employee to clear any additional tasks with their manager before taking action, prevents smaller tasks to creep up in the scope of work.

All in all, using a project management software forces everyone to act more professionally and follow a pre-determined process. NeoMam Studio uses a full-blown project management tool to keep every project under control.

As the company’s head of operations, Amy Ashton, recalls:

“At the very beginning we got by with a few emails and our good old paper notebooks. As our team expanded to include a mix of content producers, designers, ideation managers and media relation managers, our project management system evolved to a disorganised spreadsheet combined with ‘an email here somewhere’ to keep a track of the projects. As you can imagine, things started to slip through the net. We lost information and our clients quite rightly grew frustrated.”

#4. Build Quoting for the Extra Work into Your Agency’s Processes

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Since you’re doing something extra, you should be paid for it. And yet, unless you include quoting and invoicing for any extra work in your company’s processes, small changes can easily slip up unnoticed (and unpaid).

Then, in time, eventually, bigger additions end up in the scope of work until you realize you’re doing half of the work for free. Therefore, build quoting for any additional work into your process.

Train your staff always to respond to any requests for additional work with: “Sure, let me send you a quote for that.”

That’s what Thornley Fallis, an Ottawa-based agency, do. As Sherilynne Starkie, the company’s president, mentions in this post, published on the Maverlink blog:

“Once our client signs off on a detailed statement of work, we can easily point to the document and say, “I'm afraid this is out of scope.”  We’ll offer them a solution that benefits us both: “Would you like me to prepare a quote for this extra work?””

Note: This method works particularly well for smaller revisions. For bigger changes, you might have to introduce a more detailed process, like the one we discussed earlier on.

What About You?

Are you experiencing scope creep often? How do you handle additional requests and scope changes from clients? Let us know in the comments.