You got a client. Great!
Little did you know, emails, texts, voicemails, and slacks at ungodly hours await you.
Now, it's 11 pm and you receive an email with the subject: "Tiny change request to our already established logo that is also launching tomorrow".
The answer to whether or not you immediately take action is clear: YOU DON'T. For any doubts in this decision, be prepared to take notes. You might be about to experience a nightmare too real to wake up from known as scope creep: the art of expanding the original scope of a project beyond previously established requirements.
Soon after, profit decreases, stress increases and you will hear yourself asking "Juliana, how do we stop the clients from driving me and my team nuts?"
Well, glad you asked. Maintaining healthy boundaries is necessary for your project team's sanity. This is your sign to pay attention to what you might be doing wrong and how to do better in the future.
What is scope creep?
Scope creep refers to the gradual expansion of a project's goals, deliverables, or requirements beyond its original scope. It often occurs when additional features or tasks are added without proper assessment or approval, leading to delays, budget overruns, and decreased project success.
Think of it as the unruly child of project management. They can't resist demanding more toys! Wish lists are ever-expanding! You go to one store then to the other, shifting priorities every second! "Just one more thing," they say as they throw a tantrum. You hear crying and pleading. Before you know it, the project is a chaotic mess of scope-induced madness.
Scope creep is the villain that leaves project managers pulling their hair out with frustration and despair. It is the uninvited guest that sneaks into a wedding party, brings in additional guests and eats up all the food!
How do you solve this?
Or what we, ScaleTimers, call scope creep prevention!
Now, hold on. Let's first review common scope changes you might encounter.
Examples of scope changes
A scope change is any change or alteration made to the original project scope.
While you might think,"Okay, but tiny little changes have tiny impact." Wrong!
They actually have catastrophic consequences when added up.
Jackie works with a client on a web development project to create an e-commerce website. The scope of the project includes basic product listing, cart functionality, and payment integration. It's halfway through the process and your delightful client has a change of offer: they want a live chat feature for customer service.
"Oh! It's okay! It's a minor additional feature?" No. Think about it. This means integrating a real-time messaging system, setting up user authentication, and so much more!!!
This seemingly unimpactful new requirement is actually the epitome of disaster. By agreeing, you would have increased development time, effort, and cost!
It is simply not feasible within the project's scope, resources, and timeline.
Small changes can have hidden complexities and implications that make them infeasible within the project's constraints. It is always important to evaluate this and the impact of proposed changes for realistic expectations for efficient project completion.
Other possible changes that a client might demand and that the team must analyze could include:
- Change of avatar - An avatar is the consumer you are targeting. When taking into account a specific audience, change could also mean changing the language. Therefore:
- Messaging has to change
- Copy needs to be re-written
- Segmentation has to be recreated
- Change of branding - For an entire branding system, one thing changes another and another and another. That is a logo change can lead to a font or iconography change.
- Change of advertising spend bracket - The larger your advertising spend bracket, the more you need to do to spend it. If you, for instance, increase the budget, then you need more time and thus a different scope.
- Change of value proposition - A value proposition adds value to your product. You could be offering the same product but when you change it's value proposition, then the entire scope changes. Selling a book for studying medicine has a different scope than a book for simple escapism.
"So many things to keep track on...AHHH!!!"
OH, yes! Before you end up booking multiple appointments at your closest spa for a much needed scalp massage, let me remind you that there are ways you can prevent scope creep from happening.
What Are Common Engagement Failures?
The best way to prevent changes in your project's scope is, of course, learning the root common causes of scope creep and understanding other's mistakes.
Please, please, please beware of the following two most common engagement failures that you should most definitely avoid:
- #1: Not setting up good communication boundaries and expectations...
...Seems obvious? Yup. But it happens
The consequences for this are not fun and might end up with horrible side effects such as missed deadlines, blurred expectations, budget overruns, and the levels of failure truly only escalate.
- #2: Has your client ever...
- Dragged ass on review of the project deliverables making it impossible to deliver results on time?
- Called you at all hours of the day like lunch time doesn't exist?
- Requested a million changes making you feel like your whole retainer or project has been hijacked?
- Expected things not in your agreement?
When this happens, there is morer project timeline chaos, resource drain, quality compromises and definitely strained relationships. Frustration does get in the way and impacts overall collaboration.
After experiencing cost overruns from a tendency to please your clients, you wonder...is all of this worth it? How do I stop being a client-pleaser? Why would I not quit working with clients?
But what if instead, you ask yourself...how do I find the perfect balance?
How do I prevent scope creep in my projects?
Preventing scope creep is as simple as sitting your butt down on a Sunday to set your goals for the upcoming week. In project management, this is known as a detailed plan with clear objectives, specific deliverables, and time frame to ensure project success. It involves regularly communicating with project stakeholders to manage expectations and address any changes or additions to the project scope promptly.
Agency owners that have used scope creep protection have experienced relief of symptoms within TWO WEEKS.
Don't be scared to initiate a conversation on how to protect a project plan! Success is directly correlated to the level of difficult conversations you are willing to have and decisions you are willing to make.
Pushing for boundaries means no more extra work and respect as a team member!
If this was dating, you would probably be inclined to ghost every client with no respect for your scope of work: "Stop! I am not interested." As tempting as this could be and, as opposed to dating advice, we recommend to first check the following sanity checks:
- Clarity check: Do the clients have any clue what they're asking?
- Strategic check: Is this a strategic change? (who, what, where how)
- Timeline check: Oh, they wanted this yesterday?...of course
- Scope check: Is this the time, units (LPs, funnels, campaigns, ads tech), resources agreed upon?
- Budget check: Does it exceed your overall project budget?
Asking yourself these questions can lead to more effective ways for managing an entire project and building healthier relationships with clients. That way, you understand them and they understand you better.
What are possible change management processes?
Multiple cases may present where you will find yourself dealing with a client adding a whole lot of challenges that hold you back from achieving project milestones.
If you are in a scope creep situation, these are some examples and recommendations that will hopefully bring relief to you, your hair stylist, and inbox.
Dealing with Retainers
Pushback from clients may occur when clients fail to see beyond their own needs. They demand unlimited hours and claim your responsibility for the project requirements without consideration for boundaries.
"I don't know what you mean about no more hours.You manage my website. It is broken. Fix it now please."
In reality, the project's success lies not solely in their needs, but in the delicate dance of collaboration and compromise. So how do you tell clients to stay within the project scope and work together for a better end product?
First off, the way you communicate to your client is crucial. Instead of talking about hours, respond with results.
"In order to make sure your website is running at its optimal performance on a monthly basis, we need to allocate the right time for x."
"Right now we have to prioritize website performance for these other outcomes."
Even when you are aware of the data behind how many hours you have left, this will help clients continue to feel like partners.
Likewise, cost out your retainers because algorithms, stakeholders, and everything else changes. For good contract hygiene, ask yourself: what's in your actual retainer? Then, train your account manager on the cost out. Do this annually or especially when there are significant events.
Constant Scope Changes of a Project
Constant changes to the original plan are exhausting as they lead to additional work and affect the overall project.
A strategic way for preventing this includes:
- Establishing a solid project objectives & scope
- Implementing a change control process
- Regularly reviewing progress & maintaining open communication
- Educating stakeholders
In addition, onboarding a business manager might be another tool for overseeing project management, facilitating communication and maintaining overall control.
Their knowledge of the company's strategies objectives means they can monitor scope changes and assess their impact on the project goals, resource allocation and budget.
James's construction company is working on a large-scale infrastructure project that involves complex architectural designs, multiple construction phases, and multiple stakeholders involved in decision-making.
Without onboarding the business manager, the client is free to make scope changes that are being directly communicated to the construction team. This is confusing!! And guess what? It is causing delays.
On the other hand, if the company brings in an experienced business manager then the project is more likely to stay within the timeline and budget. Success!!
Communication Gaps with Clients and Larger Companies
Large companies are the definition of organizational changes, restructuring, and stakeholders changes.
What do you do then?
One possibility is creating an Annual Master's agreement with the actual company to protect yourself from scope creep in the best way.
This will allow for you to have a clearly defined scope statement with no room for ambiguity or unexpected requests. Similarly, there would be a defined change control process for analyzing how any change in scope will be handled.
Amanda's marketing agency uses an annual master's agreement to collaborate on various marketing projects. Congrats, Amanda! You are able to create a clear outline in the beginning of a project where any change will require a designated change request form.
This is a strong foundation for collaboration and both parties are able to contribute to successful marketing projects.
Future Engagement vs. Delight
Now, let's look at the things that are mostly asked for that are out of scope. For instance, if user or video content is not mentioned at the beginning of the project but it has somehow become a trend among all clients. What do you do with that?
In other words..."Juliana, can I include the things most asked for that are out of the scope in a future engagement or should I just consider it a delight?"
A delight is a reactive response that you do for the client. Usually, agencies fail to cost out delights and then these become a free fall. They create behavior that is ultimately very unprofitable.
Instead, however, you must be productive: "this is what we are going to give away because we can afford it and it's between our margins." For instance, establishing a procedure of three things you can give away as a delight on a monthly or quarterly basis from the get-go. Now, you have cost out.
This allows for account managers and production teams to be informed and in alignment with the correct expectations to avoid profit as well as production loss. They know what they can and can't give away.
What are 5 positives results of being productive?
- It makes sure projects stay profitable
- Clients stay within scope (no project scope creep!)
- It educates the team
- Creates consistency
- Nice relationship with the clients
Revisions and Feedback
Claire is discussing design concepts for a project with their client. Since the beginning of the project, they keeps going back and forth on significant changes. The project work keeps getting more and more expensive!
"Juliana, HELP!! How do I protect my project budget?"
Give clients a "container"...
Let's say you usually budget for 7 revisions total. Great.
Here's the thing, though. You need to tell your client they have 5 revisions. This way, you have 2 extra.
If you give clients a container, chances are they will try to fit themselves into that container.
Now, let's focus on two possibles what-ifs...
What if the client is too busy?
This situation requires getting another key stakeholder to be the new point person. They will be responsible for revisions and has decision making power.
What if the stakeholder does not know how to give feedback?... Educate them!
Clients are not always educated enough to do revisions. Therefore, as part of the onboarding or onboarding sequences, it could be important to include how to educate clients on how to do revisions. Especially, when not dealing with the marketing or creative director who are actually aware of how to give feedback.
"When giving feedback, these are the things I would love for you to give feedback on."
- Give them prompting questions
- Ask them to rate what they see
- Simply get them in the conversation of engaging... they might just don't know how to have the conversation.
Otherwise, clients might not give you feedback on time, which increases production and ends up as scope creep since the opportunity cost to include other projects increases. You are now losing money!
Now that you know all of this information, let's not allow scope creep from becoming any more famous.
Preventing scope creep is crucial for project success, resource optimization, timely delivery, stakeholder satisfaction, and maintaining a positive reputation. Managing scope effectively allows for high-quality results and strong relationships between clients and stakeholders.
Let's recap some proactive scope management practices for staying on track and experience relief symptoms in about two weeks:
- Create a behavior with your clients and team with good communication and consistency.
- Make sure the project stays profitable, the client stays within the project scope, and educate your team.
- Prevent scope creep with retainers by "costing out" the work as actual projects clear in order for the scope to be clear for all team members.
- If you work with large companies, consider a master agreement to protect yourself from scope creep.
- When it comes to revisions, tighten up expectations and educate clients on how to give them.
- Educate clients on how to give feedback and engage them in the conversation for better communication.
- Focus on the language used with clients and speak in terms of results.
- Creating boundaries!! Be clear with scope and milestones, while also aligning client goals with yours.
Don't know where to start or how start to organize your clients for smoothness in projects? That's what we are here for. Unlock your project's potential with our Project Management for Agencies checklist. Goodbye, scope creep, and hello, lunch time!