How to Manage Scope Creep in Your Digital Marketing Agency

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Managing scope creep is a key part of project management.

Look at you, plucky project manager. You’re on your way to your fourth and much-anticipated milestone — setting up the last few details of your project plan! Yes!

Put your dancing shoes on, ’cause you’re about to party after this successful closing.

But wait, what’s that? The phone. It’s ringing. And it’s your client.

Womp womp womp.

All they want is just a tiny change in the deliverables.

Ugh. You thought you were on the same page with them. But no. You’ve gotta take off the dancing shoes, and put on the shi$ kicker boots instead.

Now you’re worried the project will fail with a big, fat F.

Where will you get the additional funds?

How will you tell the contractors? Or adjust the timeline?

And will there be any other more changes in the future?

So many questions are running through your head. So much for the party after completing the project. Dreams. Crushed.

As a project manager, you’re expected to manage, and protect against, scope creep over the project schedule duration.

Scope creep management: Why you need it.

Scope creep management allows the entire team (and clients) to stay on track with project goals, protect everyone’s bandwidth from hidden agendas, maintain overall job breakdown structure, and balance resource allocation.

So, are you up to mitigating scope creep? Yes? Good. Let’s get your digital marketing agency streamlined and ready to take on anything — even those last minute client requests.

What is Project Scope Creep?

It’s not as pervy as it sounds. But scope creep is super annoying. Scope creep is that thing that happens when clients make those little requests throughout the project schedule, throwing off your carefully laid plans.

Scope creep issues drastically impact the project’s schedule, cost, or final deliverables. You can start out with a particular project and know precisely how long it will take to complete, what all the deliverables will look like, and what it will cost.

But darn that scope creep!

If you don’t get a handle on it early, you’ll end up with a completely different project at the end. And a stressed out team, and possibly irate clients.

It’s like going to a bakery for a custom cake. But when you go to pick up your chocolate cake with buttercream icing and a dusting of coconut shavings on top, you’re presented instead with a bicycle tied together with duct tape and a cardboard kickstand.

That is not what you signed up for.

So, these scope creep changes can, at most, entirely block the project’s progress. Or, they can result in different, low-quality deliverables.

Good news — hope is not lost when the scope starts creeping.

Learning how to avoid scope creep, and manage project scope with finesse is possible. It’s also a must if you want to advance in your career as a project manager. Changes in project scope are pretty much par for the course in this field of work.

Before we get into how to manage scope creep, let’s take a closer look at what often causes these hiccups in the road to successful project completion.

Common scope creep causes:

  • Miscommunication during the project planning phase. Goals end up being completely different
  • Outside forces like economic and environmental conditions impacting the project schedule
  • Project politics or leadership drama resulting in confusion among the project team members
  • Ad spend, milestone, or deliverable changes

This list isn’t exhaustive, but you get the picture. Let’s dive into some examples of scope creep next.

Examples of what scope creep is and isn’t

Let’s take the example of a website client. The client asks for a slightly different website redesign that you and your team agreed on at a specific price. Technically, that’s not considered scope creep.

Maybe they want the Green Tea instead of Black Coffee theme. No biggie. It doesn’t cost anymore, or take anymore time to manage this change.

But this is scope creep:

Instead, the client tells you over the phone to add all the optimization, integrated social media accounts, and advertisements to your new site. This is more time. More money. And totally different sets of milestones.
It’s not just a redesign job anymore. This is way more involved and an example of scope creep.

Keep in mind, scope creep doesn’t always show up as a whole phase or section of the project being modified. Often it starts as tiny, minimal alterations to the original scope.

Adjusting the website to match the client’s new branding palette midway through the project, for example, would add unforeseen time to your team’s work schedule. This is way different than what you and the team bargained for, and would be classified as scope creep.

Most cases of scope creep are innocent.

But occasionally, one party might have a hidden agenda. A lack of awareness of scope creep can put your agency at risk from disingenuous clients who make a deal for one deliverable but plan to sneak other projects in under the same umbrella.

This is no bueno and it’s the type of scope creep you want to avoid at all costs.

Project Management and Scope Creep

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), project scope is the work required to output the project deliverables.

Project managers must characterize the project scope at the outset. If alteration requests should occur, they must undergo a formal change management process. This protects everyone’s sanity from the insanity of a project going off the rails from scope creep.

What’s in a project’s scope? That which we call a creep by another other name is still a creep.

So, the scope of a project must include a breakdown of work to be done and instructions for any changes.

Any changes throughout the project must enforce a step-by-step procedure that follows the change management process.

Like so:

When it comes to working without a tight project scope, you’ve got to learn how to maximize your project method and use it to your team’s advantage.

Project failure comes in different forms, including:

  • Poor estimation and prioritization
  • Disagreement on how to handle changes
  • A lack of sign offs,
  • Missing review processes to manage change requests

Now that we’ve defined scope creep and project scope, let’s dive into how to avoid scope creep or mitigate scope creep should it occur.

How can you control scope creep?

Project scope creep happens to the best project management teams. Use these tools and tactics to keep your projects on task and in-budget as your team heads for the glorious finish line.

Create a project budget

Often, the biggest risk you can take on if you don’t wrangle that scope creep beast is budgeting issues. Wasted time is wasted money. And taking on seemingly small changes to the project that aren’t in the budget will nickel and dime your agency into the poorhouse.

So, protecting the project budget is mission critical.

The project budget should be adequately defined during the project’s planning phase. Include project stakeholders — your client and each team member — during the process. Agree on a precise project budget based on properly calculated estimates.

Deficient budget estimates in a project plan can cause delays in the later part of the project, which is a sure sign that scope creep is already developing. A comprehensible project budget will also limit requests for additional funding, if not totally eliminate them.


Estimations should be based on proper research together with the project team. Collaborate on the estimates and avoid making wild guesses. When using a pricing model, consider both time and resources to develop a more precise estimate and prevent scope creep in project management.

As a digital marketing agency, progress payments are essential to ensuring your revenue or, at the very least, some working capital. Invoicing for work done in advance can also update you on the volume of work you’ve already completed and help you cover any ongoing expenses.

You must invest time considering all costs involved in the most efficient manner. Any budget proposals and cost breakdown issues should be cleared before executing the project.

That way, you can meet clients’ deliverables on time and uphold your agency’s reputation in carrying out the project scope.

Face ALL change requests

The best project managers handle each change request as it arises.

Getting back to change requests that arise during the project’s duration is one of the most critical responsibilities involved in scope management. Even though you know this is a tedious, time-consuming task, you’ve still got to do it.

In any project, scope creep arises from not answering these requests.

It may take up a whole day or just a few minutes before you clock out to answer these requests. But regardless, they need to be addressed promptly, no matter what.

Remember to inform all parties involved, so they know all the measures and steps necessary to fulfill amended project requirements and still ace at preventing scope creep. But more on communication later.

All the approved, rejected, and resolved change requests must be organized and logged in the project’s change plans.

According to PMI, this allows reviewing and adequately documenting all requests and integrating them while considering all possible project risks.

Conduct a special meeting called a risk workshop and include appropriate risk responses to minimize unforeseen considerations.

Create a timeline and stick to it.

A clear work breakdown structure helps reduce scope creep.

The ideal setup is creating a timeline and following it to the letter. However, in every project plan, there will always be unavoidable bumps.

The key here is simple:

Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the allotted project timeline.

Define detailed requirements and milestones with project team members. Give space for contingencies and allow some wiggle room and flexibility while creating your timeline.

Doing so will assist you in maintaining your schedule and provide you with the opportunity to regroup and prioritize or de-prioritize tasks and change requests.

You also need to consider how quickly each team member can work so you’ll have an idea of how long they’ll take to complete the various assignments.

But not so fast — creating a timetable doesn’t end there.

You have to keep track of it consistently, religiously. Watch out for red flags outside your control like marketing conditions and global phenomena that may affect prices, contractors, and even clients’ businesses, which can trigger change requests.

Set REASONABLE boundaries

A lack of boundaries can lead to failed projects when scope creep occurs.

  • Don’t take on more than you can handle. Be willing to say no to a particular project phase when necessary.
  • Be transparent and practical when laying down the project limitations with a specific time, cost, and scope.
  • Include these in the scope management plan.
  • Don’t hesitate to inform key stakeholders of the realistic expectations on the project scope before work begins.

Addressing boundaries is also a confident move to preserve leadership and authority as a project manager. It minimizes a project’s complexity and keeps you in control of the situation and your schedule.

You may have said yes to a few requests. But the ability to contain the damage and work within the given resources should remain intact for the project’s duration.

Five-star communication

Communicative change control processes keeps the whole team in the loop

Constantly update all involved parties on the progress, timelines, missed deadlines, and expectations.

Poor communication can result in surprises — unpleasant surprises, that is.

Remember, changes in the agreed-upon scope with the key stakeholders and project sponsor are not considered scope creep.

On the other hand, scope creep is when you have poor communication among stakeholders, disorganized documentation of new features, and out-of-date change control systems. These issues doom projects to failure.

Your project deliverables may be reaching a five-star rating. But, if your project teams’ communication is merely a one-star meh, you need help addressing scope creep.

All new requests based on the original scope should undergo the standard change management process, including:

  • updating new features
  • Documenting project charter amendments
  • Ensuring you’re on the same page with modifications in the scope statement.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Laying out expectations, budgets, and having a process for managing scope creep change requests is critical for your agency’s reputation and revenue.

Bottom Line for Project Managers

Consider looking at scope creep positively. It’s a type of change, and change is the only thing permanent in this world.

If you can’t see what’s missing or putting unnecessary stress on your systems, then you’ll have no opportunity to grow into the best project manager EVAH if you don’t allow for some scope change as the project runs its course.

Sure, handling scope creep is a challenging part of being a project manager. But one of the good things for today’s project managers is that technology is readily available to help you see through the despair and onward to the wins of change.

Pro tip:

Monitor change requests, work progress, invoices, and payments through reliable project management software.

A handy project management tool paired with a powerful agency framework can help you unite your team and spare you from the effort of juggling phone calls and client visits while taking care of your spreadsheets.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Let ScaleTime show you the way to better project management.

Scope management plans for successful projects are made easy with ScaleTime. Handle scope creep in project management by optimizing your digital agency’s systems and processes. Let us help you automate and streamline your business by downloading the Agency Project Management Checklist here!

Business operations consultant Juliana Marulanda
Juliana Marulanda is a business operations expert, speaker, and the founder of ScaleTime. With over 20 years of experience across Wall Street, the non-profit sector, technology startups, and family-owned businesses, she now helps service-based businesses.