How to Manage Scope Creep

Key Takeaways
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You are currently on your way to your fourth milestone: setting up the last few details of your project plan, ready to party after a successful closing.

Your phone rings: the client wants to request a change in the deliverables.

You thought you were on the same page with them, but now you are sure the current project will fail. Where will you get the additional funds? How will you tell the suppliers? How will you adjust the timeline? Will there be any other 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 are expected to manage, if not avoid, scope creep over the project schedule duration. Scope creep management allows the entire team to stay on track with project goals, avoid hidden agendas, maintain overall job breakdown structure, and balance resource allocation.

Are you up to mitigate scope creep? Then, let’s get your digital marketing agency ready.

What is Project Scope Creep?

When project managers encounter change requests on the project requirements during the implementation of the project schedule, project scope creep happens. These may block the project’s progress or result in different or low-quality deliverables.

Causes of scope creep may include the following:

  • Miscommunication during project planning
  • Outside forces like economic and environmental conditions
  • Project politics or ‘leadership drama’ which leads to confusion between the project team members

Let’s take the example of a website client. If the client asks for a website redesign that you and your team agreed on at a specific price, that would not be considered scope creep. However, if the client then tells you over the phone call to add all the optimization, integrated social media accounts, and advertisements, you would instantly recognize that as scope creep.

But 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 mid-way through the project, for example, would add unforeseen time to your team’s work schedule, 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 under the same umbrella.

Project Management and Scope Creep

We all know what project scope is. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), “project scope is the work required to output the project deliverables.” The scope should be characterized clearly, and any alterations should only be conducted under a formal change management process.

The scope of a project includes a breakdown of work to be done and instructions for any changes. Any changes throughout the project must be controlled through a structured change management procedure.

When it comes to working without a tight project scope, you must learn how to maximize your project method and use it to your team’s advantage. In agile projects, for example, the overall project is broken down into smaller stories which is an excellent way of managing scope creep. In addition, it welcomes changes openly as part of the customer’s competitive advantage. The Agile method manages projects by diving into the details and the calendar.

But because Agile teams lack a fixed scope, project failure comes in the forms of poor estimation and prioritization, disagreement on how to handle changes, and missing processes to manage change requests.

How can a Project Manager Control Scope Creep?

Create a project budget

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

Poor 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 it.

Estimations should be based on proper research together with the project team. Collaborate on the estimates together 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 ensure 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 have already completed and cover any ongoing expenses.

Project managers 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 to meet clients’ deliverables on time and uphold your agency’s reputation in carrying out the project scope.

Face ALL change requests

Getting back to change requests that arise during the project’s duration is one of the most critical responsibilities involved in scope management. As a human, you know that this is a tedious, time-consuming task you must face.

In any project, scope creep arises in not answering these requests. It may take up a whole day or just minutes before you end your work, but they need to be addressed and given attention. Keep in mind to inform parties involved so they know all the measures and steps to fulfill amended project requirements and still ace preventing scope creep (more on communication later!).

All the approved, rejected and resolved change requests must be logged in the project’s Perform Integrated Change Control process. 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!)

The ideal setup is creating a timeline and following it to the dot. But in every project plan, there will always be unavoidable bumps and humps. The key here is simple: be realistic about what you can accomplish in the project timeline allotted.

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 deprioritize tasks and change requests.

You also need to take into account the expertise of your team members so you have an idea of how long it takes to work on an assignment.

Creating a timetable does not 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, suppliers, and even clients’ businesses which can trigger change requests.

Set REASONABLE boundaries

Don’t take on more than you can handle, and 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 the project begins.

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

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

Poor communication can result in surprises – unpleasant surprises, that is. 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 between stakeholders, disorganized documentation of new features, and out-of-date change control systems that are doomed to make projects fail.

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

All new requests based on the original scope should undergo the Perform Integrated Change Control process, including updating new features, documenting project charter amendments, and ensuring you’re on the same page with modifications in the scope statement.

Bottom Line for Project Managers

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

You will not be able to see what’s missing or lacking or even distressing your systems, and you have no opportunity to grow into the best project manager if you don’t allow for some scope change as the project runs.

Handling scope creeps is a challenging part of being a project manager. One of the good things nowadays is that technology is readily available to help you see through despair. 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, spare you from twice the efforts of juggling phone calls and client visits while taking care of your spreadsheets.

Sound too good to be true? Let Scaletime help you!

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. Get a FREE Discovery Session with our Scale Strategists here!

Business operations consultant Juliana Marulanda
Juliana Marulanda - ScaleTime Founder
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.
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