If you’ve ever worked as a freelancer or within an agency, you’ve probably experienced scope creep.
Scope creep happens when changes in technical requirements are introduced to a project, but equivalent increases in budget or timeline are not included. These changes often appear as subtle and minor, but if left unchecked can cause a project to run off schedule or incur unanticipated cost overruns — ultimately impacting a project’s overall success.
At its very worst, the effect of scope creep can grow beyond the confines of a single project and affect your business as a whole. It can alter the timelines of subsequent jobs in queue, negatively influence the productivity and satisfaction of your team, and result in serious implications for the profitability of your business.
Luckily, you don’t have to let scope creep ruin your project workflow when it does show its ugly head. With the right strategies in place, you can manage and potentially avoid scope creep entirely when working with your clients.
What causes scope creep?
Before we get into strategies you can use to prevent scope creep, it’s important to understand the factors that leave your project vulnerable. While there are countless reasons the scope of a project can grow, here are a few of the most common causes:
- Misunderstanding the project requirements — This is probably the most frequently cited cause of scope creep, and can originate from either the agency or client side. If the specifics of a project are not discussed, agreed upon, and properly understood before work begins, it’s more than likely that one party will eventually realize some vital features were overlooked and must be included.
- No defined feedback process — If you don’t clearly outline your process for receiving and implementing feedback with your client, you risk being overloaded with requests for changes and add-ons at various stages throughout the project. This will be significantly worse if a lack of feedback process is coupled with poorly defined project requirements.
- Focusing on immediate client satisfaction — When first starting to work with a new client, your efforts are often focused on strengthening that relationship by any means necessary. This often translates to you accepting any additional requests your client throws at you. While this may indeed help nurture a positive relationship, it will only truly satisfy them in the short-term, especially when they realize the influence it had on the final quality of your project. When you are too focused on immediate satisfaction, one of you will end up unsatisfied — either your client receives a low-quality product or your business loses revenue on the project.
- Gold plating — This is when a designer or developer continues to work on and finetune a project, to a point where there’s not enough added value to justify the added cost.These additional features are generally not requested by the client (as discussed above), but are completed in an attempt to go above and beyond. In general, gold plating ends up doing more harm than good, as it drives up internal costs with no clear benefit.
- Uncontrollable external factors — Let’s face it, there are countless other factors outside of your control that can impact the scope of your project. These could include economical changes in the market, introductions of new technologies, alterations in business strategies, and even personal emergencies. While you may not be able to prevent these from occurring, it’s important you forecast and prepare for their possibility.
Now that you have a better idea of what can cause scope creep, let’s dive into some strategies you can use to prevent you projects from growing out of control.