Scope creep

Scope creep - manage this difficult business challenge with a scope of work template and scope creep management methodologies

Scope creep – learn to manage it

Ever been working on a project, when all of a sudden the requirements change? Scope creep refers to changes and growth in what a project entails. This often happens when the scope hasn’t been defined, planned or managed.

The service provider and scope creep

Let’s say you’re a consultant, freelancer, contractor, agency, service firm, heck, there’s a long list of professions in which this applies. You start off work with a client and things seem to be going as well as they ever do. But, as things move along, the project starts getting bigger and bigger – and you haven’t changed the price. You start getting frustrated or dejected, because you’re losing time and money. And in the service world, time and money are pretty much the same thing. (Take a look at this post on working out your fees for more info.)

The client and scope creep

Or, maybe from the other point of view, you’ve hired someone to perform services. You’ve asked for some changes and additions along the way. Your contractor has enthusiastically, grudgingly or even neutrally said yes. Eventually, you noticed your key milestones are being missed, you’re getting some deliverables and not others and then, ugh, you’re presented with a great big bill for things you thought were included. You’re out time and money, you’ve got a conflict to sort out and your business is being affected.

The problem is scope creep.

What’s the definition of scope creep?

Scope creep happens when the original size, timeline or budget for a project grow beyond original expectations. In other words, it’s what happens when a project sees changes to requirements and deliverables.

Sometimes members of the project team add features, functions and elements that occur to them along the way, perhaps because they have a grand vision for their project, perfectionistic goals or the original requirements were vague.

Other times, members of the project team increase the project scope because they want to please the customer or client. Whereas they could have set up a change order or new project proposal, they simply agree to changes.

Hang on – what’s project scope or scope of work?

Project scope – aka scope of work – involves the work needed to deliver a project, product, service or result.

Why does scope creep happen?

Scope creep – sometimes known as feature creep or requirement creep – can happen for any number of reasons. Some typical causes:
• the project wasn’t well defined in the beginning
• changes are requested without consideration for the existing plan
• there hasn’t been good planning or discussion for what’s needed to meet milestones and goals
• poor communication among members of the project team and internal or external client

What are the risks to project scope?

Changes to project scope pose many risks. These include
• Cost overrun
• Missed milestone dates
• Unwieldy project
• Confusion about deliverables

Maybe you think scope creep just poses part of the cost of doing business. But you can put controls in place to prevent and manage scope creep.

How do you manage scope creep?

Far from being a cost of doing business, scope creep is a business risk you can manage.

1. Identify the goal

Make sure you know the point of the project. What does the client – whether that’s you or your client – want to achieve?

Now, let’s say you are an environmental consultant. And there’s a new green bin bylaw in your municipality. Your client needs to have green bin organic compost pick up in place by January next year.

You might think:
My client needs a green bin program.

But perhaps your client is thinking:

I need to have a green bin program in place by January of next year, so that we can meet the new municipal bylaw for January 15th, avoid fines and cut our landfill disposal costs enough to offset the cost of the green bin program.

So your real goal is:
Help the client establish a green bin program by planning processes, creating a budget, sourcing equipment and suppliers, scheduling contractors for regular pick up, and educating the client’s employees, with the goal of reducing landfill disposal by 30 percent, offsetting the cost of the green bin program and bringing the client into compliance with municipal bylaws by January 14th.

From there, you’ll need to spell out all the deliverables, timelines, contingencies and persons responsible.

2. Review with Client

Discuss desired goals and outcomes with your client. If you have a solid idea of what you need to accomplish, you’ll be able to stay focused

3. Assess the Plan

Review your client’s desires. Your client may know exactly what they want, they may be looking to you to come up with a solution or they may want to work with you to figure out the solution.

In a good working relationship, you’ll collaborate with the client. With your experience and expertise and your client’s hard-won knowledge of their own business and processes, you’ll be on the best footing. When you work together, you’re more likely to have a good understanding of the outcome, ways of getting there and what the client truly values. This exploration process is an invaluable part of the methodology for keeping a project on track.

4. Define the scope of work

  • Put together a solid scope of work. Ideally, you’ll want to establish a scope of work template that you use with this and future clients.
  • Use plain language
  • Make all the deliverables clear
  • Indicate delivery dates – for both sides
  • Identify contingencies. If a milestone or deliverable depends on materials, information, reports or other items being delivered by a certain date, note it.
  • Name those responsible for deliverables. Make it clear whether it’s you or the other party who needs to provide a deliverable, so there’s no mistake or confusion.

5. Price Right

Get the fees right. Whether you’re pricing by the hour or using Solution-Based Fee™ pricing, you’ll be better poised for success if you break the project into small parts and price accordingly.

Make sure your contract says that any changes to the project scope must be written up, approved and submitted as part of a change order and that extra fees will apply. Note that changes may not be able to be accommodated within the original timeline and that, out of fairness to other clients, the work may need to be queued. By putting these points in place now, you’ll be better poised to manage requests for free work

Wondering if you should allow for scope creep? Go back and look at how you’ve set your fees. If you’ve set your fees accordingly and you have a good scope management process in place, there’s no need to allow for changes. They should be managed as part of the value you’re providing.

6. Agree

  •  Provide the client with the scope of work
  • Discuss the scope of work with the client
  • Make any agreed-upon changes
  • Have the client sign off on the scope of work
  • Get it in writing.

Scope creep poses a business risk, but it’s something you can manage. By following the steps above, understanding the risks, communicating openly with clients and using change orders to manage agreed project changes, you can help eliminate scope creep. If you continue to face problems with scope creep, even after putting the right processes in place, you may want to take a good look at whether you’ve got a toxic client, a client who makes a poor fit or whether you’ve got the right people on your own team. You may also want to take a look at Consulting Fees: A Guide for Independent Consultants for more help with managing clients.