Scope creep is what happens when the scope of a project continues expanding, often because the client makes additional requests that extend beyond the initially agreed-upon deliverables. Just so we’re clear: more work is never a bad thing, but the situation can get out of hand quickly if you don’t take into account the overall impact of the new requests.

How do you recognize scope creep?

Scope creep is easily recognizable by questions or phrases like, “How hard would it be to . . .” or “While you’re in there . . .” and “I thought of something else that might be good.” And while the additional tasks may be achievable, businesses need to remember that time and resources add up.

If allowed to continue unchecked, scope creep can chip away at your bottom line.

Fifteen minutes here, thirty minutes there, and soon you end up with a significant amount of extra time spent doing work you probably aren’t charging for. Not only that, but a seemingly small project can take forever to complete if more and more “little things” keep getting added to the to-do list. This can lead to missed deadlines and plummeting team morale.

Three critical tips for preventing scope creep:

To avoid scope creep, your main objective is to get all parties involved to stick to the original terms of the project. How do you do that? We’ve outlined three critical steps for preventing scope creep and avoiding failed projects:

1. Make sure project goals and deliverables are clearly defined. In your initial meeting with the client, identify the overall goal of the project (for example, to build a website) and determine all of the tasks involved with completing that goal; these are the agreed-upon deliverables of the project. Once all of the stakeholders involved have agreed on the expected outcome and signed off in writing, prioritize each task on your project to-do list and assign those tasks to your team.

2. Implement a formal change control process. This is important. Regardless of how thorough you are in your initial client meeting, things come up and additional needs often develop throughout the lifecycle of a project. Not to worry. Just be sure you utilize a formal change control process in which you:

  • Document each new change;
  • Evaluate how the change will impact the overall project with regard to time, budget, and meeting the initial deadline;
  • Once the change is incorporated, redefine the scope of the project (often called “re-baselining”) and decide whether or not additional funding and/or resources are needed; and
  • Communicate the new terms to the client and get approval in writing.

Quick note: Many businesses use a zero-dollar change order to demonstrate the time and costs involved with tacking on additional smaller tasks to a larger project. So, for example, if the client requests two or three changes that take 15 minutes each, they receive an invoice for the work with a credit for the amount it would normally cost. (In other words, they pay zero.) The intent is to help the client see how small things add up. That way, your business can say, “Hey, we are happy to do this and we did these first few things at no cost, but going forward we’ll need to charge you for additional tasks so we can effectively manage our time and resources.”

3. Change your mindset. It could be that the key to preventing scope creep is simply not fighting it. Things come up no matter how well we think we have a project managed, so when clients begin to ask for things that broaden the original scope of the project, it could be that we simply need to get better at managing it. Adapting to change is a valuable lesson, one that provides an opportunity to expand your team’s potential to wow your clients.

One final thought: team members can also be scope creepers.

You heard right. It isn’t always the client adding things to the project that causes scope creep; sometimes your team members are to blame. For example, take the designer who thinks, “You know, it would be neat if we also did this . . .” or “They didn’t ask for this, but I’m going to add it because I think it’s a good fit.” Pretty soon, little add-ons here and there become a major time-suck that threatens the overall project. Talk to your team members about the hazards of scope creep (i.e., overdue tasks, escalating costs, loss of morale) and make sure they understand the importance of sticking to the initial goal and deliverables.

Still have questions?

At StubGroup, we’re more than just a marketing agency. Our goal is to help your business be as successful as possible, and one of the ways we do that is by helping you understand how all aspects of running your business — including the importance of good project management — can impact your bottom line and increase your return on investment. Give us a call and let’s talk about your business, your goals, and how our advertising experience can help you generate even more revenue.