Are you always well-prepared before the start of a project? Me too. I have the brief, a direction to go, my team, and the set of deliverables. Yet, I find myself in the middle of the "well-prepared for" project, looking at things crashing down - timelines not met, deliverables not what they should be, and a demotivated team. There are a few reasons why all this can happen, but most commonly, it's scope creep.
What is scope creep?
In the above scenario, my client chose to give feedback on the deliverables and started changing their brief. They also added a few more tasks they thought could be done (outside of scope) with the team of experts already working on the project. FAIR. At no point would I argue scope creep as a bad thing. It only becomes bad when it is not addressed. Research from IEEE shows 92% of projects failed because of scope creep!
Scope creep occurs when there is a pivot from the original scope of work, and your clients come back with changes, additions, and omissions to the original brief. I like to think of scope creep as dominos. Once the chips start falling, IT ALL GOES DOWN! And that feeling is not good. But change is natural. Don't you think so?
Scope creep occurs when there is a change from the original scope of work, and your clients come back with changes, additions, and omissions to the original brief. I like to think of scope creep as dominos. Once the chips start falling, IT ALL GOES DOWN! And that feeling is not good. But change is natural. Don't you think so?
Change management is your way forward
With change management, you can bring in a systematic approach to deal with changes in programs and processes. This will help you overcome many scope creep situations and get your team to adapt quickly to change.
It need not be a fancy framework, and "change management" sounds intimidating. If you are a small business, you might think it's not for you. On the contrary, accounting, legal, or marketing service firms and professionals with smaller operations can also implement this successfully. So don't get worked up on the fancy word. Instead, focus on what it does. In simpler words:
Find a process that works for you to overcome rapid changes in your projects.
To build a process, you must first know the gaps that allow scope creep. In this blog, let's talk about instances when scope creep can occur without you noticing and some of the best practices other service professionals and businesses employ to overcome.
Be on the alert! Identify scope creep early
Everything going wrong with your project might not be scope creep. However, here are some top indicators that you and your team are doing work that was not agreed upon.
As service professionals, we handle more than one client at once, so there is a daily task list to review. Sometimes you might miss a scope creep because you are very busy, and scope creep can be like any other day's work that you might not sit and think, "Hey! this is out of scope!"
Look out for tasks that were not planned initially, question why this is being done, and investigate to address scope creep.
A rule we followed in one of the agencies I worked for was - ONLY 2 VERSION CHANGES - and this is a must-follow (primarily when you work in creative industries open to subjective opinions). If you find you or the team going over six changes for the same document, there is a misalignment in brief, or you need to take a serious look at the quality you are producing.
You'll find it to be a product of scope creep. When you notice this behavior, identify it and start asking questions immediately. Then, realign client and internal teams, understand the gap, and proceed.
Extended deadlines and timelines
Nothing gets delivered. Everything is "in review" or "WIP" for weeks after the deadline. Keep a lookout for these signs. Your team might be spending more time on tasks not agreed upon in the original scope.
Best practices to manage scope creep
Accept change. It is inevitable. But here are some best practices you can follow to reduce the wrath of scope creep. By not handling scope creep, you
- Start undercharging for your services
- Wreck your relationship with clients
- Lower teams' morale and overwork them
So let's see what can be done proactively.
What's the scope?
In another marketing agency, as a project manager, my CEO insisted on getting the client's SOW (scope of work) written and signed before starting any project. He made sure the clients signed the SOW page of the contract. This was a way to adhere to the work agreed on paper consciously. Let me tell you, this helps. There were many instances where I could go back to a client and state that I would send a higher-rate invoice due to increased scope. It was that easy!
What helps: Before starting a project, ensure you run your clients through what you understand as deliverables and agree beforehand. Get clarity in the start so changes can be easily identified and accommodated as you progress.
Quick hack: A terms and services agreement that can be edited and updated dynamically can be useful—onboard proposal software like Cone Proposal-to-Payment to minimize scope creep.
Involve the stakeholders
From the beginning, involve clients and internal stakeholders and review the project scope. Introduce your teams to clients with their roles and responsibilities for easy onboarding. This will only help you in the long run. Building your teams to build and sustain client relations can be a boon.
I learned later in my career that communicating openly and effectively is as important as delivering a project on time or being the most productive employee. Your clients can only understand what goes into a successful project when you tell them and educate them on how change can threaten a smooth-sailing ecosystem and the project. You are responsible for talking to your clients openly but effectively about scope creep repercussions.
What helps: Communicating milestones and challenges and highlighting progress can be an effective tool. For example, follow sprints, weekly updates, or monthly reporting to meet with all stakeholders for 10 minutes to review the progress and realign/pivot/add/omit, if needed.
Take advantage of technology
Any cost-effective tool with an amazing UI that can help me get my job done easily is a winner. While handling scope creep, good proposal management software does the trick. For example, on Cone Proposal-to-Payment, you can easily edit and get approved revised proposal terms and the scope of work to accommodate the changes. Not to brag, you can also send, edit and track proposals, accept payments, and send automated reminders to clients. You also get analytics to track proposals’ progress and cash flow.
What helps: Evaluate and onboard tools that can reduce operational costs and time. Don’t forget to consider multi-feature solutions to manage complete work in one login.
Document and measure everything
Documentation helps teams encourage knowledge sharing and gives a level of cohesion to projects, which helps them understand briefs, how processes work, and what needs to be done.
Always maintain timesheets and mark project milestones to get visibility into the timeline, cost, and resources. Measure project KPIs to understand performance and gaps better.
What helps: Documenting programs, progress, and people can help you in multitudes. Maintain a scope change log that tracks all changes, their reasons, their impact, and their approval status. Review it regularly with the client and team members.
Identify and keep tangible goals for all tasks/activities to get a clear picture of your progress.
By following the above practices, I am sure you won't feel the wrath of scope creep as before. Coming back to my point of accepting change and being prepared for it, one last thing to remember is - successful change management relies on the following:
- Understanding change
- Planning for change
- Implementing and documenting change
- Communicating the change
Scope creep is a part of doing business. We cannot run away from it in this industry. We can only manage it. When managed well, scope creep can generate more revenue and build trustworthy, repeatable clients and a happily engaged team. Ain't that the dream!