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One of the most challenging aspects of growing an agency is managing scope creep. The good news is that with proper planning, it can be successfully managed.

Unfortunately, some degree of scope creep is inevitable in most projects. That’s why it is critical to tackle the issue early on. Most scope creep begins with a small change here and a last minute add on there. Before you know it, the proposal your client signed and the work are you doing are completely different things, which can be dangerous when managing the needs of multiple clients.

Coming to a detailed and collaborative understanding with the client before the project begins can help prevent misunderstandings. A collaborative agreement helps both sides identity potential problem areas.

Most scope creep is a result of misunderstanding and poor communication. You must remain vigilant as the project progresses in defining out-of-scope tasks and features and refrain from agreeing to additional work before discussing changes and negotiating price.

Use the following 5 steps to minimize scope creep and in turn avoid frustration for both you and your clients.

What is Scope Creep?

Depending on the nature of your business and project, scope creep takes on many different appearances. However, approved changes are not the same as scope creep and it is important to put in place systems to allow for revisions while staving off changes in scope.

Managing Scope Creep

Step #1: Clear Communication

Understanding your client’s vision and business goals are crucial to creating a comprehensive project scope. Ask your client probing questions to determine what it is they need from you, the expert. Clarifying their goals will significantly reduce the need to make unexpected changes and add additional features throughout the project.

Set clear expectations with the client. Determine timeline, deliverables, how often updates will be provided to stakeholders and to whom. Make sure the client understands the level of communication that you will need from them, and how interactions will take place.

Be clear in the contract. Creating a detailed written contract makes it that much easier for you to negotiate proposed changes and justify an additional fee if changes fall outside of the agreed-upon statement of work.

A signature doesn’t mean you are on the same page. Ensure that the client has read the contract and is aware of what is and isn’t included.

Expect, plan for and accept a little bit of it. A degree of scope creep is inevitable, but creating a collaborative contract with your clients before the project begins will help you better understand your client’s vision and successfully reach their goals.

Step #2: Learn Proposal Jujitsu

Setting expectations before the work starts, that any new ideas will constitute a seed list for phase 2, allows you to position them as opportunities. Not all scope changes are equal. Changes to crucial elements of the project must be made sparingly and should be appropriately scrutinized.

Plans can change, but referring to the contract you created collaboratively with the client will often help you when scope creep starts to arise. You shouldn’t be afraid of telling clients, “That’s a great idea. Let me refer back to the contract and get back to you”. It is better to give the client a well-considered answer, so you can discuss price and suggest options. Your success in a project is their success.

Step #3: Connect the Dots for Your Clients

Help clients understand your priorities and how each thing you do connects to the original strategy, affects the outcome and performs within the established scope. Defining your deliverables will help ensure that your client is happy that the scope of your work will meet their desired business goals. Identifying a timeline of major and minor milestones within the project can be helpful in demonstrating to the client how the project is progressing. Review these milestones when changes are suggested and how their dates will be affected.

Creating a relationship of trust up front, better allows you to consult on any proposed changes and provide recommendations. When confronted with new changes ask the client to assess the value of the change (time, money, resources). This will help both your team and the client create an understanding of the additional investment required to implement the new change successfully.

Step #4: Over-Communicate Performance

Scope tends to grow because of a worry by clients that what is being done is insufficient. Share your project schedule with stakeholders and ensure that all elements they expected to see are represented. If there are any conflicts it is better to discover and address them early on. Before the project begins, discuss how you will manage any changes and communicate what approval you will need to proceed.

Establish a channel of communication between you and the client and provide regular status reports, including updates on the timeline status and the impact of any changes. Communicate clearly with clients before implementing any changes. It is important that the client understands and signs off on in writing for any additional work not stated in the contract.

Step #5: Keep an Audit Trail

Keep a written record of communication from day one and onwards. Documenting all written and oral communication can help maintain visibility. A comprehensive communication record can be helpful should you need to rework deadlines and provide new estimates.

A good change management process should include consistently documenting any changes to the agreed upon scope and the implementation of making those changes, including time spent, costs and impact on the timeline. A communication trail is also necessary for doing a post-mortem, should a project fail, and identifying areas for future improvement.

An Opportunity In Disguise

The effects of scope creep are not always negative. Changes that can be tactfully framed as ideas for future projects can be great for business! The idea that scope shouldn’t change is unreasonable, but with proper change management processes in place, scope creep can be minimal.

Keeping a record of every change is time-consuming, however, it is far more efficient to manage scope creep and address areas of improvement throughout the project rather than after a project has failed. More importantly, it leads to improved relationships, higher customer satisfaction, and business success.

Scope creep is challenging, but it is an inevitable part of project management. By planning ahead and following these 5 steps you can successfully manage scope creep and maintain a lasting client relationship.