7-step process for managing scope creep

By September 1, 2015Ways of working

Scope creep can sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it. It’s inevitable in sizable projects and not always a bad thing. It can deliver a better end result – and therefore better value – for the client. And it can mean increased business for you. But only when a proper process is in place…

1. Start with a complete picture
Don’t skimp on time during the information-gathering phase. By taking an extra couple of hours now, you can avoid clocking up a couple of days that you can’t charge for later on. Make sure you’re clear about the client’s vision and objectives. Have you taken into account any secondary objectives? Are there other people in the organisation with different goals? How will these impact the project?

2. Define the deliverables precisely
Clear scoping allows you to set expectations from the beginning. And enables clients to raise any issues early on. Break down each deliverable. Does the campaign consist of 3 or 4 emails? Will each require significantly different content? Are different versions needed for different audiences?

3. Set out the timelines

  • Determine the critical path. For example, make sure you have allowed time to complete the internal and external research before you need to start the hunt for the big idea. Doing things in the right order saves time later on.
  • Break the project down into major and minor milestones. Ensure the client can see the points at which their action is needed in order to keep the project on track.
  • Incorporate contingency time. When working with a new client or one who has proved difficult to pin down for approval in the past, I’m a lot more generous with contingency time (around 150% of the time it would take with a client I already work efficiently with). If all goes smoothly, it’s a nice surprise for the client when the project is delivered early!

4. Agree the scope with the client
Get it in writing!  Draw up a simple contract or agreement that includes as much detail as necessary. Giving and getting commitment, makes it easier when the boundaries start to change, as they inevitably do.  Your agreement should include clearly defined deliverables, detailed timelines and yours and the client’s responsibilities.

Make sure you pin down the financial arrangements in the agreement.  Choose a staged payment process.  Projects delayed by the client can leave you in a position where you’ve done 80% of the job, paid the staff, forked out on overheads but can’t get your money because the client hasn’t sent back revisions or agreed the final copy.

5. Use a proper change control process
Introduce a change control form and change log from the start of the project. Communicate their use to the client and project team. Use them to document your assessment of the business benefits of the change, together with additional cost and time. Asking the client to go through a formal process helps ensure there’s a clear business value for the change and that the client understands the impact.

6. Evaluate proposed changes
When the client requests changes, evaluate them logically.  Using the following criteria means that logic instead of emotion dictates the conversation:

  • Does this answer original project objectives better than the current solution?
  • Will it deliver the best experience for users?
  • What implications will the change have on deadlines?
  • How will the change impact cost?

Talk it through with the client, making sure he or she understands all the implications.  If it turns out to be too costly at this stage (in terms of time or budget), suggest delaying some of the changes until the next phase and offer cheaper, quicker solutions that will work now.

7. Add the change to the project schedule
Once approved, incorporate the changes into the schedule and costing. Agree new deliverables, costs, and timelines with the client.

Find out about how scope creep happens.