How to Manage Scope Creep

August 2018
red sightseeing scope binoculars

Picture this: you’ve already done a lot of planning for your website design project. You’ve spoken to your client, defined objectives, and gotten a sense of the project scope when BAM! Your client hits you with a new idea. And not just any new idea-- it’s a complete change of direction, meaning that most of the work you’ve already done will end up on the cutting room floor. There is a name for this frustrating phenomenon: scope creep. If you haven’t planned ahead, scope creep can cause some major headaches.

But don’t fret-- keep these things in mind, and you’ll find that scope creep can be pretty easy to manage if you know what you’re doing:

  • Clear expectations are scope creep’s worst nightmare
  • It’s always good to have a little insurance
  • Good time management skills are your best friend
shaking hands
Make sure that you and your client agree on the scope from the very beginning to avoid potential conflict down the line.

Keeping Expectations Clear

Start Out on the Same Page

If your website redesign project has suddenly morphed into a website redesign, a new social media plan, an email campaign, and a new logo, things may be getting out of hand. When a project develops into something more complex than it was in the beginning, we call that scope creep. It’s good to allow room for a project to grow and evolve. It just shouldn’t put you in a position where you aren’t receiving adequate compensation for the work you’ve actually done. To some extent, this can be avoided by being very clear in your discussions with your client. If both of you start out on the same page, you’ll have less likely staying on the same page throughout the project.

business meeting at table

It’s essential to communicate with your client and work together to draw up a contract containing the details of your arrangement.

Define Project Scope in Your Contract

Even if “informal” working conditions are something you strive for, taking the time to draft and revise a contract is a must. Without a contract, you leave yourself open to being overworked and overwhelmed. Plus, you open up the possibility of your clients getting frustrated if their shifting expectations aren’t met. Put all of the important details about the project, its objectives, and its timelines in writing. That way, there can be no disputing what you agreed upon in the future.

Don’t Just Decide What You Will Do, Decide What You Won’t

In your contract, you will, of course, define all of the services you’ll  provide to your client. But also take a moment to consider what services you won’t provide. Your web design contract should detail things like what pages you will complete, when you will complete them, and how many revisions of the pages will fall within the contract. Define how you will bill your client for additional services, such as extra revisions and additional features they may request. Again, this way there can be no confusion.

Ensuring Scope Creep Doesn’t Slow You Down

Ask for Portfolio Usage Rights

Some clients may not be willing to provide this, so you may have to be flexible on this point if you want to get the job. It can be a major disappointment to create something amazing for a client, especially if it has grown way beyond the initial scope of the project, only to find out that your client is unwilling to let you showcase it in your portfolio. If your client agrees to give you usage rights, it’s another great item to include in your contract. This way, you won’t be laboring under the false understanding that you will get to show off all of the extra work you’ve done for a company if that’s not actually the case. It can help keep things in perspective for you.

leather wallet on table
It’s important to make sure you get paid for the work you complete for your client, even if the project falls through.

Include a Kill Fee or a Down Payment

Sometimes clients want to pull out of a contract. This can happen for a number of reasons: maybe they’ve decided they can’t afford to move forward with the project at this time, maybe the funds they set aside for the project are needed elsewhere, or maybe their organization’s priorities have shifted. Regardless of why, you want to make sure you haven’t wasted your time in scenarios like this. By including in your contract a requirement for a down payment or a fee that will be assessed if they terminate the project early, you protect yourself from going unpaid for your work just because the project fell through.

Worry about Deliverables, Not Being “Nice”

Part of keeping your clients happy is being accommodating. That’s just how it works. It’s great to be nice to your clients and work with them as much as possible, but you can’t just agree to do complete tasks that aren’t in the contract without negotiating some sort of compensation. That’s a bad habit that will be bad to kick, and avoiding that situation is why you have a contract in the first place. Worry about doing the best work you can do and coming through with the deliverables outlined in the contract. If your client wants you to do additional work for them, just make sure they pay you for it.

On Scheduling

Create Deadlines for Deliverables and Payment

Your client is relying on you to get your work done in a timely manner. Designating clear deadlines for deliverables is essential to ensuring that everything gets completed on time. Similarly, you  rely on your client to receive fair compensation. It never hurts to establish deadlines for payment as well.

notebook with goals and notes
Having clear goals and setting clear deadlines helps both you and your client stay on track.

Expect the Unexpected

No matter what you do to avoid scope creep, sometimes it just happens. What starts out as designing a single web page may turn into much more than that. It can help to schedule some time into your process for unexpected additions, but still make sure you aren’t doing the work for free.

Leave Time for Edits and Review

The feedback cycle can be quite a process, but it shouldn’t go on forever. Many clients don’t realize how involved changes they suggest after the project is complete really are. Make sure you leave time to accommodate any changes your client may want to make, but also be realistic. You want your client to be happy, but if the edits get excessive or start to extend way beyond the timeframe you initially agreed upon, it may be time to gently inform your client that you have completed your contractual obligation to them and any additional work will merit additional pay.

alarm clock
The review stage of a project can be time-consuming, so make sure you plan to give it the attention it requires.

Projects can pretty quickly get out of hand. Clear communication is essential if you want to avoid scope creep and save yourself time and money. When both you and your client understand the expectations for the project, the whole web design process becomes much easier to navigate.


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