How to Prevent Scope Creep With Your Agency Clients?

Scope creep: it happens all the time! Utterly dreaded by project managers, it results in project delays, wastage of money and low productivity; ultimately leading to client dissatisfaction. Most IT projects suffer from scope creep by varying degree but in web design, it can derail a project rather quickly.

When a project manager faces impending scope creep, his first reaction is to nobly guard the project’s basics, maintain team morale and preserve the capital. Despite rigorous efforts, it isn’t an animal you can tame easily and before you know, it can spin your project out of control.

So how do I (or you!) prevent scope creep with your agency clients? Project Manager, being the cheerleader and the gatekeeper can take certain steps to preserve project costs and timeline with diplomacy and courage.

What is Scope Creep, Anyway?

In simple terms, scope creep can be defined as addition of additional functions, features, requirements, deliverables and significant changes in an ongoing project. It can also include uncontrolled growth, miscommunication, abrupt customer-centric demands, and infinite tail-end support that were not part of the initially agreed upon terms. It can cause:

  • Increase project timeline
  • Waste money
  • Frustrate both client and team
  • Use up extra resources
  • Lead to unsatisfied customers

Remember, change on the project is inevitable to a certain extent. What’s important to understand is that whether changes/additions are authorized or not. In case, changes are within limits of current specifications and approved, it can’t be termed scope creep.

How Does Scope Creep Occur?

Scope creep can occur at multiple levels. Here are top reasons why it happens in the first place:

  • Lack of clarity with respect to the original specifications.
  • Unregulated contact between support team and client directly.
  • Trying to get more done within limited budget and time.
  • Starting design/development phases without cost-benefit analysis.
  • Lack of project foresight, team’s capability and planning by project manager.
  • A lack of communication with project stakeholders.
  • Failing to negotiate more budget and time for added features.
  • Promising sun and the moon within impossibly time frames.

So, now let’s get to the crucial part – how to solve this impending doom scenario!

How to Prevent Scope Creep Disaster?

To prevent scope creep, you have to know how it progresses. When you anticipate scope creep happening, you still have time to prevent it. Being proactive can help thwart it from further damaging the project. Here’s how you can prevent scope creep in the initial stages:

Recognize the Client’s Objectives

You need to be very clear about the client’s requirements before embarking on any of the project’s milestone. An ideal way to achieve clarity is a ‘Discovery Session’ between your team mates and the client itself. Here you gather all the intelligence related to the client’s business, their vision, the project’s objectives and the potential challenges.

We at Fantastech also press upon having at least 1 or 2 calls with our clients so that we can on same page with them with respect to their requirements.

In case of enterprise sized projects, you should adequate time to scope for design interfaces, functionality and features in order to build a prototype. When both parties reach an agreement, you’ll be able to follow a definite timeline and manage expectations.

Having an in-depth understanding of the project parameters helps you achieve perfect deliverables, ultimately helping avoid scope creep. So, a discovery session is a must!

Break Up Projects into Smaller Chunks

When you break up projects into smaller chunks, defining their scope becomes easier. Larger projects can involve more scoping, have longer milestone and more deliverables, making them difficult to implement.

Projects can be broken into chunks as per their deliverables. You can then plan and budget them into distinct and separate individual projects. Once you complete a chunk, you can swiftly move onto the next one and adjust timeline accordingly.

Always Keep the Team in Loop

Scoping has to be a team effort. I always make it a point to consult my team mates regarding deliverables, milestones and budget. Coders, designers, copywriters and developers are the actual people working on the job and know exactly what each part of the project will entail.

An experienced project manager, even though he knows the timeline, still consults with the team to take them in loop. You never know which particular detail can stretch the time limit further. Sometimes, the suggestions and considerations of the project just don’t add up. Remember, scope creep will amplify the damage further if not addressed along with the team members.

Define Responsibilities Clearly

Once project deliverables and client needs are identified, it’s time to define roles. What is to be done and by whom, must be defined clearly without any ambiguities. To prevent scope creep, this phase must be handled carefully.

Explain work of each team member comprehensibly to instill a sense of responsibility in each of them. In the end, you won’t have to micro-manage successive phases.

Have a System in Place for Changes

My experience has taught me that projects and clients can be uncertain. You always have to have a system in place for scope changes and how to implement them on-the-go. Once you have begun on the project, the space for amendments must be defined as well.

Have a well defined flowchart for change request that helps you respond to scope creeps from a timeline and budget perspective. It should take into account the overall implications on the project as well. Discussing the changes openly with the client will help maintain transparency. At the same time, it ensures that the client understands what the consequences of a scope change are.

Get Client’s Signature

Once all the details related to the project are finalized between you and the client, get it signed. Once the client signs on a proposal that defines details like deliverables, timeline and budget, you save yourself form facing scope changes down the road. Don’t just assume their oral promises, get a signature!

Down the road, the client can’t say that he doesn’t understand scope changes. They can be held accountable for bringing about relevant changes and you can save your team from a lot of unexpected frustration.

What To Do When Scope Creep Happens and You Weren’t Prepared?

1. Be Vigilant from Day One

It all starts from day zero when you first receive the project deliverables document. A project manager must know the exact requirements, calculate time and resources required to complete it. It is at this very stage that a PM must discover probable additions and discuss them well in advance. Time must be spared for justifiable changes to be incorporated in the project, if and when, client requests them.

2. Define Scope Creep Inclusion Process

When you face scope creep, don’t just go on to incorporate new changes without following a well defined process. Define the new changes to the team and show them a new timeline. Choose a small team to implement them well. Also, discuss additional monetary compensation for scope changes. Here’s what your team should know:

  • Description of the change
  • Approach to change
  • Schedule/timeline impact
  • Risk to project phases

A project manager must not fear discussing the moving timelines, especially if the impact is significant. Talking things out will help keep the client in loop.

3. Hold a Project Scope Creep Kick-Off Meeting

Once scope changes are reviewed and authorized, hold a meeting with your team mates where all stakeholders discuss new roadmap. You may put on table these matters:

  • Refined scope definition
  • Formal scope changes approval
  • Redefine communication channels
  • Collect insights from team regarding scope changes

During the meeting, you should review milestones, new technical roles, change reporting and cost escalations.Dates are crucial! When deadlines are missed, next delivery dates are impacted consequently. Ultimately, final deadline moves ahead.

4. Know when to Say “No”

Not every scope changes can be performed. In practical world, client’s wishes cannot be converted into real work. It is vital that a project manager knows when to just simply say no to unreasonable requests. Changes to the core elements of the project, significant changes to deliverables and reducing timeline are some examples. Remember, you cannot please everyone all the time!

5. What if You Can’t Say No

There will be times when you can’t say no. In this scenario, you should firstly follow the ‘Zero-Sum’ rule. This means if something new has to be added, something must be removed. This helps preserve both project timeline and costs. Also, proper back-log of changes incorporated and requests denied should be maintained. Update and share the project requirements document with the client

Tip: if you price unreasonable scope changes very high, client can be discouraged. You can send a ‘Zero Invoice’ to let them know that future changes can incur costs. This helps reign in freebies.

6. Have a Plan ‘B’

No project is free of hiccups. Always account for scope creep at every stage of the project. Put a backup plan to address upcoming changes, reviewing new features, analyze the requested changes and ultimately, move the project in a new direction, if required. Having a plan ‘B’ can help you avoid possibly awkward situations down the road.

Scope creep can create a lot of stress. Yet, my personal experience says it can be tackled carefully and actually be rewarding in many cases. When a project manager sees the first signs of a scope creep, proactive response can yield wonders.

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