The dreaded creeping scope

One of the most frustrating aspects of project management is dealing with “scope creep”, also known as “feature creep” or “requirement creep”. These ominous sounding terms refer to a project’s scope being changed after work is already underway. This phenomenon can impact on the project’s schedule, cost and complexity.

Because an individual change may only have a small impact on the overall project, scope creep can be hard to spot at first. It usually begins with a seemingly innocuous request from your client:

I know that development of our website is already underway, but we’ve decided that we need to have a mailing list signup form on the homepage. Hope that’s not a bother.

If you acquiesce to your client’s wishes without re-quoting the job, then you’ve allowed scope creep to set in. Before you know it the “small” changes are starting to mount up, and the project is turning into a much larger job than you anticipated.

Dealing with scope creep

Usually when a client requests an out-of-scope change they’re not trying to take advantage of you, they simply haven’t considered how their request is likely to affect your bottom line. They may be unaware of how long a seemingly small task takes to complete, or exactly what type of changes are included in your original agreement.

A polite way to deal with the request is to inform your client that you can perform the new work, but at an additional cost:

Sure, I can make the change you’ve asked for, but it’s going to add slightly to the overall cost of the project. I will prepare a quote for the additional work so you can decide if it’s something you’d like to go ahead with.

During any project you can expect a certain amount of deviation from the original brief. A small amount of scope creep isn’t necessarily a bad a thing, and might even help to build up good will with your client. The trick is being able to recognise which changes are reasonable, and which need to be re-quoted.

Stopping scope creep before it starts

To avoid any misunderstandings you should make it clear at the outset of the project exactly what is covered by your quote. That way you will be able to demonstrate when a requested alteration falls outside the parameters of your original agreement. For example a typical agreement will specify how many rounds of design revisions are allowed, and any further design changes will be considered out-of-scope work. If you also make it a requirement that your client signs off on each project milestone, then you reduce the likelihood that they will ask for changes to work that has already been approved.

Left unchecked, scope creep can cause the schedule and cost of a project to balloon out of proportion, but if you put the brakes on as soon as it rears its head you can easily conquer the creep.

5 thoughts on “The dreaded creeping scope

  1. Jaitra says:

    Thanks for this. Scope “creeps”are all too common, and really need to be stopped in their tracks!

  2. Matt Ritter says:

    This can be very frustrating, especially when the project is close to being finished and the price the client is paying is already quite a bit higher than they originally budgeted. But, that’s not our problem!

  3. Jessica says:

    I’m part of an in-house team that does not charge our “clients” for our services. I find that scope creep is much more difficult to manage in this situation. Any advice?

  4. Jonathan says:

    @Jessica I can only really speak from my experience as a freelancer. When I was an in-house designer/developer I only worked on very fast turnaround projects, so scope creep was seldom an issue.

    In your case budget blowouts probably aren’t the biggest issue, since you are paid regardless of how long the project takes, but I imagine scope creep still impacts on your project schedule and stress levels! Make it clear when you receive new feature requests that the additional workload is going to impact on your workload and the project timeline.

    I assume you have a manager who is responsible for managing the project scope and schedule – perhaps try raising your concerns with them. If they’re the one who is causing the scope creep they ought to know how it impacts on you, and if the scope creep is coming from higher up the management chain then they’re in a position to relay your concerns to their superiors.

  5. Scope creep happens so often without you realizing it. The best way to avoid this is to add a lot of detail to your original project work statement and break things down into small tasks as much as possible. It takes some effort initially but you will thank yourself later when your client tries to interpret the work differently from you.

Comments are closed.