Even the most experienced developer is faced with the inevitable challenge of adding an unexpected element to a design that’s already been scoped out and started. The pressure adds on when there’s little time remaining until launch, no additional budget, and a maxed out schedule that can’t handle much more work.
Here is how you can deal with scope creep.
Types & Causes of Scope Creep
Technopedia provides one of the simplest definitions of scope creep, saying that it “refers to a project that has seen its original goals expand while it’s in progress.” The term also refers to the nature of how these changes occur: usually slowly, possibly delaying the original deadline.
But no two scope creep situations are the same, which helps to explain why they can be so hard to deal with. Just when you think you’ve mastered one type of scope creep, another new issue presents itself.
Here are some of the major types and causes of scope creep to look out for:
A poor discovery.
If you don’t know what the client really wants and needs, you’re unable to adequately define the scope. This will leak over to content creation and delivery in irreparable ways.
Not enough relevant parties involved early on.
Individual web developers may not have to deal with this, but those that work at a web design agency have to be particularly careful of this issue. During discovery or throughout the process in general, it’s important that both the sales representative and developers on the project are present before the discovery is completely done, and the deal is closed.
Sales may know how to ask for most of the information necessary to scope out a project, but developers will have the best mindset regarding the details of implementation.
A lack of a contract.
With no written agreement, there really is no scope defined.
A basic contract.
You might think you’re covered by having any contract, but if the definition of the project on your signed contract is limited to “basic webpage design”, you’re leaving a lot undefined. In circumstances such as these, the contract may be interpreted by your client very liberally to their own benefit.
A bad client.
Some clients keep things vague when you’re working with them to define the scope, only to look for an opportunity to take advantage, later. Look for the signs of this while it’s happening. If you suspect foul play, it may mean that it’s better to pass on taking on that client.
A bad team.
If you work at a company where the objectives of one department (like sales) is different than another (the developers), scope creep is bound to happen, but not because of the client. If one team promises something without checking in on the availability of the other, bad communication habits (and bad tastes between teams) form.
A false start.
Unfortunately, sometimes a project begins before the scope has been fully defined. This might result in backtracking and duplicate efforts once the scope is better defined.
At this point, it’s important to acknowledge that some people cause scope creep on purpose because they’re looking to help themselves regardless of how it affects other involved parties. Scope creep caused by foul play includes situations where a sales team over promises, or a client who tries to get free work by taking advantage of a situation. That said, there are also plenty of situations where scope creep was an accident, perhaps happening as a byproduct of a lack of knowledge.
Once you know what type of scope creep you’re dealing with, and the people involved, it becomes much easier to understand how to move forward and deal with it.
Strategies to Handle Scope Creep
A lot of issues with scope creep stem from poor preparation and documentation. Therefore, fighting scope creep starts with a proper discovery.
If you haven’t already, create a list of introductory project questions to ask clients on the phone or to allow them to answer on their own via email. These questions should go into detail about the brand, their goals, and even more specific details about the structure and functionality they’re looking for in a website.
To understand this last point, consider the distinct difference between a portfolio-esque website, and one that requires more advanced functionality, like an ecommerce website. Figuring out the specific aspects a client is looking for in the final project is essential at this point, and not just at a macro level. The deeper you can dig into details regarding site functionality before actually designing the website, the better.
To help figure out what the client is looking for as a final deliverable, ask clients for websites they like (based on functionality). Ask them to list out “nice to haves” and “need to haves” as two separate things. If there’s a budget or time constraint, work with the client to prioritize between these two lists.
Next, create a proper process for everything. If the salesperson and developer are two different people, both should be involved in the later stages of closing the business, before decisions are finalized. There should be a detailed and documented way to handle discovery, defining the project, and the eventual handoff between one team and another.
An important next step is putting together a bulletproof contract. Your contract should clearly define the scope of work: deliverables, timelines, and client involvement in advancing deadlines. To help fight scope creep, define a project price with a capped amount of hours, or set a limited amount of revision rounds the client will receive before additional budget and time must be added to the project.
You should also use this space to specifically call out what the project does not include, to avoid future scope creep and to get on the same page with your client. Also, set an hourly rate for additional revisions/maintenance after the fact.
This leads to a nice upsell opportunity: a maintenance retainer. If there are some “nice to haves” that can be pushed until after the website launch, these can serve as a basis for a client committing to ongoing retainer hours. If the client wasn’t already considering your help with website maintenance, post-launch support will likely reveal an ongoing need. This is also a great way to satisfy all of the client’s needs in a timely, non-scope creeping manner.
Here are a few additional tips for dealing with scope creep:
- Be strict about enforcing the contract, otherwise, clients will realize that they can take advantage of you.
- Take responsibility if the misunderstanding of scope is your fault. To handle the situation, create a $0 change order to show them the value of your time, and to document any losses in time and money for your business. 10up created this awesome change order template to officially document the process.
- Understand that big projects sometimes need a flexible scope. If the changes represent a small amount compared to the entire contract, you might opt to “split the difference” of the charge: your company “takes on” half of the cost of the changes, and the client takes on the other half. This may be a good strategy if you know the client will bring you good maintenance business, or additional website projects down the road.
- Come to a client with multiple solutions. Clients prefer options when it comes to dealing with the delicate nature of scope creep conversations. Come prepared with two or more solutions that will satisfy both parties.
How to Deal with Scope Creep on a Web Design Project
Don’t be wishy-washy when it comes to dealing with scope creep. Handle it head on, and take responsibility for anything that might have been your fault when it comes to defining the scope of a project. Also, be wary of clients who might take advantage of a scope creep situation. These strategies can help you to prepare in advance for the worst instances of scope creep.
How do you deal with scope creep on a web design project? Let us know in the comments below.