Help! My Client Keeps Changing the Project Scope!

changingprojetWe’ve all been there: you’re two weeks out from a major project launch, and your client just called to say she’d like a few ‘minor tweaks’ to the logo design. “I just don’t think those colors are popping and I’m worried the shape doesn’t match our brand vision.” A day later she calls to say, “I have a few little details I’d like to change on the website.” The next day, you’ve got an email requesting “a copy refresh for the home page.” While each of these changes may sound reasonable on their own, together they add up to one big project scope creep nightmare!

Nearly every project manager has done battle against project scope creep, the process by which a project grows beyond its originally anticipated size. On the one hand, there’s the desire to please a difficult client. On the other, there’s the need to adhere to strict timelines and even stricter budgets. While some project delays are inevitable, scope creep doesn’t have to be the final outcome even if you’ve got a difficult client. With a little advanced warning, it’s easier to keep a project from spinning out of control and still keep your clients happy. Here’s what to do:

  1. Be (constructively) critical of a client’s ideas. Passive project managers get knocked around by their clients’ whims: don’t let this happen to you! Dynamic managers work closely with clients to manage expectations from day one, constructively critique ideas, and collaborate on the final outcome. Yes, clients can be demanding and difficult – they’re supposed to be! But remember, there’s a reason they hired you: you’re the industry expert and it’s your job to push back when a suggested edit just doesn’t make strategic sense.
  2. Keep a close eye on the timeline and budget. Top project management tools like Redbooth and Zoho Projects offer day-to-day task tracking and big picture management so you can quickly pinpoint when things are starting to go off the rails. Before agreeing to a client’s revision requests (no matter how small they may seem at the time), look at how these changes will impact the overall timeline. Is there still some extra cushion at the end you can use to make up lost time? Or are you missing a hard deadline (like a drop-dead print date) that you can’t push back without incurring substantial added expense?
  3. Be upfront about problems. Don’t hide from delivering the bad news! Document any and all project scope changes via email rather than phone calls. If a change is going to increase the budget or push back the deliverable date, send a client email update that clearly explains what’s happening and why. I typically require written client approval if any request alters the budget or final deliverable, even if I think I can make up the difference in the end. Being upfront about problems can be initially uncomfortable, but doing so will ultimately help avoid far worse problems, like an angry client who refuses to pay additional fees incurred by their own delays.

Erin M loves adding stamps to her passport, photography, scuba diving, hiking and cooking.


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