Taming Scope Creep: How to Keep Your Next Project from Getting Out of Hand

Posted on April 29, 2015 by Erin M

485207579It’s the classic agency/client Catch-22: one day you’re nearly finished with all the key project deliverables and the next day the client has come back with a new set of “minor” requests. As you dig into these requests, you realize that these “minor” changes are a lot more involved than just tweaking a font size or adding a few extra lines of copy. Of course you want to meet your client’s needs, but what do you do when you can’t meet these changes within the current timeline or budget?

Managing scope creep can be a challenge for even the most experienced project leaders. Succumbing to every request in order to please your client – while holding the line on your budget and timeframe – just isn’t practical. Putting clear processes in place from day one will help tame scope creep and make it easier to manage tricky client requests:

#1: Establish a clear change control process

Don’t rely on a word of mouth agreement when changing project scope. Instead, insist on a “virtual paper trail” to document any changes and ensure the client does not try to go back on what has been verbally agreed to – especially if a new cost is associated with these changes. A change request form doesn’t have to be complicated; all you need is a brief description of the change, the schedule/timeline impact, the additional cost (if applicable), and a signature from the project leader and client contact.

#2: Be upfront about the need for extra time

The first version of your project management timeline serves as a baseline for all future work. It outlines each step you need to take, every deliverable, and the timeframe for these deliverables. Not every client request will result in a timeline change. However, if a request is going to impact your timeline, be upfront about the need for additional time. Submit a project status update to all stakeholders clarifying the amount of extra time required along with why this change is necessary. Taking the extra time to do the job right is preferable to rushing a deliverable and underperforming.

#3: Don’t ignore rising costs

Yes, talking about money with your client can be uncomfortable. As a project manager, however, that’s part of your job. It’s inevitable that there’s one new feature or requirement that starts out as a manageable addition only to evolve into a far more complicated change.

This is classic scope creep – and you can’t ignore the impact it will have on the budget. Don’t wait until the very last minute to notify the client of these new costs, or worse, try to roll them into an invoice unnoticed. Addressing the financial impact of scope creep head on will give you (and your client) adequate time to make the appropriate budget adjustments.

Bottom line: No matter how much scope creep threatens to overtake a project, never let it compromise project quality. Keep your project goals in mind and use these goals to gauge the validity of new change requests. If the changes are blowing up your budget and timeline without bringing any real value to the final project, it’s your job to bring the client back to their original goals.

Erin M is a freelance writer available for projects at WriterAccess.


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