How To Handle Scope Creep

How to handle scope creep

From time to time (usually when ordering sushi) I suffer from a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. I way over estimate how much spicy tuna goodness I need, and the end of the meal becomes less than enjoyable as I try to save face.

In business, you may have noticed that clients have the opposite problem. Their eyes and projections for what a project will be are far smaller than what they actually require…leaving you with a seemingly never-ending list of ‘oh, just one more things’ and a case of indigestion just about as bad as my post-sushi one.

Change is a constant. Business is dynamic. Adjustments in course and surprise extra requirements are pretty much a fact of life as an entrepreneur. But losing your handle on the scope of client work can wreak havoc with your scheduling and your finances. It can add up to a lot of extra hours, pulling you away from other client work, or your family – and it can also mean that you’re now taking a loss on a project that should have provided a comfortable payday.

Here are three essentials for handling scope creep.

Set guidelines upfront

Including a well-defined scope within your contract with a client is a great way to protect yourself against scope creep. You can establish up front what the client expectations are and what deliverables you’ll be responsible for achieving.

For example, a project scope for a designer could include: 

  • Logo, website banner and business cards
  • 2 options for each, 2 revision cycles of each

If the client wants to go through 4 cycles of revision? That’s out of scope.



Test the boundaries

If a client requests work that’s outside the agreed scope, Step 1 is having a discussion about it. What are they requesting? Is it really needed? Is the result they’re looking for covered by something you’re already doing? Remember – you’re the expert. If you know that your custom strategy is going to get them the results they’re looking for, you can explain to them why they don’t need to add anything else into the mix.

If the additional work is required, or they have their heart set on it, it’s time for Step 2 – charging for it. Including a rate structure in your contract for work that falls out of scope is a best practice. It gets rid of the question marks and helps you avoid lengthy and potentially uncomfortable discussions about how much extra you’ll be invoicing.

For minor or incremental out-of-scope work (i.e. Now the client needs you to provide documents in another format…)

Go with an hourly rate, and charge in 15minute increments, with a minimum charge of 1 hour.

For substantial out-of-scope work (i.e. Now the client needs a whole 2nd website…)

Go with a custom quotation, and then add this extra work onto your original contract with an amendment (no need to re-do the whole thing - an extra page or 2 will do!)



Pro Tip

Don’t be cheap about it. If it’s going to take you an extra 15 minutes, and they’ve been a good client- let them know that it’s extra work, but do it for them anyway. Set your own guidelines, and don’t be shy about standing by them, but have a bit of wiggle room for you to delight the client with your professionalism and generosity.



Apply the lessons learned

If the same sort of scope creep happens with more than one client, consider including it in your service package from the get-go (and upping your price accordingly!). Or, you may want to revise the question you’re asking at client intake, to get a clearer sense of what their needs are prior to locking it down in a contract.

Although there's no 100% foolproof way to avoid extra requests from clients, putting these three essentials into place will help you limit the disruption to your business, and the frustration that follows.