You may not have heard of the term “scope creep,” before, but you’ve probably run into this issue at least once. Not sure what it looks like? Think back to some one-off requests from clients or a project manager.
Did someone ask you to respond to comments when you only agreed to content creation? How about a random email asking you to create content for an obscure holiday that you didn’t previously talk about?
Those are only a few examples of how scope creep can happen, but what exactly is it? Scope creep is when your project’s scope is bigger than what you originally planned. It’s a creep in project management. This can start off with you saying, “yes,” to one request and, before you know it, your campaign is off track because you’ve spent too much time on client requests and edits.
Wanting to please clients is natural and something we all want to do to keep a sustainable roster of customers. However, overstretching yourself and giving away free work is not the way to do it. You will need to avoid scope creep, as it can lead to complete project failure .
Before you get to the point of no return, there are a few things you can do to minimize scope creep before it becomes a major problem.
Setting expectations from the beginning can clear out the ambiguity for you and your client. When you’re getting to know a potential client, you can ask questions to see what they’re expecting of you and of the project team and what you may need to educate them on. This is also your opportunity to see if this is someone you’d want to work with at all. Poor communication is the number one reason for scope creep or feature creep.
As an example, tempering their expectations is a great way to avoid scope creep. If this client wants you to create a month’s worth of content, and expects to see an explosive growth in followers as a result, this might be an unrealistic expectation.
Use your initial kickoff calls to get to know your client and establish on mutually agreed outcomes, KPIs, a project schedule and overall expectations so that they know exactly what to expect from the services you’ll be providing. This ‘statement of work’ cuts down any questions and requests that come up down the line if your campaign isn’t aligning with their expectations.
On top of managing their goal expectations, you should also establish a process for approving content along with other tasks that may need their approval. Waiting for a client to approve your work can put your overall goals in jeopardy if they have a backlog of things to review. This is a read flag for work breakdown structure (wbs), avoid this if possible by working with a management software to get content approval in a timely fashion.
Establishing a content approval workflow gives clients a routine and timeline they can follow if they want to give feedback or suggest ideas. You should get familiar with your client’s ideal turnaround time and create your workflow around it, within reason. If the client needs a significantly long turnaround time or isn’t sticking to what they agreed to, then you can bring it up to them or any team members you are working with.
This is also the time to hammer out realistic timelines and deadlines with your client. Turnaround times that are too tight can stress you out and lead to incomplete work or extra time spent that wasn’t originally part of your budget.
Scope creep is mostly associated with clients giving too much feedback or asking for too many off-contract requests. The reality is that most parties (even you!) can find themselves contributing to scope creep.
In addition to asking for too much, clients can also contribute to scope creep if they’re unresponsive or don’t give much feedback. A lack of feedback may seem great at first, but it can come back to haunt you if the client comes back later on with a laundry list of feedback they want you to implement ASAP.
If you have an unusually quiet client, try asking them open-ended questions, especially in the beginning, to see if you’re on the right track. For example, asking them, “How does this look so far?” may get you more feedback than, “Does this look good?”
If you are blindsided by feedback after a period of silence or, “Looks good!” responses, politely remind them of what you both agreed on in your contract. Remind them that they had an opportunity to give feedback earlier. Then list out their options if you find their feedback is outside the scope of your contract.
Internal stakeholders can be your company’s CEO, your boss or another department. They can slow you down and potentially end up costing you. Upper management may put pressure on you to do extra work or deliver a project early. They might require this not because it is necessary, but to impress the client.
Another department can potentially slow you down as well if they’re spending too much time on their portion of the project. For example, you may work with a graphic designer who is consistently late on delivering their files.
You may not catch this at first and it’s sometimes difficult to give upward feedback or peer feedback. But, the best way to tackle this is to let your team know right away if they’re hurting the process and adding unnecessary costs. You can use tracked time and expenses to quantify why they’re causing problems.
External stakeholders are people your client may report to or otherwise may put pressure on your client. This can be their boss, other departments and even other leaders like board members. People that aren’t directly involved in the project may not have the same expectations as your direct client contact. For example, your client’s brand team may push back on a campaign that you know is the right move for your client.
If you notice that a lot of people are giving feedback, either through your client contact or directly in meetings or email threads, you have a right to bring it up. Especially if it’s hurting your ability to deliver the results they want. This is more likely to happen if the people involved in the approval process weren’t involved in your initial conversations. Your team and the client’s team may just need a meeting or two to get reacquainted. Use these meetings to go over expectations and answer questions.
You may not always have the opportunity to do this. If you find yourself in a feedback frenzy or getting a lot of push back from people on your client’s team, you should also make an effort to understand their main concerns and proactively solve them. For example, if your client’s boss is constantly concerned about engagement (but doesn’t entirely understand why it’s important), you can give a comprehensive explanation on your current campaign’s engagement stats, the actions you’re taking to improve and how you expect engagement to eventually impact their bottom line.
Lastly, you and your team are just as susceptible to scope creep as anyone else. You may want to spend extra time on some content to add additional flourishes to some graphics or to triple-check that you have the perfect list of keywords. It’s not a bad thing to put in extra time every once in a while. However, it becomes costly if you’re doing extra work that your client didn’t ask for or pay you to do.
Instead of embarking on extra side projects, take time to scope them out first. Define the added value your client may get. Then, present them to your client to see if they’re willing to pay for the project. This way, you can ensure your client is getting valuable work. At the same time, you and your team are getting paid for your efforts.
You can also be your own worst enemy if you’re realizing a project’s been underscoped, but you don’t attempt to fix this with your client. Changing prices at any time can be tricky, but it’s important to ensure you’re getting paid what you’re worth. Find the right time to bring it up with your client.
Planning is a great preventative measure for scope creep. However, projects don’t always pan out as we want when we set our plans into motion. That’s why you should periodically check on project milestones as well as your budget and timeline.
Scope creep is named what it is because it typically creeps up on us without anyone noticing it. It sounds easy enough to establish clear guidelines and manage client feedback. The tough part is realistically enforcing your expectations and standards while also understanding when it’s necessary to implement a change. Changes are sometimes necessary if KPIs aren’t met or if things aren’t turning out the way we imagined.
Checking objective numbers like your budget and timeline can help make that decision. It’s also important to ask your team (and yourself) if a project’s requirements are realistic. If you find yourselves working until the dead of night every night, that's a red flag!
Take a look at this scope creep infographic from JW Surety Bonds. They go over the main offenders of scope creep, common causes and more.
At the end of the day, we’re always going to have a client who thinks everything is an emergency. Establishing expectations early and proactively working on issues is a great start. Finding realistic ways to be your client’s social media superhero is the best way to fight against scope creep while keeping your clients happy.