3 Ways to Get Client Approval for Scope Changes

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



It's always exciting to start a new project. The team is ready to go. You want to provide your client with customer service that matches the quality of your work. But sometimes, clients can make that challenging.


Not long after a project starts, the requests start coming in for "little tweaks." Things will "only take a minute." On occasion, you also get the "let's rethink this strategy" musings from client-side personnel coming in late to the project. Clients think these twists and turns are all part of the original project scope -- and of course, the budget.

The problem is too often we let them get away with it, and it's our bottom line that suffers. A study on agency workflows conducted by Deltek found that 38% of agencies reported they always go over budget due to scope creep. In addition, 63% of the agency respondents identified managing scope creep as the #1 issue eating away at agency profits.

Instead of letting scope creep come out of your agency's pocket, use these strategies to get client approval for more time and more budget when they extend the boundaries of the project you've already agreed to.

1) Build a Change Management Process into the Project Scope

When your agency and the client are negotiating the project scope, include a change management process in the scope of work. This puts everyone on notice that this project and budget aren't endlessly malleable. It gives you and the client a chance to discuss how you'll handle incorporating new facts or priorities that may emerge during the course of the project, which includes potentially changing timelines and budget.

Having a change control process outlined in the SOW also makes getting client approval easier and faster when the situation does arise because it takes the personal pushback out of the equation. You simply refer back to the SOW.

For example: The client decides she wants to buy Getty Images instead of using a stock photo as was specified in the SOW. Tell the client that's fine. Just ask that, per the SOW change control process, she should send you an email confirming the additional budget she's approved to purchase the Getty photos, and then you'll send her some choices within the specified budget.

You don't have to figure out how to raise the issue that her request may seem like a small change but actually has budget consequences. Instead, you simply say: "Sure we can do that. Here's the process we agreed to in order to confirm a change in budget and/or timeline to accommodate new requests."

Deferring to the SOW change control process works well for tactical changes. Yet on its own, it may not be sufficient for a substantive or strategic change. The SOW or agreement should still provide a higher level process for addressing major project scope changes. It should spell out who has the authority to raise strategy issues or propose larger changes to a project.

2) Create Regular Check Points for Client Approval

Don't wait until all the creative for a campaign is done to get approvals, or even mostly done. Build checkpoints into the plan so clients have a chance to respond before the negative impact of changing course becomes considerable. 

For example, one checkpoint could be approving a draft version of the client's new website. If you send it over, and the client says she forgot to tell you about the online store she wants add to the site, then you've got a problem. 

Your checkpoints don't negate the need for the scope creep conversation, but they do give you an opportunity to address the issue before missed deadlines become a possibility. This is a situation where the SOW change control process would be insufficient, and you'll want to turn to the higher level change process.

In this specific example, you can stand on your agency's expertise to explain how adding the ability to process online payments, shopping cart functionality, etc., are significant changes to the original project. Use this as a springboard to scope these features.

3) Outline Key Tasks in the Statement of Work to Educate the Client 

Here's another example: You send over a landing page outline, and the client responds by saying that she wants to promote a new product, not the one your team researched and tested in an effort to better understand the buyer's needs and concerns. 

When your SOW spells out the tasks and timelines required to execute the project, it's very easy to help your client understand the volume of work your team has already invested, and why these last three weeks of effort can't be recycled into new focus. It puts your agency on much stronger footing in the negotiations to get paid for the work done and to get the additional budget and deadlines needed to shift gears in such a big way.

Scope creep is a fact of business life. Clients don't do it because they're trying to get away with something (usually). Most have never worked on the agency side. They may not understand the problems they cause by asking for out-of-scope work or by making changes to a project when it's 50% complete. It's your job to help them understand and ultimately, to protect your bottom line.


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