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How to Prevent Scope Creep on Web Projects

scope-creepYour team has just completed a five-page website for a client, and it’s looking rather spiffy. You contact the client with the draft, and they’re pretty happy with it — until you get the phone call.

“Hi, awesome designer! I’ve just been discussing the website with our team. We’re pretty happy with it, except we would just like a few small edits. Can you please change the color scheme to blue and pink, add an extra page with a shop on it so they can order our product online, and whip up a matching Facebook graphic.”

As agency professionals, we’ve all dealt with these clients: They always want “just this one little thing,” which turns out to be not a little thing at all. This is what we refer to as scope creep, and it’s particularly common in web-related projects because clients assume everything to do with the web is quick and easy.

More often than not, scope creep comes about because the client simply doesn’t understand your process. They have an idea that adding an ecommerce page to a website and creating Facebook graphics are easy, five-minute jobs. Most clients aren’t trying to be malicious or take advantage of your team; they simply don’t understand what it takes to complete these tasks. The main reason scope creep occurs is clients don't have a deep understanding of their own project or what they’re paying the agency for.

It’s up to you to correct them. If your clients are constantly asking for changes over and above the brief, then you need to implement these strategies:

1. Don’t Allow Scope Creep to Become a Cost of Doing Business

As an agency, it can be tempting to just do what the client asks in order to keep them happy. After all, the customer is already right, right? Adding a couple of extra hours on to the end of a project to set up a Facebook page isn’t going to kill your profit, right?

Don’t do it! Don’t let “giving in” to clients become your agency policy. You may be working with the same client on multiple projects, and if they get away with scope creep on one project, they will just assume that’s the way things work. Why set this precedent?

You need to be in control. Simply explain to the client you’re happy to add the new work on to their project, but it will be charged at your standard rate. Clients run their own businesses, and they understand there’s a cost for everything. They will (grudgingly) accept that you are worth the rates you charge. The clients who push back and insist on work being done for free are clients you should be dropping anyway.

2. Create a Client Kickoff Strategy

The best way to prevent scope creep is to ensure the client is aware from the beginning of the project, exactly what they’re getting, and exactly what they can and can’t edit. We call this a client kickoff strategy, and we’ve created a free ebook dedicated to outlining the process for onboarding a client and preventing scope creep at the source.

Here are some tips for avoiding scope creep from the beginning of a project:

  • Understand what the client is seeking to achieve and the desired outcome: Are they looking for more leads? For online awareness? Think of the project in terms of the client’s business goals and ensure from the beginning all these goals are going to be met.
  • Clearly define the scope of the work in a contract or process file: Give the client ample opportunity to ask questions and understand what they’re paying for.
  • Offer unambiguous pricing: Make sure the client understands your method for pricing work, and exactly what is included in their pricing package.

Want to learn more about creating a solid client kickoff strategy? Check out the FREE New Client Kickoff Playbook. Learn how to kick off a client with confidence and gain extra-ordinary results.

3. Advise Staff on Clear Solutions for Scope Changes

You’ve done everything above, and your client is still asking for serious changes and additions.

The most important thing at this stage is to have a defined process for dealing with these requests, so that staff know how to tackle them. Many agencies will, for instance, only entertain requests for scope changes from certain people in the client’s company. They might also require that requests go through a specific person on the team … usually a strong-minded person who won’t have trouble telling a client when they’re asking for too much.

4. Educate the Client

As I said above, the main reason scope creep affects a job is because the client doesn’t understand what you do or how much effort is involved. And can you blame them? If they knew what they were doing, they wouldn’t have contacted your agency in the first place.

There are many ways you can educate the client about your creative process and how the web works. Some agencies will take the client on a tour of the office as part of the onboarding process, where members of the team will discuss what they’re working on. This shows a client how many different elements of a web project there are and how they come together.

Other agencies provide some basic documentation or, even better, a few simple animated videos explaining certain concepts. Get your team to put their heads together and come up with a few ideas.

Scope creep happens to all of us in the web business, but it doesn’t have to impact your agency’s bottom line. Start thinking about how you can restructure your agency processes to avoid scope creep in the future and educate your current clients about the awesome work you do.

How does your agency combat scope creep?


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