One of the most terrifying, frustrating, and overwhelming possibilities in a project with a client is Scope Creep.
When a client continually asks for “a little bit more” in the process of a project, until you are performing 3-5 times the amount of work you were contracted and paid for.
It’s more than just annoying, it costs you in a number of different ways! There are boundaries that can be set to protect you and your company from Scope Creep, but understanding how it happens is a big key to preventing it.
Scope Creep’s Origin Stories
The origin story is where something starts, and there are few different key spots that Scope Creep starts.
Projects Dragging On
When you allow a project to drag on for too long, you open the door for Scope Creep to begin.
No one likes to be pushy, and no one likes to be pushed around. So timelines are often neglected in an effort to be amiable. However, you have to be clear about timelines for a few reasons. First, if your timeline is six weeks and it ends up taking 8-12, you’ve just doubled the amount of time you’re spending on the project.
But the bigger issue is that when you have a longer period of time, your brain has more time to find things that could be changed (whether you’re looking for them or not!). Often, those things don’t necessarily need to be changed! Yes, you should have some time built in on the back end to review everything and make sure it’s what you want it to be. However…
If you’re just spending tons of time looking at a project, your brain will come up with more and more ideas for change whether that change is necessary or not. Often, you’ll think of an idea and end up reverting to the original after applying it because the idea really wasn’t as good as your brain thought it was going to be. Now you’ve spent three times the originally planned time, once to set it up, once to change it, once to change it back.
Extended timelines are one of the biggest places that Scope Creep starts to crawl in.
Volunteering for More Work
This is the second biggest place that Scope Creep sneaks in. And I’m not talking about a 5 minute project that is a little added bonus you’re going to surprise your client with.
This is when you’re trying to be nice and make a really great impression, so you volunteer to take on additional work without charging for it. Which sounds nice in theory…
The problem is that once you’ve taken on work free of charge for a client once, you’ve just told the client that your time doesn’t matter: it sets an expectation of that happening every time. It’s in human nature to look at and pattern life after habits, and the first experience lays the groundwork for future habits. So if you let them think they can push more onto your plate than they are paying for the first time, they’ll naturally assume they can do it again. It’s not a great way to start a working relationship.
If you really want to be able to help a client, I suggest saying that you’ll see what you can do. That way you have an out if it turns into a big project, and you’re not laying an expectation for free work.
Unclear Parameters Up Front
Along the same lines as volunteering extra work is a lack of clear parameters from the get-go.
When there isn’t a clear definition of exactly what the project or work entails up front, a fuzziness and blurring of the lines of what is paid and what is unpaid begins to occur. That is where Scope Creep sneaks in. Without clarity of roles, boundaries, and parameters, clients can shift more and more work onto your plate without you getting paid for it. And further, without clarity up front, creating that clarity down the line often ends up with damaged business relationships.
Scope Creep’s Results
These are all the reasons that you should do everything you can to avoid Scope Creep.
Frustration is one of the most regular results of Scope Creep.
Not just frustration on your side either. Because of mirror neurons, human beings tend to reflect what we’re receiving. Which means that if you’re frustrated with a client, they’re going to grow frustrated with you. Because in their eyes they’ve simply made a reasonable request, without realizing that they’ve made 40 different reasonable requests. And suddenly everyone hates the working relationship.
Scope Creep impacts your profit margins, and not in a good way!
If you’re having to spend extra time working on a project without any return on it, you’re negatively affecting your profit margins. This feeds back into frustration and stress on your part, because suddenly you’re running out of money to make payments and you’re not getting the payments you should.
Atop that, the stress affects the quality of work you’re able to produce. And because you know it’s not your best work, you work even harder because you’re stressed. Eventually it becomes a horrible, ugly cycle that traps you into creating Scope Creep with all your clients.
One aspect of Scope Creep that most people don’t pay attention to is the fact that Scope Creep damages your brand.
Scope Creep creates clients that have no respect for you, because you haven’t required it of them. Your brand becomes cheap to your clientele, because they’ve paid so little for so much of your work. In other words, they were able to push you into performing without pay.
Keep in Mind…
Most people aren’t trying to be assholes. They aren’t trying to take advantage of you, but this is how human nature works. We often take opportunities and advantages when we see them, without thinking about what we’re doing to the other person. So preventing Scope Creep is all about understanding human nature and habits, and reinforcing positive behavior and relationships.
Scope Creep Prevention
The battle against Scope Creep happens much more in spotting it and preventing it than anywhere else.
Before anything else, you have to recognize that it’s going to try to happen. It’s going to be natural for people to ask if you can take care of something, and it’s going to be natural for you to want to take care of it. When that happens, you have to learn to say no in a way that doesn’t come across as “screw you.” So here are my tips for avoiding it.
Speak Up Immediately
When you see it starting, speak up immediately.
When your client makes that reasonable request, take a second to look at if it is outside the parameters set for the relationship. If it is, let them know that you’ll see what you can do since it’s outside the parameters for the work relationship.
The important part is to take time to really evaluate the request. Take the time to really look at whether or not it is something you can take care of free of charge, or if it’s something you’ll need to charge extra for. Saying “Let me see what I can do about that,” gives you space to look at it and come back later to say that it would cost extra because of the extra effort and work that you’d have to put into the project.
Redirect to the Client
When possible, redirect it to the client so they think about the fact that they’re really asking you to do something.
E. G., if they ask you to take care of posting a video online, turn it back on them for a moment. Ask them if they can send you the video, thumbnail, description, and media sites for distribution so that you can post it for them.
In other words, tell them “I can take care of this small portion outside our parameters, but I need you to send me X and Y before I can take care of Z for you.” Be very clear about the fact that it’s outside your parameters for work, while being respectful and understanding.
If they give you push back on it, be respectful but explain. Let them know that you’re a business owner and have to look after the good of your company, so you have to respect the relationship parameters for the good of those who rely on you for a paycheck. When you explain the pushback like this, most people will be understanding and will work with you on the issue!
Provide an Alternative
Always provide an alternative for the client.
Imagine it from their point of view: if you don’t provide an alternative, you’ve just slammed a door in their face without opening another one. They’ve been startled and are now having to think up another solution to an issue they thought would be easily resolved. Most people would start panicking.
But if you close one door and open another option, you prevent them having to search for a solution (along with the panic!).
E. G., if you have to say that you can’t do another aspect of a project for free, let them know how much it would cost for them to pay you to do it. Or if it is something your company doesn’t even handle, offer them a suggestion for an alternative company to cover the issue.
As I said before, most people aren’t trying to be assholes. They’ll understand if you have to tell them that their request is beyond the project scope. Be the guide of the project: that’s why they hired you.
Ultimately, your goal in preventing Scope Creep is to protect your working relationships.
That means you’re protecting your clients as well. When you show your client that you’re saying “no” in order to protect them, they’re going to understand that you’re looking after their best interest as well as your own.
Because when you prevent Scope Creep, you end up with happier clients, a happier life, and a healthier business.
About the Author:
Stephanie Scheller is a TED speaker, a two-time best-selling author and the founder of Grow Disrupt: a San Antonio based company dedicated to disrupting the way the world does business through training. In just under a decade, Stephanie has been behind the scenes with nearly 2500 small businesses. She has worked in groups and one-on-one to create total business transformation & help business owners live the life they got into business to create!