We’ve all been there: a project is ballooning out of control, the costs have overrun, the team is stressed, and the client is still not happy. In fact, the client isn’t happy at all.
How can it be that in doing more than the client originally contracted for, the project is in such bad shape?
Scope creep, or the incremental addition of deliverables to a project beyond the original contract, is a common pitfall bedevilling projects. And the root causes of scope creep go deep.
Here are five things to keep in mind when planning and managing a project to avoid the damaging effects of scope creep.
Clearly articulate project objectives
Nothing is more important than clearly defining and documenting what the project is intended to achieve.
If this is a new client, spend the time getting to know them and their needs. What is their primary pain point and how will the project help address it?
Talk with different people on the client side and rigorously document what you are told. What can you independently discover by researching around the subject and speaking with external resources?
If this is a continuation project with an existing client, refer to previous documentation and make sure the new project is clearly positioned within the context of the relationship’s established goals.
Document, document, document
Once you have drafted the objectives, the devil is in the detail. What are the main tasks required to meet the project’s aims? List out each of the elements and order them provisionally. You can’t do everything at once.
Invite feedback from the client on each of the proposed elements. Encourage discussion around tensions and disagreements in the scope and make sure you leave some buffer in your costing for overruns to the plan.
Get your breakdown of deliverables as watertight as possible. “I’m as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done”, Steve Jobs once remarked. Apply his approach to managing innovation to your scope building process.
Communicate like a ninja
Neglecting either stages one or two will almost certainly lead to scope creep. It’s essential to set a solid foundation for your project.
Everything that follows is execution, and the execution of a project is as much art as science.
One thing is for sure: robust communication is an essential element to all good project delivery, and the best antidote available to scope creep. As the project manager, you are responsible for ensuring the strongest possible communication both client and agency side.
Brief everyone on your team on the primary objectives of the project, and solicit input. Ideally your team will have had a chance to familiarise themselves with the project during the scoping phase.
One of the biggest drains during the execution of any project is downtime while waiting for others to provide deliverables. Counter this by sequencing the project in as intelligent a way as possible and activating as many early items of the project as feasible without jumping the gun on any point.
Managing an evolving project
It is almost certain there will be adjustments to the scope as the project develops. The trick is staying receptive to change but not allowing modifications to throw the underlying delivery of the project off track.
Institute a clear process for handling proposed changes or additions to the scope, whether arising from the client or your team. Agreed changes must be clearly documented in a central place that all stakeholders have access to.
If the change will add cost to the project, take a decision on how to address this with the client. One proactive measure is to include language around add-on work in the initial scope or master services agreement.
Other items to consider in administering the project include deployment of project management software, skills training for your team, and the smart integration of project management tools into your main workflow solution.
Keeping the business
The purpose of most projects is not only to execute against the core deliverables but to secure the continuation of the business relationship with the client.
In this context, delivering value additional to what is articulated in the scope can be a good thing.
Just don’t go crazy when extending goodwill. Showing your willingness to go the extra mile is okay. The problem is when the extra mile starts to feel like a marathon.
If you give away double or triple the value implicit to the original agreement, you are selling yourself and your agency short. But delivering just enough additional value to keep your client wanting more is a winning situation.
Always be on your guard against scope creep. Clients can be pushy and look to get whatever they can, threatening to cancel or go to competitors.
Allow a little extra into the project to show good faith, but stay disciplined outside of the margins. Undertaking substantial work beyond the scope will put stress on your team and is not healthy for you or your other clients. It will also likely get in the way of the effective completion of the task in hand.
Ultimately, everything comes back to objectives: what are you trying to achieve under the terms of the scope, what changes have you mutually agreed to, is the project on track for successful completion, and do you expect to secure additional work with the client?
So be organised, be firm, and learn to say “Absolutely, we can do that. Let’s add it to the roadmap for the next project”, or “Sure, we can set that up as an additional work. Would you like me to scope something out for you?”
Clearly setting expectations within the context of strong project management will stand everyone in good stead.